What Good Are Exit Interviews?

During a particularly passionate brainstorming session in my last open workshop – “Some Quit and Leave…Others Quit and Stay‘ – our topic of discussion was the reason employees change jobs and what individual managers can do about it.

The group quickly agreed that the most important reasons people leave fall into two main categories:

1. A new career opportunity (either after active searching or being approach by a ‘headhunter’)
2. A problem/dissatisfaction on the current job that was not being handled correctly

There was also fast agreement amongst participants that unexpectedly having to replace a valuable team member can be both very time- and cost- consuming.

Surprisingly, there were few companies represented that had a cohesive exit strategy. Some had no form of exit interviews at all, and representatives from other companies that did conduct exit interviews weren’t sure exactly how the feedback was being proactively applied as a way to limit future turnover.

Why Exit Interviews are Important

Having an exit interview strategy let’s people within your organization know that individual managers, as well as the company as a whole, really care why someone chooses to leave. In learning to better understand why people leave unexpectedly, organizations receive valuable insights into ways to improve employee satisfaction and prevent unnecessary turnover in the future.

There are several ways to conduct effective exit interviews. Some organizations represented give out a questionnaire when people leave, asking them to hand it in on their final day or mail it back within 30 days of leaving. Other organizations conduct exit interviews live or (within a month) by telephone. These person-to-person interviews are either conducted by someone from the human resources department or by a neutral third party (e.g. HR consultant or coach)

Important Exit Interview Questions

Everyone agreed that the format used – while having some standard sections – must be custom made to fit the culture, climate and needs of the specific organization in question.

However, here are some typical exit interview questions people thought would be helpful:

1. What did you enjoy most about working here?
2. What did you enjoy least? Why?
3. What comments or suggestions can you make to help our organization grow stronger and more successful in the future?
4. Do you feel we dealt with complaints and problems on the job in a timely and effective way? How could we have been better?
5. Did you have a clear picture of your specific career possibilities within our organization?
6. What one thing would have possibly made you re-think your decision to leave?

Coaching Questions for Managers

Looking over past exit interview feedback, have you noticed any trends that might indicate deeper problems or highlight new opportunities within your team or organization? For example:

* What is the average length of time people typically work for your organization before voluntarily leaving?
* What are the top three reasons people give for leaving your organization?
* What are the top three positions with the highest turnover?
* Are there any specific turnover issues with certain departments or teams?
* What internal changes can be made to increase overall job satisfaction, especially amongst high potentials?
* What are you – personally – doing to prevent future resignations in your team?

Remember: Exit interviews, handled respectfully, provide a wealth of information that is key to helping your organization grow, solidify and refine its success. It will also make a past employee more likely to offer honest feedback and take a more positive image or your organization with him into the future.

Are you and your organization ready to listen – and act?


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