Exit interviews may not always be pleasant to undertake, particularly if you are losing a valued employee. However, the insight they provide can enable you to prevent other valued employees from leaving in the future and enable the company to maintain a low turnover rate which also serves as a competitive advantage.

Highly proficient and adept employees are incredibly important to the success of a company and retaining them is an important aim of any company. If an employer is unable to do so and valued workers keep leaving, the productivity, output and reputation of the company can suffer as a result. It can also be very costly – in fact, replacing an employee can end up costing from half to two times their given annual salary. If you notice an upward trend in turnover rates as an employer, it is important to investigate why this may be occurring.

Utilising exit interview data enables a better understanding of what is and isn’t working within a company and reveal unaddressed challenges and potential opportunities to capitalise on. This, in turn, can directly influence employee engagement and satisfaction, working to prevent other valued employees from leaving for similar reasons.

Techniques to make your exit interview worth it

1. Exit interview form and timing

The form the interview takes place on can shape the outcome you receive. Whilst face-to-face conversations are generally quite effective, they may not be the most effective route for you depending on your resources, the employee and what your aims are for the interview. In fact, it has been argued that telephonic interviews or questionnaires can often allow for more honest answers due to lowered pressure. If you are unsure as to which method you should utilise, it may be beneficial to allow the employee to decide the means for themselves so they feel most comfortable speaking openly.

The timing of the interview can also be quite important – for example conducting interviews on the employee’s last day may not be very conducive if they’ve already logged off mentally and can’t provide detailed responses.

2. The interviewer and interviewee

The individual who conducts the interview needs to be someone who will be able to have the most honest conversation with the employee. Research shows that interviews conducted by ‘second or third-line managers’ have the greatest chances of resulting not only in more open conversations but also in follow-up action. Because they’re closer to employees in terms of company hierarchy, these managers are more likely to be given honest feedback which is what an exit interview needs to be effective.

Another consideration is which employees you choose to interview. Whilst interviewing everyone that decides to exit is definitely an option, many companies opt not to and choose to only interview employees leaving certain positions. Regardless of your preference, making exit interviews mandatory for at least some employees, particularly those considered ‘high potential’,  is very helpful as they are likely to be very knowledgeable and targeted and be frequent recruitment targets. 

3. Choosing the right questions

An exit interview’s purpose is to provide the company insight into its own potential shortcomings that may have influenced the employee’s decision. The questions asked should focus on the employee’s experience within the company and their role and be aimed at identifying any potential gaps that need to be met.

Examples of effective exit interview questions:

  • Did you feel supported by your manager and department? What could they have done better?
  • Was there anything you thought would have been important to include in the onboarding process?
  • How did you find the working relationship with your fellow co-workers and management? Did you feel any hostility or lack of welcome at any point?
  • In what ways do you think your role description has shifted in the time you were here?
  • What work-related circumstances influenced your decision to leave?

Avoid questions that may seem too personal, accusatory or negative. For example, asking “Why didn’t you like working here” can seem accusatory and push the employee into feeling hurt and defensive which is counterproductive to the very purpose of an employee exit interview.

Exit Interview

4. Setting the tone of the exit interview

In contrast to a job or workplace investigation interview, the leaving employee does not need to be faced with the same level of formality or structure in your conversation regarding their exit. In fact, doing so may be detrimental to your aims as it could put them on edge and make them feel uncomfortable. Going for a more relaxed environment without too much focus on a specific interview structure is likely to be most helpful. 

Additionally, when holding the interview, it’s good practice to make sure it’s undertaken in a location that is free from noise and other distractions. Make sure the employee is aware that they are not there to be reprimanded or feel guilt for leaving, but rather so that the company can work to improve itself. Making sure that they feel comfortable before you begin will allow the employee to speak more honestly about their experiences in their role and what they felt was potentially lacking. 

5. Use the data to make genuine changes

The data collected from an exit interview is not worth very much unless it’s analysed and any identified areas for change. This may seem like obvious advice but it’s been a common theme for exit interview data to not be included in informing and shaping the workplace in a relevant manner. Taking advantage of the full value of exit interviews by carefully recording and discussing the feedback in conjunction with what’ve you learned in other exit interviews is what allows real and important workplace changes to occur.

For example, if you notice that many exit interviews mention a gap between the expected duties versus what they were required to do on a day-to-day basis, you may look into changing the role description and its onboarding process so that they reflect each other more accurately.

Or, in another example, if you notice that lack of opportunities is cited by many leaving employees, you could consider re-evaluating your training options and promotion pathways. It’s important to note here that it’s not about changing your entire system based on what one leaving employee said, but rather the trends and patterns you notice across several exit interviews.

This also makes it important to make sure that the data the exit interviews provide is collated and evaluated on a regular basis to ensure that it stays relevant.

To conclude, exit interviews can generate positive changes within your organization by offering valuable insight into the reasons for your employees’ resignations. It also makes sure employees are aware that their opinions matter and are important to the company. Analyzing your findings after an effective exit interview and implementing relevant changes will improve employee retention in the long term.