The Essential Role of Exit Interviews


Is the entrance to your business like a revolving door when it comes to staff turnover? If your business has a high turnover rate, then it’s time to take remedial action. It is beneficial to your company culture, productivity, and profit to pursue initiatives and strategies that will improve the employee retention rate of future hires in your business.

One indispensable management tool that that I would like to recommend is the Exit Interview. An exit interview is simply dedicating time to ask employees a few questions about their upcoming departure. Conducting an exit interview is an opportunity to gain insight about the structure and dynamics of your company from the employee’s point of view, gained through their work experience with the company. For example, when you receive a two-week notice, use it as a chance to ask employees why they have chosen to pursue other opportunities. You might have to sift through the information they provide, as some of it may be coached in emotional terms. However, it is important that one does not discard the comments and reactions of employees who choose to move on because of the emotions.

The information gathered in the exit interview could be valuable on its own and even more so when combined with other exit interview data. The information has to be collected and assessed in a careful structure. In my experience, employees will customize their responses at an exit interview in order to avoid creating ill-feeling or engage in casting aspersions. This is so that they can leave on good terms and primarily protect any references that may be requested for them in the future.

Typically, when an employee announces their resignation and you ask why, they will most likely say more money, career advancement, less driving time, or more benefits—all of which may be the truth. However, the employee will omit mention of the catalyst that prompted the search for a new opportunity in the first place. The purpose of an exit interview is to find out the ‘thing’ that got the ball rolling.

There are some steps that can be taken to ensure exit interviews provide objective data that reveal legitimate concerns and help you make consequential changes that lead to improvement in the workplace experience of future employees, as well as add value to your company.

  1. Conduct exit interviews face-to-face. Employees will appreciate the gesture, and managers will be able to pick up non-verbal cues and engage in a more honest, open conversation.

  2. Make questions as objective as possible. For example, ask the employee “What would you change?” instead of the subjective, “What didn’t you like?” This shifts the focus to areas, such as the company culture, onboarding process, understanding of job roles and responsibilities, etc.

  3. Utilize the information gathered at exit interviews. Analyze and compare with previous exit interviews; identify underlying trends and patterns; share with your management team; and find solutions together that will inform and improve the business’ policies, practices, and procedures as you continue to develop and grow.

  4. Use the data to help prepare for the next employee who will fill the same or a similar role at your company. After all, you do not want to continue the trend of a high staff turnover.

I hope this information is helpful as you strategize to increase the employee retention rate of your business. However, don’t let exit interviews be the only time you get feedback from your employees. If you are committed to improving your retention rate, then you should institute open channels of communication with your employees on a regular basis. This can be done through performance reviews; random and anonymous surveys; staff planning meetings; and structured, periodic, personal supervision. Employees who know that their voice is being heard and that their opinions, contributions, and work matters to you and to the success of the company will not rush out to find new opportunities.

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