The importance of exit interviews

By: Ruth Evans, Owner, Evans HR Group

Unlike the author who wrote “exit interviews fascinate me like cockroaches do…no one knows why they exist…”, I have found that exit interviews are a valuable tool for employers who want to prevent turnover, reduce exposure to legal issues, and make changes to improve their bottom line.

Exit interviews can also help employers:

  • Identify unreported or unresolved personnel issues that could result in administrative claims or legal action;
  • Identify unreported work-related injuries;
  • Gauge the effectiveness of current employment practices, compensation and benefits;
  • Provide valuable feedback regarding business systems, procedures and practices;
  • Find out what other employers are offering candidates; and
  • Demonstrate to the departing employee that you value his/her feedback, ending the relationship on a more positive note.

Exit interviews are best conducted face to face, enabling better communication, understanding and interpretation.  This approach also provides a better opportunity to probe and get to the root of sensitive or reluctant feelings.  To be effective, exit interviews need to be conducted by someone other than the employee’s immediate supervisor such as an internal HR Manager or another objective department manager.  The person selected, though, needs to be an experienced interviewer who can ask open ended questions and identify when there is more to the story.  Best practices companies use outside third parties who are neutral and can make the departing employee feel comfortable, allowing him/her to open up and share valuable information.

It is true that occasionally a departing employee may have an axe to grind, but I would rather they grind that axe with the company representative than with an outside agency.  Listen to what they say, it may give you some insight into what other employees may be thinking.

Other alternatives to having someone facilitate a face-to-face exit interview is to use on-line surveys, or have employees respond to a questionnaire.  While these alternative approaches may provide some good information, they will not provide as much factual information as the personal interview when the interviewer can ask the departing employee to elaborate on an answer and reassure the employee that the employer is truly interested in their objective feedback.

Exit Interview Tips:

  1. Conduct the exit interview with a third party, not the immediate supervisor.
  2. Select an interviewer who is perceived as having integrity, who will take the input seriously, and maintain confidentiality.  The interviewer should be skilled in building rapport, handling negative or emotional employees and asking probing questions while keeping the employee at ease.  And, the interviewer should understand his/her role is to listen, not talk.
  3. Use a prepared questionnaire with objective, open ended questions.
  4. Include questions that are positive (i.e. what were the best things about working for the company), and questions that ask for improvements that can be made.
  5. Stay away from questions about the character or personality of specific people and focus on those things that can and should be changed or things that are working.  As an example, ask questions about poor management practices not the manager’s personality.
  6. Tell departing employees why the exit interview is important, i.e. it is a diagnostic tool for the company, an opportunity to find out what is and isn’t working, and to gather recommendations on improvements that can be made in a variety of areas.
  7. Permit the departing employee to review and sign the exit interview.

I know there are managers who may be insecure or who are reluctant to listen to negative feedback and therefore dismiss the value of an exit interview.  But, a well-drafted exit interview questionnaire used by an experienced interviewer who demonstrates respect toward the departing employee along with a sincere interest in wanting to hear their feedback will produce valuable information for the employer.


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