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Maximizing the Power of the Exit Interview

by Michael Murphy / October 22, 2019

Employee turnover is a costly thing. Having to retrain a new employee and deal with the loss of productivity as they get up to speed is an unwanted expense. But it isn’t always unpreventable. People leave jobs for a large variety of reasons and some just aren’t avoidable. However, if you utilize the right tools and data, many departures can be prevented. The exit interview can help you pinpoint the main reasons people leave, so you can minimize future turnover.

The Benefits of Exit Interviews

If you do not understand why your employees are leaving, then you cannot easily prevent future ones from doing so. It may be something simple and obvious, like an overbearing manager that is not respected by your employees. Other times, though, it could be something less visible, such as a local competitor offering significantly higher pay or benefits. Collecting exit interview data allows you to identify those issues and correct them.

More importantly, collecting exit interview data allows you to track your progress over time. If you believe you have addressed a given issue, then it should show up less frequently in exit interviews. If it does not, then you know you have some more work to do. This is an invaluable tool in ensuring that your solutions are actually effective.

Which Method to Use

When an employee leaves, you can give their exit interview either by a phone call, a face-to-face meeting, or you can ask them to fill out a web survey. Each has its advantages, although Gallup recommends a more in-depth face-to-face interview, especially for higher-level employees. Conducting interviews in person or phone interviews allows you to ask follow up questions and get a deeper understanding of why the employee left. Of course, in order for this to be true someone other than their direct manager should conduct the interview.

Web surveys can help guarantee that the employee gives more honest answers. They are more likely to be frank if they are not talking directly to someone at the company. Perhaps the person does not feel comfortable enough around the specific interviewer to be open or maybe the person is just shy in general. The more open answers will come at the expense of more in-depth ones that could be had face-to-face. Beware of the trade-offs that are required for each method.

How to Prepare Employees

You want your exiting employees to be as open and honest as possible. You also want them to provide you with meaningful, actionable data. CNBC has a great article targeted at employees explaining what a company does with information obtained during an exit interview and how they can best approach one.

The following tips can be useful when you schedule your own interviews:

  • Ask them to use facts — Leaving a job can be an emotional time. The employee may be angry. They may feel disrespected or abused. It is important that you remind them to put together a list of concrete reasons for their departure.
  • Let them know they are heard — If your departing employee feels as though they are just being put through the motions, they may have difficulty giving authentic information. Be sure they know that you will take their input seriously and use it to improve the company.
  • Remind them that they can improve things for their former co-workers — The employee may be exiting, but they are leaving friends behind. Let them know that their honest feedback will help improve working conditions for their former colleagues.

The Effects of Timing

Gallup also provides useful information about how the timing of your exit interview can affect responses. Here, we’ll look at the benefits of scheduling the interview before vs. after the employee’s departure.

Before Exit

Asking the employee to do an exit interview before their departure ensures that you will be able to contact them. After they leave, they will not be updating their contact information with you. There is also a tendency for a greater participation rate as employees are less interested in interacting with their old employer after they have moved on.

Allowing the employee to start a new job before doing their exit interview also risks the chance that their experience at the new job will color their perception of your business and change their answers. If there are any compliance or legal problems that you should know about, valuable time to address these issues will be lost.

After Exit

Letting the employee go to another employer first could taint their perception of your company, but it could also provide you with actionable data on how other companies perform better. This is another one of those trade-off situations that you must weigh the pros and cons. You may try both and rely on experiences in your particular industry to guide you to the better option.

A clear advantage of waiting until the employee has been gone a while is that they will no longer be afraid that you may retaliate against them, and will, therefore, provide you with more honest answers. Some time away from the situation that caused them to leave will also settle their emotions and allow you to get more fact-based data from them.

Utilizing Exit Interviews

You can give the most effective exit interviews, but if you don’t turn them into meaningful change, then it was all for nothing. You should have a plan in place for implementing necessary changes as a result of exit interviews. First and foremost, any legal, compliance or behavioral issues should be dealt with immediately.

Other than areas of immediate concern, it can be hard to tell when employee complaints are legitimate grievances and when they are just disgruntled employees. Is a manager truly hard to work with, or was there just a personality clash? By monitoring your exit interviews over time, you can pay attention to patterns that develop. If all of the exiting employees complain about the same manager, then there is clearly a problem that needs to be solved.

Many times, it is not going to be something as drastic and easily solved as a horrible manager. As you notice a pattern of problems show up in your exit interviews, you’ll want to talk to your managers about the issues that are repeatedly showing up and develop a plan for reducing them. Pay attention to their occurrence in future interviews to make sure that you are actually improving things.

About Platinum Group

We offer a full range of HR solutions that can make dealing with your departing employees, onboarding new ones, and managing existing ones much easier for you. Not every company can afford to have a dedicated in-house HR team, but every company can benefit from having an experienced HR team on their side. Our services can provide you with that, and much more.

Platinum Group is a full service human capital management (HCM) resource that allows businesses to manage their payroll, benefits compliance, track time and attendance and other various human resources functions in a way that maximizes efficiency and eliminates redundancies with the platform, iSolved. For more information about Platinum Group or to schedule a demo of iSolved please visit our website.

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Tags: Employee Management HR

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Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy

Michael is the founder of Platinum Group. His passion is in helping businesses to simplify their employee management and accounting processes.