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The Real Reason for Exit Interviews

The Real Reason for Exit Interviews

Sharlyn Lauby | HR Bartender

April 29, 2010

Employee engagement continues to be an issue for organizations. There’s constant conversation about being over-worked and under-paid. We all realize times have been tough but now is the perfect time to examine some of your processes to ensure your business remains healthy.

A couple days ago, I wrote about on-boarding – the beginning of a person’s career. Today, let’s talk about the end of the employment cycle – exit interviews.

Conducting exit interviews can be a valuable experience for any organization. Provided of course that the exit interview is done with proper planning and for the right reasons. If you’re doing exit interviews to get the heads-up on whether the departing employee plans to sue you and your company, well…that might be good to know but it’s not really the best use of an exit interview.

The real reason businesses conduct exit interviews is to get information about an employee’s work experience with the company. This information could be valuable all on its own or used with other exit interview data. To gather relevant information, there are a few things to keep in mind when structuring the exit interview process:

Who will conduct the interview? Many companies have an employee’s supervisor administer the exit interview. Not a good idea. If an employee had an issue with their supervisor, then chances are it will not come to the surface during the interview.

Another option is to have human resources conduct the interview. Since HR is considered the keeper of employee references, I don’t see employees opening up to HR. At this point in their career, they don’t want to burn bridges. So this becomes an exercise in futility. If you really want employees to provide open, honest and unfiltered feedback, consider engaging a neutral, third party to conduct the interview.

When do you conduct the interview? Some firms like to do exit interviews at the point a person announces their resignation. I’m an advocate for waiting not only until after a person leaves but even giving them a couple of weeks. In my experience, time allows employees to gain perspective. I’ve seen many situations where departing employees were upset with the company or their manager. A couple weeks later, they still aren’t happy but they’re able to talk about it with less emotion. They’re able to offer some constructive criticism.

What’s the purpose of the interview? I believe an employee’s need to leave on good terms drives their answers regarding their resignation. For example, when an employee tells you they’re resigning and you ask why, they’ll say more money, flexible schedule, less driving time, more benefits, etc. And all of that might be true. But what the employee didn’t tell you was the catalyst that started them looking for a new opportunity in the first place. Something made them read the classified ads, take the headhunters call, etc. The purpose of an exit interview is to find out what that ‘something’ was.

Okay, so you’ve discovered the real reasons people are leaving your organization. Now you have to make a decision about what to do with the data. The average company will simply file it away after a quick glance by HR (or not). Listen, if you aren’t prepared to hear the real reasons, or deal with whatever they may be, for Pete’s sake . . . save yourself a lot of time, energy and money, and don’t do exit interviews.

But if you want to improve the workplace and increase engagement, then create an exit interview process that yields good results. And include in the process a solid plan to review and act on those results. With solid information, you can incorporate positive change and, hopefully, reduce the need for exit interviews.

How does your company handle exit interviews? What do you learn from them?
Tell us in the discussion forum!

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