Posted on 10 Sep 2019
High labour turnover is a recognised predictor of poor financial performance, so it makes sense for companies to carry out an exit interview with leavers to find out the reasons behind their resignations and improve employee retention.
In my experience, businesses place great importance on conducting exit interviews, perhaps because they feel they are ‘the right thing to do’, yet all too often they fail to capitalise on the data gained, so the process becomes just another HR-driven exercise that delivers little benefit.
Five ways to make exit interviews work for you
Most businesses interview all leavers, but others approach it differently by prioritising managers, professional employees, executives and high potentials because they are harder to replace. Furthermore, they are knowledgeable about the company and are well connected in the industry, so they stand to become valuable ambassadors in the future if the relationship ends positively.
Exit interviews conducted by second-line managers are most likely to lead to action. They are one step removed from the employee and so can expect to receive more honest feedback. They also have the power to follow up immediately and influence change in order to reduce the risks of further attrition in similar circumstances.
Their involvement will send a clear signal that the company cares about the opinions of departing employees and is not simply going through the motions.
Exit interviews can be a rushed affair during the departing employee’s last week in the job, by which time they have well and truly checked out. It may also cross their mind that if their opinions were that important, then someone should have made an effort to ask for them sooner.
Instead, meet the employee within a few days of their resignation, when their minds haven’t yet wandered, and they are still willing to actively engage in the exit interview process.
Every industry is small when it comes down to it, so it is wise for companies to take steps to maintain positive relationships with leavers and particularly with high potentials, because you never know, they might want to come back in a more senior role in a few years’ time. Some company managers advise meeting ex-employees again between three and six months after they have left.
In their experience, the feedback is more candid, probably because they are no longer reliant on the business for their livelihood. It’s not unusual to find that the reasons they give for leaving differ from those they gave when they were still employed.
A standard exit interview template will ensure consistency and make it easier to consolidate data and spot trends. The downside is that a structured approach alone is likely to inhibit a wide-ranging, natural conversation, which might result in unexpected responses.
By combining the two approaches, however, exit interviews would continue to generate standard data but still leave room for a free-flowing dialogue, which might throw up some valuable feedback.