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In a job market as, shall we say, buoyant as this one, employers want two things: to attract good people to their organizations, and to get those people to stick around. The thing is, with more people thinking about changing jobs than ever before, retaining staff isn’t exactly as easy as it sounds.

Employers are ramping up their retention efforts, offering additional perks and benefits, performance bonuses, increased flexibility, and so on and so forth. It’s good stuff – but you can’t win ‘em all. Inevitably, no matter how incredible your organization may be (and even how generous your counteroffer was), employees are going to leave. Turnover is a natural part of business – but this parting of ways has a bit of a silver lining.

When an employee gives you notice, they’re also giving you the opportunity to conduct an exit interview, where, if done properly, you’ll be able to gather valuable feedback on the employee experience that can help you make organizational improvements and increase engagement and retention going forward.

WHAT IS AN EXIT INTERVIEW?

“An exit interview is an open discussion between a departing employee and an employer, conducted in order to gain insight into the employee’s experience with the company, the reason for their departure, and to gather honest feedback on what the organization does well and what what could be improved on.”

WHY BOTHER?

Ah, yes. Why bother, indeed. The employee’s already made up their mind and you’ve come to terms with them leaving, so what good will an exit interview do?

Plenty of good, actually. For an employer, some of the benefits of a well-conducted exit interview include:

  • Insight into what is and what isn’t working at your organization
  • Increased retention, reduced turnover
  • Improved employee engagement
  • Improved recruitment strategies (by identifying what employees consider your organization’s strengths or selling points)
  • Understanding how your compensation and benefits packages compare to others in the market
  • Access to intelligence on competitors 
  • Gaining perspective on how your team views your workplace culture
  • Highlighting potential opportunities for organizational development and growth
  • Identifying challenges or gaps in processes
  • Demonstrating to current employees that the company values the insights of its people


SET THE STAGE FOR A SUCCESSFUL CONVERSATION

Find a neutral party

You know what they say, “People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” And they say it because, frankly, a lot of the time it’s true. Understanding this, you probably don’t want to have the employee’s direct manager conduct the exit interview. In order to get the honest feedback you’re after, have a member of your HR team take the reigns on this one. If that’s not possible, look for another reasonably neutral person to step in (for example, a manager from another department).

Don’t wait to schedule the interview

Generally, we think of the exit interview being held on the employee’s last day. That’s fine, of course, but it’s not your only option. In fact, it’s becoming more common for employers to conduct exit interviews well before the end of the employee’s notice period! The thinking behind this strategy is that the sooner the interview occurs, the clearer the experience will be in the mind of the departing individual – meaning that the resulting feedback will, hopefully, be more detailed, specific and useful.

Ask the right questions

When it comes to exit interviews, open-ended questions are your best friend. By posing your queries this way, you’ll a) avoid those dreaded one-word answers, and b) make it easier for your employee to discuss the specifics of their individual experience.

Drawing a blank? No problem, here are a handful of generic (but good!) questions to get you started:

  • What prompted you to begin looking for a new opportunity?
  • Did you feel supported by management and/or your team?
  • What aspects of your role did you enjoy? What didn’t you enjoy?
  • Were your achievements acknowledged and recognized?
  • Did you feel you were given adequate growth and development opportunities?
  • Is there anything that could have changed your mind about leaving?
  • Are there areas of the business you think we could improve going forward?
  • Do you have any suggestions for us?


Encourage honesty (even if it’s not exactly what you want to hear)

Let the employee speak freely and openly, understanding that this may mean you’ll be on the receiving end of some, uh, constructive criticism. Don’t argue (even if you do vehemently disagree that your remote work policy is too strict), and don’t try and immediately fix any issues that may arise – just listen with an open mind. It’s a good idea to jot down notes, too – you’ll thank us later.

Don’t make it awkward

Sure, you probably want to know what [insert competitor’s name here] has that you don’t, what exactly they did to woo your star employee away from you – but resist the urge to pry too much. Even on a good day, exit interviews tend to be a little uncomfortable, and and there’s no need to exacerbate that by guilting your employee into sharing all the intimate details of their new position.

Say thank you

Your employee is doing you a solid by agreeing to an exit interview – and if they’re providing you with honest, thoughtful, actionable feedback? Then they’re going above and beyond. Make it very clear that you appreciate them taking the time to meet with you and to share their experience, and assure them that their input is important and appreciated. This is also a good time to congratulate the employee on their new role and to wish them well in their next chapter.

NEXT STEPS

Remember, an exit interview isn’t just another box to tick off on your employee termination checklist – it’s a tool used to gain intel that you’ll later action in order to improve your organization. Key word: action.

Look, you can conduct the most amazing exit interview of all time, but your efforts are for naught if you don’t actually do something with the information you’ve collected. Ensure you have a process in place for recording and sharing this feedback with the leadership team or the appropriate individuals at your organization.

Over time, you’ll likely begin to identify patterns (for example, everybody who’s left has noted that their headset never worked properly, or that they think the coffee in the kitchen is really, truly terrible), these patterns will make it very clear where changes or improvements are required.

EXIT INTERVIEW… PREVENTION?

What’s better than a great exit interview? No exit interview! By having regular check-ins and encouraging open communication with your team, you can often nip potential issues in the bud – preventing them from becoming the kind of *big problems* that make good employees head for the door.

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