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The Exit Interview: The Most Important Interview for Organizational Change

The exit interview is a critical audit process that can help organizations not only understand why people leave but how they can improve their operations, policies, and Employer Value Proposition.

Exiting employees are a great opportunity to obtain feedback and gain valuable, actionable insights that can help attract and retain top talent. This practice also allows employers to gather information about leadership, the organization, company culture and an opportunity to ensure that everything is in order as they seek role replacements.

Companies that experience high turnover rates without ever investigating, resolving concerns, or acting on areas of opportunity will suffer financial losses, interrupted operations, and poor staff morale. Each vacancy costs the average company $500 a day and research by the Society of Human Resource Management shows that it usually costs over $4,100 to replace an employee. These costs include job ads, interviews, screening, and training. The costs of replacing mid-career talent are two to three times higher.

So, when an employee suddenly resigns for voluntary reasons, it offers a great opportunity to gain insights from someone who is familiar with the organization and has nothing to lose when it comes to sharing areas of improvement. If there is a reason such as moving or having a baby, the exit interview offers healthy closure that is respectful and meaningful. This is a chance to praise and thank employees, which is very useful for providing positive word-of-mouth marketing and potential help in finding a replacement.

Most experts agree that employees who quit usually have the same motivational reasons: a new career, an unexpected job offer, or an unresolved grievance. Other reasons include poor pay, benefits, job fit, flexibility, and job security. There is also a common saying “employees don’t quit their jobs, they quit their supervisors or managers”.

Both positive and negative feedback should be encouraged during exit interviews. It is a good chance to learn how employees really feel about their supervisors and company policies. The primary outcome of the exit interview should be the uncovering and the possible resolution of hidden, outstanding concerns that may indicate a much deeper problem and area for improvement.

What impact can exit interviews have?

Conducting exit interviews can help you, the employer, fix your relationship with employees. The job of an exit interview is to keep your employees engaged, interested, and happy with their job. The goal is that as changes are implemented, your need to conduct exit interviews decreases because employees will want to stay!

It is important to note and be aware of the average length of employment at the company, the top reasons why staff quit, and the turnover patterns within groups.

Asking questions that evaluate management styles and techniques used by management can help the organization in reinforcing and highlighting positive managerial behaviors, and identify toxic ones. An executive at a major restaurant chain shared that several exit interviews revealed that micromanagement was a big problem. The findings “led to some very tangible outcomes” like establishing training and development initiatives to create better managers.

How can companies better leverage the information shared within exit interviews?

According to Burke Incorporated, Conducting a structured interview with a departing employee is an important, but often overlooked part of the offboarding process.

Human Capital Business Solutions, shares that by asking the appropriate questions businesses can uncover insights on who is likely to leave, who their talent competitors are and why, and what their recruitment criteria and Employment Value Proposition (EVP) should be.

The better the EVP, the more likely a candidate is to choose your company. For small businesses, developing an EVP can look different as the values are set on a smaller scale. However, it is better to develop EVPs using exit interviews and interval evaluations so current employees will continue to work for you and even — during their exit interview — recommend great talent.

A strong employer brand reduces turnover by 28% and cost per hire by 50%

Think big and create a plan for how the information will be used immediately after and how it can be considered in the future. Create and continue to groom your systems and processes for success, store and analyze the information gathered periodically for trends and insights. This benefits the business because you learn ways you can improve your organization and can be a lot less costly than hiring an outside consultant to identify areas of improvement.

13 Tips For Conducting Better Exit Interviews:

  1. Avoid it by introducing earlier strategies such as keep and stay interviews in addition to other retention strategies.

  2. Establishing trust is important to get the most out of exit interviews especially those that are for less than ideal reasons.

  3. Approach with an open mind and once conducted, be open to implementing good recommendations. This shows that you are willing to listen to potentially improve culture and work conditions to impact retention of future and current employees.

  4. Exit interviews are typically conducted by a human resource professional or manager. In some cases, a third-party may do the interview so the employee can feel more comfortable and be more candid about their experiences with the company.

  5. Face-to-face interviews should be in a neutral place. A rarely visited HR office and a large executive desk may be intimidating and produce a tense boss-subordinate scenario.

  6. It’s helpful to sit next to the employee rather than opposite to them. HR professionals can encourage a results driven discussion by sharing that they will take notes and listen without being defensive.

  7. If the employee is vague or quiet, open-ended questions are encouraged and for the interviewee to speak on what they view is most meaningful.

  8. Offer an exit gathering like a lunch for those who have served for a notable amount or who have been valued employees.

  9. If an employee has been with the company for a long time, they will have many contacts and useful information about how to perform job duties, request tips to pass along to a replacement or full in.

  10. If a valued employee, offer an alternative scenario like the opportunity to consult or freelance so that you can retain the knowledge, expertise, and experience attained over time.

  11. Managing exit Sentiments for positive departures to minimize bad PR

  12. Make it meaningful by allowing sufficient time for preparedness from all parties.

  13. Treat it like you care and with the same delicacy if not more than the onboarding interview. You can do this by scheduling the time, confirming the time, and thank the interview for their time and perspectives shared afterwards.

Goodbye doesn’t have to be messy. It can also be a ‘see you later” as employees do boomerang back after exploring growth or upskill opportunities. Employees can also return (minimizing training time) after seeing that the grass isn't greener elsewhere. You never know what value an exiting or transitioning employee can bring to your organization over time.

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