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Exit Interviews The Right Way

Some organisations do exit interviews, some don’t, and reality is that with the number of tools that HR has to assist the organization it can be challenging and perhaps a mistake to try and use them all. That being said, organizations suffering from high unwanted turnover may find exit interviews incredibly useful – when done correctly. So lets start with some of fundamentals

Who should be invited to an exit interview

Essentially there are two types of turnover in an organization, known and unwanted turnover. Known turnover includes when someone is fired, or when individuals leave through redundancy – essentially they may not want to leave, but the organization has told them there job no longer exists. People who have been fired shouldn’t be invited to an exit interview. With employees who have been made redundant, different people can have different approaches. Some HR teams put together a redundancy exit interview and provide exiting employees the opportunity should they wish, to complete an interview. My perspective on this is that its’ better not to invite people who are exiting through redundancy to an exit interview. For me the bottom line is this, the purpose of an exit interview is to gain information for the organization so it can improve its unwanted turnover rate, I think its a bit on the nose to ask people that you’ve made redundant to help you out. Its a bit like someone breaking into your home, and them asking you to help them carry the TV out to their van.

So unwanted turnover the opposite, its unexpected by the organization. The employee is leaving on their own terms, they may have been offered another job, they might be moving to another city, etc. So these people should be invited to an exit interview, these are the ones that you want to hear from. You want to hear from them because what they tell you may assist you in retaining other employees. Lets say for instance you a (relatively) large number of employees are leaving because they can earn higher salaries at another organization, this should prompt HR to take a look at the market to determine if indeed your market position has fallen behind where you thought it was. Alternatively you may find that employees from a specific team or area are leaving because they feel under-resourced, and indeed on investigating you do find that they have outstanding vacancies that they haven’t had time to fill.

The in-between turnover group

There’s also a third group which is steadily becoming a large and significant group for organizations, those employees who are leaving to retirement. There leaving is both unwanted and known. This is a really interesting group to work with, because unlike other employees who are leaving on their own terms, people leaving to retirement may have an interest in having a continuing relationship with the organization. Research has shown that many in this group are leaving full time employment, but are very open to casual or part-time employment on their terms. So through an exit interview, ideally one focusing on retirement as the reason for leaving, organizations can actually create a database of former employees that under the right conditions would come back. Examples might be in a mentoring role which can be done via Skype from anywhere in the world, or for locally based retirees they may comeback on a per project basis etc.

How should exit interviews be carried out?

So having discussed who should be invited to one, lets talk about how they should be carried out. Many organizations use an online survey, with the link sent out via automated email which is triggered by registering a departure in the HRMIS (Human Resource Management Information System). I think this is a mistake. I think this is where organizations can get into trouble with inviting people from the known turnover group that will simply damage the relationship further (if indeed a relationship still exists), and or result in junk data that may impact on your overall results. And even where the automated system is smart, and sends an invite only to the exiting employees that you want to hear from, does an online survey really send a ‘we value you and want to hear from you’ message? Certainly cost is an important factor in all organizations, and often this is the one is cited as the reason for online surveys. However here’s the counter argument, if you’re losing so many staff through unwanted turnover that you’re trying to reduce the cost of exit interviews, then to me, that’s a pretty compelling reason to do them properly and get quality data that you can use to reduce that unwanted turnover.

Here’s how they should be done for general employees. Have an HR person send out a batch of emails perhaps once a week to departing staff, asking if they would like to participate in an exit interview over the phone, and then wait for them to get back to you. If they want to do an exit interview they’ll contact you and book in time, if they don’t then that’s fine. So once you have the exiting employee on the phone what happens then? As the person conducting the interview you will be reading the questions of a prepared survey, and entering the employees responses. At some point, they will answer questions in advance, and that is perfectly fine. When you get to that question don’t simply read it out like a robot, talk them through it “so we have a question here that you touched on earlier about your experiences with your manager, would you like to add anything to your earlier comments?”. Make sure at the start of the interview you cover any privacy concerns, for example, will their manager see the results of the exit interview, will their comments go on their permanent employment record, etc. I’ve found it really helpful at the start of the phone call to also talk about what the exit interview is for, and why we carry it out. And at the end thank them for their time and wish them the best for their future careers – remember in the future your organization may have a role which is exactly right for this employee, and you want to leave them with a good impression.

As tempting as is it to type a few example questions from exit interviews I’ve conducted over the years, I’m going to leave that for another post. The unfortunate reality is that often organizations will carry out exit interviews based on the wrong questions, and not be able to gain any benefit or understanding from the data. Rather than add to this issue by putting down a few questions, I’ll put a comprehensive post together in the future on the questions and analysis of exit interviews.

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