Exit Interviews are one of the last things an employee experiences before they formally leave an organisation. Although there exist equal amounts of approval and criticism, exit interviews tend to be dreaded conversations, by both the parties involved. Exit interviews are carried out to reduce costs associated with employee attrition, improve relations with your workforce, identify weaknesses and kinks in the current flow of processes, fix gaps in terms of resources, tools, training, skills etc and retain human capital expertise.
An Exit Interview is an important Employee Engagement exercise to evaluate how your employee’s experience has been. It is essential to understand what features of the work, culture, office space, team and management were liked and disliked by the exiting employee. The rationale is that since the employee is leaving the company, they are likely to be more honest, open and candid, and might give valuable feedback. More so, an exit interview is a step in understanding how the employee perceives the organisation on the whole, what their reasons of leaving are and to part ways with them on cordial terms. So far, so good. If Exit interviews are always this honest, and carried out with such efficiency, and also used in terms of improvement, the debate questioning their existence wouldn’t have existed.
The argument that the exiting employee is likely to be more honest and blunt also works the other way round. More often than not, an employee who is exiting is in the need for good references from the current supervisors, or might just need to return back after a few months; hence they don’t want to burn bridges before they leave, even if they had a terrible time working. Furthermore, if an employee is leaving owing to feeling like a victim, they are less likely to reveal what made them quit in a single conversation. Even if the employee reveals that they are leaving the current job for a better salary or to save time on travelling, they are not likely to admit the reason why they started looking for another in the first place. Additionally, chances of an exit interview turning into a blame game, or into being defensive or confrontational are high. In all the above settings, the objective of truly understanding the dynamics of why the employee is actually leaving the organisation, and with what thought, is defeated. Lastly, the second critical aspect of exit interviews, which is leveraging the feedback received into bettering the organisation, is something that only a small set of organisations do. In all probability, the exit interview forms, or the notes taken during the same, are filed in a dusty folder, with nothing more than a glance from the HR, or sometimes, not even that. This means the time, energy, resources spent to do the exercise have proven nothing to be, but futile documentation.
However, a few simple tips, when kept in mind, can help greatly improve the efficiency and outcome of the entire process:
- The Time and Place: Although most exit interviews are conducted in the last week of the notice period, it might not be such a bad idea to hold them a few weeks after the person has joined their new job. Experts believe that once they have worked at a new organisation, several factors like, reduced dependency on referrals, handy comparison with the new company, reduced emotional attachment, having more perspective and clearer opinions, come into play, which make the answers more honest and the feedback more valuable. Also it is not necessary conduct the same in a single round in the office, for it can have multiple rounds, in different settings.
- The Medium: Face-to-Face interviews provide maximum insights into how the employee is actually reacting to the questions, but for some individuals being assertive in a conversation might be difficult. According to the personality of the person, send email questionnaires, phone calls or other mediums of communications, for they might respond more openly there.
- The Interviewer: Having the immediate senior or supervisor take the exit interview of the soon to be former employee is not a good idea. Simply because the person is likely to hold back information, be less honest and not openly discuss failures and successes, and situations, in the fear of questioning their leadership or management style, even if they wish to. An HR personnel or a neutral third-party must be appointed to conduct the same.
- The Approach: Identify the areas where you need the employee’s feedback on. Do you just need them to spell out ways to improve the work process and culture (remedial and preventative) or make suggestions to improve leadership and communication (strategic and management). Before you jump into talking with the person who is exiting, make sure you understand what information you want from them.
- The Preparation: Picking up from the previous point, it is equally important to prepare yourself with a list of open ended questions to extract the information you want from them. Is it critical to have carefully drafted questions, which leave ample room for the interviewee to explain. Take some time to understand the employee’s achievements and struggles while they were in the organisation, to help you contextualise the answers with instances and examples.
- The Utility: Last, but far from least, have a solid system in place to accommodate the responses you accumulate. As mentioned before, it is counter-productive to horde responses and sit on them. Hence, create a space to absorb and improve the gaps that have been identified, and you will see the benefits in many ways. If you cannot accomplish this step, maybe doing away with the entire exercise is something that should be considered.
Remember, you might have a company policy to conduct Exit interviews with every employee, but ideally they should be made voluntary. Even in the design of your questions, always have enough room for the employee to not respond, or respond in Yes/No, without explaining. Exit interviews can be an important and critical tool to correct any existing employee discontent which might have gone unnoticed, provided they are executed in an efficient manner, and the responses are acted upon.