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Human resources management professionals unfortunately are prone to overlooking one useful item in their HR toolbox: the exit interview. True, the event can be awkward and uncomfortable for the folks on both sides of the table. However, if executed intelligently and followed up on effectively, those chats with employees before they leave can help you keep other people from leaving.

As we talked about in our previous blog on turnover, replacing employees is expensive and time consuming. Fortunately, if you play your cards right, a solid exit interview with a departing employee can help you prevent future departures. It’s common sense—in the workplace and in the real world—to take a moment now and then to figure out how to improve things (especially after something goes wrong). That’s why exit interviews can be beneficial—the soon-to-be-ex employee could reveal problematic management practices, departmental conflict, hostility among workers and other negative situations you might not otherwise discover. Those revealing answers may help you fix the problems that have been sending workers scurrying for the door.

Preparing for exit interview success

Before you begin, choose a format. Most exit chats are either an in-person meeting with the departing staffer, or a form (paper or electronic) they complete at their own pace—pick whichever one works best for your HR team. If you think the employee in question might pose a safety risk, opt for the form (or forego the exit interview altogether). Some tips to help you prepare:

  • Schedule the interview as close to the end of employment as possible. The last day, or even the last hour, would be good.
  • Make it comfortable and private—a laid-back environment encourages the staffer to be open, honest and candid.
  • Promise the content of the interview will remain confidential. The staffer is less likely to offer open, useful information if they think you’re going to narc on them to the people who caused them grief during their tenure.
  • Keep the invite list small—one human resources management representative, and the employee, are all the guests you need at this party. By all means, do NOT invite the employee’s direct supervisor, or you won’t get the candid answers a good exit interview imparts.

Suggested questions

Solid questions improve your chances of getting solid results from your exit interview. Obviously, “Why are you leaving?” is a good start, but if you want to keep the exit interview focused enough to be useful to your company after the employee has left. Here’s eight suggested questions to bring up during the meeting:

  1. What was your greatest challenge in your position?
  2. What is the single greatest factor contributing to your decision to leave?
  3. Do you feel like your supervisor/manager did everything they could to help you succeed?
  4. Did your supervisor treat you and your colleagues fairly?
  5. Were you given enough opportunities and resources to grow in the position, and advance in the company?
  6. Did you feel like a valued employee of the company?
  7. Is there anything the company could have changed to make you change your mind and stay in your position?
  8. What will you miss most about your time with the company?

Be sure to ask follow-up questions to maximize results of the exit interview. For example, if question 3 receives a loud, enthusiastic “NO,” ask the employee if they have suggestions for what their supervisor could have done differently to support their staff. Then, once the interview is over, pore over the answers and digest them. You may determine the employee’s departure came about through no fault of the company or other workers—that they left for personal reasons, or that the environment just didn’t work for them. Then again, you might gain a greater understanding of possible dysfunctions, which is the first step toward correcting them and creating a more employee-friendly, turnover-minimized office.

Saying goodbye to an employee can be challenging, and hard on the company. However, when human resources leaders harness the power of an exit interview, they can reduce the frequency of these goodbyes and instead say hello to boosted employee retention. If you could use advice on how to best make exit interviews work for you, contact us for more possible interview questions, ways to best follow up on information culled in these meetings, and more helpful guidance.