“Are exit interviews even important?” is a question I was asked many of times by employees about to leave the company. They have given their notice and are moving on. And in fairness, there were PLENTY of exit interviews where I thought the same about the exit interview process. The employee is leaving the company, they have mentally checked out most likely, and the last thing they want to do is go through an interview process again for the company they are leaving. But let’s think about this for a moment. Is there anything that can be gained from the exit interview process that we cannot learn or obtain while the employees are not just about to leave the company?
Employees are not usually completely honest when it comes to company surveys and feedback
There is the fear of retaliation, even though they are legally protected from such things. Best case scenario would be you get a distorted, PG-13 version of how some of your employees feel about the company, or at least the vending machines.
Companies have been known to spend big bucks on third party companies, to have them issue surveys to the company’s employee population assuring them complete amenity when filling out the forms on their feedback of the company. Again, when filling out this form, some employees don’t completely trust the amenity claims, while others just don’t do the survey. And, the ones who eagerly do — let’s just say we already knew their opinions. In today’s businesses where an Undercover Boss situation is near impossible for most companies, there are not a lot of ways for an employer to obtain this type of valuable feedback. This is where the value of the exit interview comes into play.
During the exit interview process, employees are definitely more likely to speak their mind. They will mention and talk about things they would never talk about if they were still seeking long term employment within your company. In my experience, you will find out hard truths about processes, systems, corporate structures, pay scales, supervisors and co-workers alike. Truths that would never be heard if an exit interview was not done.
How to properly conduct an exit interview
First, thank the employee again for his/her service and time spent with the company. (Ten years or two weeks, you still thank them, regardless). After this you can start asking your probing questions, such as, “Why did you feel like right now was the time for you to change careers/jobs?” “Was there one overall action or inaction that made you decide to look for employment outside of the company?” “Was it several things?”
After asking these questions, hopefully you now have the exiting employee talking and feeling a little more comfortable. This is when you would ask, “What can we do better as a company?” “What changes would you like to see us make in our organization?” “How was your experience working with us and why?” Although these questions may seem a little repetitive to you or me, asking virtually the same question several different ways opens up the employee’s way of answering and could yield several different issues the employee had, or one main issue that is stated over and over again.
Once you have acquired these answers (exit interviews shouldn’t go more than 30 minutes), make sure you phrase the question, “Is there anything else you would like to share with us — company related or anything in general?” This will give the soon to be ex-employee one last chance to share anything and everything he/she feels about your operations. After that, thank him for his time and service and send him on his way.
Finally, after completing the exit interview comes the most important part of the process: what to do with the info? As the HR professional looking over these notes, you will need to determine a few things. Was the feedback on a policy or process? Was the feedback on an individual or individuals? Was the feedback on the lack of parking spaces in the company parking lot? Whatever or whomever the feedback is about, you need to do your own research to find the validity in it. I can say from experience that most of the time, I have found the issues/complaints to be legitimate, concrete feedback, which has changed the way we have gone about doing business.
If it had not been for the feedback that we received during the exit interview process, we would have never changed things that were broken, because we never saw them as broken. Policies that were outdated or obsolete were changed and updated. Managers and other employees with different responsibilities had to be retrained or moved to other positions, because even though we thought they were right for the position (and maybe they were at the time), they either no longer fit what we needed now or how they were managing needed to be refined and retooled through more training.
Sometimes when you are so close to the business, or on the flip side, so far removed from the day to day of the business, you will find and think things to be going better than they are. And should you suspect that something isn’t right, a lot of times you will struggle to try and find a way to get that information or feedback from your employees.