Exit Interview! What is that? Who does that and what is it for anyway? They are totally outdated and for bad managers anyway! So, is the exit interview a dinosaur destined for the tar pits? Not hardly, especially considering the challenges small-business owners face staying connected to their employees.
How valuable the exit interview is to all parties greatly depends on the skill of the interviewer, his ability to make the employee comfortable and to listen and take feedback without getting defensive. Don’t argue or try to convince the employee they are wrong. The exit interview is about listening without commentary. But this doesn’t mean you don’t respond, but it’s a mistake to act disinterested or to not ask follow-up questions.
Many business owners are afraid to pose the “what-can-I-do-to-keep-you” question for fear the employee will ask for more money, and that this could put them in a bind if the budget won’t allow for wage increases. If you can’t give more, be honest and say so, and then ask what else you can do that would be meaningful to the employee.
It is a time to learn and reflect on your company as a whole and also learn about individuals and how they interact with one another. Sometimes you will confirm that your company is heading in the right direction and your management is performing favorably, but more than likely you may find areas that need improvement.
You will need to be mindful that the departing employee might be a bit unhappy with their employment ending, but you should be in a position to gain some unbiased feedback.
Here are four benefits of exit interviews:
- Cost Effective: Doing assessments and research on your businesses’ strengths and weaknesses is costly and time-consuming. Exit interviews are easy to conduct and take little time and minimal investment.
- More Accurate Point of Views: Many companies will conduct surveys throughout the year on company morale and engagement. This is a great tool; however, the data could be inaccurate. Some employees may fear being completely honest due to the possibility of backlash. Exit interviews allow departing employees an opportunity to share their thoughts without fear of retaliation.
- Uncover Real Work Environment: Many questions in an exit interview pertain to the working environment. It can be very hard to get a true sense of how employees feel about the work environment while they are employed by you. You might assume your employees are happy if there are no complaints but your management might not be creating the environment you want for your employees.
- Increase Retention: Once you identify and correct any negative trends you find, you should be able to increase employee engagement and satisfaction. Happier employees will lead to less turnover, saving valuable time and money for your company.
It is important for you to be balanced and not overreact to one person’s input. Be careful to weigh and evaluate the information. You should know the source and when the feedback should be discounted. But, if you’re going to discount all the input from all the exiting employees, then you are probably in denial. And if the information gleaned from exit interviews is never used, other employees will pick up on this pretty quickly. Not only will you risk losing them but you can create morale problems by not doing anything.
There are also times when not acting on input could place the company at legal risk.
If you learn of a problem, such as an allegation of criminal behavior, or discrimination or harassment and don’t do anything about it, then the exit interview can come back to haunt you.
As for who should conduct the interviews, obviously, it shouldn’t be the person to whom the employee immediately reports. The further up the chain of command you go the better it is. If the business lacks an HR department, (yes, it’s possible to outsource the exit interviews) it should be done by someone who is involved with company policy, management and/or employee concerns.
When you begin conducting these, I believe you will find them very beneficial to your business.
Get the most out of your exit interviews by asking these questions.
- Why are you leaving?
Probably an obvious first question, but it’s an important one. This gives the employee a zero-pressure opportunity to tell you if your compensation structure stinks, or if they just got everything they could from your organization and now want to grow their career elsewhere.
- What could we have done better?
With this question, you’re looking for information on how to make your organization a better place to work. The responses will help you keep current employees happy and engaged.
- What does your new company/position offer that made you decide to leave?
The answer to this question can be telling — not only in terms of who you’re competing with for talent but also in terms of areas where your organization may be lacking in terms of benefits, flexibility, culture or professional development opportunities.
- Were you comfortable talking to your manager about work problems?
This question is helpful in evaluating a manager’s ability to interact effectively with his or her direct reports. The response can inform not only the process for replacing the exiting employee but the professional development of his or her former manager, as well.
- What three things could your manager/the company do to improve?
Among the most common reasons employees leave jobs is feeling as though they’re not a good match with their manager or the company. Even if this isn’t the reason an employee is leaving, there’s always room for improvement.
- Did you feel you were kept up to date on new developments and company policies?
Transparency is important for any good organization. Before they’re out the door, use this opportunity to find out whether your exiting employees felt like they were a valued part of the company, and how much transparency they felt there was from the management team. If one employee felt as though they were on the outside looking in, chances are there are more who feel the same way; knowing this can help you address the issue before it becomes a bigger problem.
- Were you given the tools to succeed at your job?
If employees aren’t set up for success, then they’re not going to stay engaged for very long. Finding out what you’re doing right or wrong in terms of supporting your employees in their roles will help you identify areas for improvement moving forward.
- What was your best or worst day on the job?
The answer to this question can provide useful insight into employee engagement – what your staff likes, what makes them feel successful or where you’re missing the mark.
- What did you like most about your job? And what would you change about it?
If the position itself was the problem for your departing employee, then finding out their likes, dislikes and what they’d change about the role will help you avoid running into the same problem with his or her replacement.
- If you had a friend looking for a job, would you recommend us? Why or why not?
“Bad word of mouth about an employer is hard to overcome,” says Rodgers. So if your employees are leaving with a sour taste in their mouths, it’s good to find out what you’re doing wrong so you can fix it.
- Are there any other unresolved issues or additional comments?
End with an open question. It’s better to hear it all at the exit interview rather than afterwards from office gossip – or worse, on a website reviewing employers.