Are your Getting the Most Out of Your Exit Interviews
By Monica Beauregard, President Bridgepoint
Improving your Exit Interview process - barriers, tips, sample form and future trends
I am sure you are familiar with a situation where a manager or lawyer goes for a "lunch" exit interview with a departing individual during their last week of employment. This common practice is a nice way to say goodbye, good luck and maybe even get a better understanding of why the individual is leaving. During the meeting the departing employee gives the reason for leaving as "a better opportunity" or "time for a change" and raises no significant issues or concerns. Interestingly, very different reasons are shared with the firm's HR person.
This common, informal combination of lunch and exit interview rarely produces valuable results for many reasons. Firstly, the person who is taking the departing person for lunch usually is the person whom they report to and may have issues with, secondly, the interviewer is buying lunch so the departing employee doesn't want to seem ungrateful and offer criticism, and finally, specific questions, designed at getting good feedback, are often not asked, and even if they are, there is a fear on behalf of the departing person that comments may come back to haunt them if career paths cross again. This can be quite intimidating particularly in a close knit industry such as legal. So what is the solution?
Leaders of successful organizations realize that recruitment and retention of key individuals is a priority. The direct and indirect costs of turnover are too significant to overlook and there is recognition that key performers are critical to the success of the firm. To gain valuable information to make changes, and in an attempt to reduce turnover, firms are asking departing individuals why they are leaving (through exit interviews) and conversely, what are the reasons they choose to stay (through employee satisfaction surveys). This article will focus on the Exit Interview process, specifically, why they are critical, what the common barriers are to obtaining valuable information, and tips to ensure your process if more effective. A sample exit interview format is provided and some discussion of recent trends follows.
Exit interviews are a critical step to gain a better understanding of where the firm can improve and what issues need to be addressed, to continue to hire and keep the best. It is a way of extending a culture of valuing employees to the very end, by recognizing that employees that are leaving do indeed have valuable input to share, both good and bad. It is also a good way to understand what changes may be required to the job description to improve the likelihood of selecting the best match during the recruitment process.
Although conducting an exit interview seems straightforward on the surface, there are many barriers to getting valuable, actionable data. Common barriers come from both the employee perspective and the employers/managers perspective.
From the perspective of the departing employee they may be emotionally charged and not able to provide constructive feedback immediately, they may not want to be honest for fear it may harm them later on in a reference check, they may not feel anything will be done with their feedback so why bother, or they may feel the data will not be kept confidential.
From the perspective of the manager/employer, it can be difficult to be open to constructive feedback particularly if it is about themselves or their department, they may not have the right training to ask the right questions, or they may have predetermined biases about the departing employee, possibly discounting the person's credibility and input.
Here are some tips to overcome some of these barriers and ensure your Exit Interview process is more effective:
- Ensure the process is confidential. Consolidate individual data with data from other employees. You are more likely to get honest data if the departing employee is assured they will not be singled out.
- Avoid interruptions and allow enough time for the actual exit interview. The individual is more likely to give you valuable information if they are not rushed and feel you have lots of time for them.
- Explain what the results will be used for and how they will be presented. The more constructive the process i.e. looking for ways to improve versus placing blame, the better data you will receive.
- Consider having an impartial, objective person conduct the interview, either within or outside the firm, instead of the person whom they directly report to.
- Go for a more formalized approach asking the same set of structured questions to all departing individuals so you can compare and analyze results more easily. Have a balance between closed and open ended questions.
- Ensure the interview is face to face whenever possible.
- Ensure the interview is conducted by someone who is trained and experienced at interviewing, or provide training for those that aren't. Effective interviewers are ones that are able to gain rapport, draw out responses, and ask probing follow-up questions. Interviewers should probe beyond the initial diplomatic reason stated for leaving.
- Consider conducting the exit interview some time after the departure to give employees a chance to "cool off". This is particularly appropriate if you are conducting exit interviews with employees that leave involuntarily.
The following is a Sample Exit Interview Format that can be customized to your firm:
Explain to interviewee how long the interview will take, that you have specific questions for them to answer, how the results will be used, appeal to them to be as honest as possible so that you understand what is going well and not, invite them to give you feedback after the interview if something else comes to mind.
Collect key Statistics for later comparison:
Name, department, title, length of service, who they reported to, date of departure.
Questions (ask and then probe):
1. Why didn't you stay with the firm? What are the key reasons for
2. What did you like most about your position and the firm?
3. What did you like least about your employment here?
4. How different is the job from what you expected?
5. How satisfied were you with your relationship with your supervisor?
6. How satisfied were you with the amount of training you received?
7. Did you feel you were given clear direction and timely and
constructive feedback on your performance?
8. Did you feel there was a good fit between your skill level and the
9. Did you feel recognized for a job well done?
10. How satisfied were you with the working conditions?
11. In what areas do you think the firm could improve?
12. In what areas do you think the firm does well?
13. Would you recommend this firm to others looking for a job? Why and why
14. Can you comment on where you are going to next?
15. Is there anything we could have done differently that would have
changed your decision to leave?
Closing: Thank them for their time and feedback, reiterate how the information will be used, remind them that individual feedback will be kept confidential, and invite them to get back to you if they think of anything else that would be helpful.
If you already have an effective Exit Interview Process in place you may be interested in what some of the new trends are:
On-line exit interviews
There are many companies that provide access to software for on-line administration of exit interviews. This is more cost effective than one-on-one interviews, is easy to administer to anyone at any location, can ensure confidentiality of results, and provides for consistent and timely reporting.
Integrated Analysis and Reporting
Although most firms do conduct exit interviews in some format, unfortunately in the majority of cases, nothing is ever done with the results. They are sometimes just filed. Gathering meaningful data, analyzing, and reporting on it to affect changes are becoming a requirement for HR. In addition, the exit interview results become more meaningful when tied to other business information such as employee satisfaction surveys, training needs assessments, performance results, etc. This data is then required by management to help them facilitate required changes.
Exit Interview Past Employees
This can be done to "catch up" on data that wasn't collected initially. It can also provide for more constructive feedback once an employee has had a chance to "cool off" and look at things from another perspective. It is also a proactive way to determine if the employee would consider being rehired by the firm in the future and under what circumstances. At a minimum, it is good public relations practice.
3rd Party Outsourcing
This is becoming more and more popular for a number of reasons. One survey conducted by a giant health care organization found a negative 70% correlation between what employees said during an internal company exit interview versus what was said when interviewed by a neutral third party. It is also an easy function to outsource.
Exit interviews are critical to ensure your firm understands why people are leaving and react accordingly. It may be helpful to review your process to make sure it continues to be effective in supporting your hiring and retention objectives.
Ms. Beauregard is President/Owner of Bridgepoint, a Human Resources Consulting and Training company specializing in the legal industry. Her firm offers a variety or services including 3rd Party Exit Interview Services. She is the co-author of Hiring, Managing and Keeping the Best: The Complete Canadian Guide for Employers, published by McGraw Hill Ryerson, 2000 and updated in 2005. For more information on our service or training programs visit our website at www.bridgepoint.ca or call 416-860-9170.