An exit interview is probably the last meaningful conversation you’ll have with an employee before they head out the door. Here’s how to make sure it counts.
HR is the conductor of all retention and employee engagement activities in a company, which means they are usually responsible for that most important of final impressions: the exit interview. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this process goes a long way to ensure your organisation changes and thrives far into the future.
Plus, turnover has a high cost – specifically your time and energy that’s going into new hiring. It’s in everyone’s best interest to make each exit interview count.
Here’s what you need to consider before you conduct your next exit interview:
1. Plan your meeting
Ideally, the Goldilocks Zone of an exit interview is two days before your employee’s last day. This ensures it goes ahead, but also means there’s not too much time to brood.
Eric Cormier at Insperity recommends a face-to-face interview. “Your employees will appreciate the gesture,” he explains, “and it will generally result in more productive conversations.”
Another option: Offer your employee a written exit survey first, although this might result in less honest and candid responses than you can get in person.
2. Ask the right questions
It’s important to have empathy for the person who you’re interviewing – regardless if they were your top performer or a difficult employee. Keep office politics, personal bias and your own opinions of the person clear of the interview room.
Open-ended questions will get the best results, explains Cormier. Prepare questions such as ‘What can we do to improve?’ and ‘What are the reasons you are leaving?”
It’s also a good idea to develop a set of questions that work for you, and keep them consistent so you can track any upswings in employee engagement in a particular area.
3. Don’t make it about you – or even them, really
When speaking to employees who are leaving, remember that the focus of the interview is not yourself, or really even the employee. It’s about the organisation and how to improve it for current and future employees and to ensure future success. The goal is not to facilitate a long-winded outpouring of grievances, nor is it to prompt a glowing review of your own job performance. Keep your eye on the prize and keep to the script that you’ve prepared.
4. Process the information constructively
Keep track of the feedback you receive in a spreadsheet or data program, and look for patterns in feedback from outgoing employees. Most importantly, make time to work with senior management to identify opportunities for improvement.
5. What if you don’t do it yourself?
There is also ample evidence to suggest that the best way to get the most out of your exit interview is to have it facilitated by an external provider.
According to Lenore Lambert, director at The Interview Group, there are three reasons to consider an external audit: completion rates are much higher; external providers might have better reporting capabilities; and honest feedback is more likely.
“A percentage of employees will censor themselves if they think someone internally will see their answers,” she explains. In the case of larger organisations particularly, data-driven feedback (feedback on exit interviews is protected by privacy law) might serve you better in getting a big-picture look at areas for improvement.
Peter Forbes, CEO of HR Onboard, disagrees. “The most meaningful, well-thought out questions will come from someone already embedded within the office culture.” Those with an intimate knowledge of the organisation are in the best position to institute change.
6. Brand recognition
Of course, another payoff to a well-executed exit interview is the final impressions of the company that a past employee takes out into the world – and to the water cooler conversation at their new workplace. Whether the employee left for a promotion at a new company, or due to dissatisfaction about their job, Forbes says, “when an employee can voice their concerns and leave knowing the company took time to listen to or read his or her feedback, that goes a long way towards building goodwill.”
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