As an employer, it is difficult to watch a valuable employee leave. After years of working with this person, you may feel blindsided by their choice and lack understanding why they’ve decided it was time to embark on a new path. Through all this confusion, the best tool you can use is conducting an exit interview.
Often, what you may not realize, is that the employee was thinking about leaving for quite some time. According to our research, 86% of professionals are open to new job opportunities. All it takes is one triggering event to motivate them to make that change.
While you thought everything was fine, they may not have felt they could voice a concern of theirs or their needs were being taken seriously enough. These are trends that we have most recently seen contribute to the Great Resignation, which has left employers suffering from turnover shock and wondering what they got wrong about employee retention. While they may have already decided to leave, this is the perfect time to have a transparent conversation with your employee.
What is an exit interview?
An exit interview is, well, just that. When an employee decides to leave your organization, an exit interview is conducted upon their departure. This is typically a very structured conversation, essentially to allow the departing employee to voice their honest opinions about their experience.
Sometimes this conversation takes place with a member of your HR team, or perhaps another senior-level staff member will conduct the interview. This valuable—often overlooked—HR tool is the key to a successful offboarding process for an employee.
Why are exit interviews so valuable?
Now, you might be thinking, Why would I conduct an exit interview just to hear my employee complain about why they didn’t like working here?! Well, isn’t that it though? When you understand what an employee liked and disliked about working with your organization, you can improve the experience for both current and future employees.
Keep in mind, you have to let go of being bitter about this particular employee leaving; an exit interview is about the bigger picture. You may have lost this one, but if you approach this correctly, you can prevent the next one from leaving. Plus, this interview can improve your recruitment processes, provide some closure for both parties, and even prevent legal issues.
Not only that, but consider the financial ramifications of not conducting exit interviews. According to Gallup, the cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times their annual salary. For example, a 100-person organization that provides an average salary of $50,000 could have turnover and replacement costs of approximately $660,000 to $2.6 million per year. In other words, this is a fixable problem that is costing your company a lot of money! With so much on the line, isn’t it worth asking your departing employee what happened—even if it makes you a little uncomfortable?
Additionally, when an employee leaves your company, that is hardly the end. Aside from the friendships they’ve formed with other staff members, there are several more scenarios where you may cross paths again. Not only do you want to avoid burning any bridges, but you want to ensure that you don’t end on a bitter note either. Among the value this former employee still brings to the table, be sure that you consider:
- Whether this employee may return to work for you later in their career
- Whether they might refer any friends to come work for you
- Whether they may become a future client of yours or purchase your products
- Whether they might leave a negative review of their experience online
How should you go about conducting an exit interview?
While this is an extremely valuable HR tool, exit interviews must be handled with care. Because tensions are running high for both parties, it’s important that you’re aware of that, and conscious of how you’re conducting the interview. As a result, be sure to follow these steps:
- Conduct the interview in-person, if possible: While there may be some constraints, conducting an exit interview in person is the best approach. Because of the sensitive subject matter, taking the time to speak with your employee directly shows that you are committed to improving and willing to listen.
- Ensure a comfortable, quiet space is available for the interview: Again, tensions are running high, and your employee may not be very comfortable with opening up about why they chose to leave. As a result, it’s up to you to give them a space where they feel like they can speak candidly about their experience.
- Conduct the interview one-on-one: Regardless of the scenario, you’ll likely find that it’s more difficult to be open and honest in a conversation that involves more than two people. In addition to a panel-style interview being very intimidating, your employee will be very reluctant to share with so many people about what went wrong.
- Be consistent: While it may seem obvious, it is important that every exit interview follow a predetermined format. When you start your interview, explain clearly the purpose of this conversation. Then, follow a set of questions for each exit interview. This will make it easier later to compare each employee’s answers and look for patterns.
Additionally, you must consider who is conducting your exit interview. If you have an HR department, it is recommended that someone from this team conduct the interview. Not only does this add formality to the process, but it allows some separation between your employee and their team or direct supervisor.
While you may think that their direct supervisor would be the most appropriate person to conduct the interview, this is not always the case. Sometimes this person might be too close to the situation to take in a departing employee’s complaints without bias. Plus, if the direct supervisor is the problem, that complaint will never be voiced.
What questions should you ask?
Coming up with a set of questions to ask can be challenging. While each organization is different, here are some starter questions to consider including:
- What did you like most about your job?
- What did you like most about the company?
- What did you dislike most about your job?
- What did you dislike most about the company?
- Based on your hiring process and onboarding experience, did the job meet your expectations?
- Why did you accept our job offer?
- How would you describe your relationship with your direct supervisor?
- How would you describe your relationship with your colleagues?
- Were you satisfied with your pay, benefits, and other incentives?
- What made you decide to start looking for a new job?
- Were there skills or development opportunities you wanted and didn’t receive?
- What made you accept another job offer?
- Would you recommend this organization as a great place to work to your friends?
- Where do you think this company needs to improve?
- Where do you think your supervisor/team need to improve?
- What skills and qualifications should we look for when hiring your replacement?
What should you do after the interview?
After you’ve conducted your exit interview and wished your employee the best in their new adventure, now comes the fun part: analyzing the data.
Once you have the answers to the questions outlined above, you have more investigating to do. For example, if your employee voiced a concern about their direct manager, it’s time to get the manager’s side of the story—because there are always two sides to every story. Then, you can properly evaluate the employee’s claim.
Additionally, this is where asking the same questions comes into play. Once you start collecting this information from multiple exit interviews, it’s time to look for patterns in the data. For example, if only one person left their job because they needed a more flexible schedule, they may have had extenuating circumstances. However, if you find that your employees are leaving en masse for more flexibility, it’s time to take a look at your policies and make adjustments.
Plus, this is your chance to build a more positive employee experience from start to finish. Whether you find concerns about the hiring process or about certain employees, address these issues head-on and offer the necessary help to improve.