How to Benefit from Exit Interviews: A Guide on Best Practices
What is an Exit Interview?
An exit interview, also called a separation interview, is an evaluation that companies perform with an employee that is ending their time at the organization. These interviews are an integral part of the human resources feedback process. However, a significant percentage of companies neglect to perform exit interviews out of convenience or from a lack of understanding as to how these interviews can help their company.
According to a Harvard Business Review study, approximately 75 percent of companies surveyed held some type of exit interview for employees that were leaving their organizations. Burke Incorporated digs deeper and finds that 91 percent of Fortune 500 companies conduct exit interviews. It isn’t a surprise that these highly-ranked corporations incorporate exit interviews into their company evaluation process.
Why Should You Perform Exit Interviews?
Exit interviews allow an organization to evolve through the feedback that is provided by departing employees. A company’s main goal is to find ways to increase its profitability. However, correcting and adjusting matters that involve employee satisfaction is paramount to the operation of a successful organization. As recounted by Forbes, employee engagement is only at about 34 percent, a statistic that means that there is much left to be accomplished by American companies. In that same article, it is stated that engaged employees are 21 percent more profitable. These statistics are at the crux of why your company should use exit interviews as a tool for improvement.
What Benefits do Exit Interviews Provide for Your Company
If profitability isn’t a big enough benefit, there are several other benefits that an organization accrues from using exit interviews to enhance their corporate culture. Let’s look at these four benefits to your company.
1. Reduce Turnover Costs
Although calculating the cost of turnover is an inexact science, it is important nonetheless to have a measurable way to view this cost. A Catalyst study shows that the average turnover cost per employee was calculated at $15,000. This cost varies depending on the industry the company is in and departments within the organization. Companies that have higher rates of turnover are less likely to be comprised of cohesive teams that produce synergies in their work. Understanding why employees leave your company is a good place to start when dealing with turnover and exit interviews are the perfect tool to give you the necessary insight.
2. Improve Your Recruiting Process
A company’s human resources department can benefit from exit interviews as the valuable qualitative and quantitative data derived from them can drive positive change. Information obtained from exit interviews can help improve a company’s value proposition for candidates with the goal of attracting the highest-quality employees possible in the future. This, in turn, will reduce the turnover rate.
3. Prevent Litigation
The Hiscox Guide to Employee Lawsuits shows that companies have a 10.5 percent chance of having litigation initiated against them by an employee. Repercussions can include having to pay thousands of dollars in settlements to an employee and having the brand’s reputation tarnished by legal proceedings that will be shared all over various news media. Human resources can truly benefit from the conclusions that exit interviews provide about their company by instituting measures that foster a corporate culture that prevents such legal and reputation issues from arising in the first place.
4. Part Ways on the Best Terms
A benefit that is more of an intangible than something reflected in a financial statement’s bottom line is parting on the best terms possible with employees. Even in cases where there may have been a heated disagreement that leads to the two sides parting ways, ending a business relationship in the best terms has its upside. First of all, remnants of negative feelings can impact the employees that stay behind. You want your teams to be running on all cylinders and caustic exits can distract people from their work.
Closure plays an important part in all human relationships. The Association for Psychological Studies states that a ‘need for closure’ refers to a framework for decision-making whose goal it is to find an answer to a pressing issue that will remove ambiguity and confusion. You can see why achieving closure in the business realm plays a vital role in employer and employee being able to forge ahead on a positive note after the end of the collaboration.
Perhaps the most valuable reason for parting on the best terms has to do with meeting again down the line. An employee that leaves your company will likely continue their employment with another industry player, whether a direct competitor or an organization in a complementary field. You want to be able to leverage your good relationship with employees that have parted in order to potentially bridge distances and examine business deals with their new employers.
Also, it is not unheard of for an employee with which a company has parted on a positive note to return to the business a few years later. You want to be able to make use of the knowledge and experience past employees have gained from other jobs. This, of course, is predicated on the assumption that there wasn’t a toxic reason your initial employment agreement ended. Recruiting someone that has already been a part of your organization will take less time and resources than finding a fresh candidate with whom you have not created rapport yet.
Who Is the Best Person to Conduct an Exit Interview?
The most appropriate department to handle exit interviews is human resources. You want to provide employees with the opportunity to candidly share their true feelings and experiences about the company. Human resources are tasked with communicating with employees about matters that are not directly related to their job tasks. Therefore, it should be the job of HR to conduct this task.
In smaller companies that don’t have a human resources department, it’s a good idea to have a manager other than the direct supervisor of the employee, conduct the exit interview. This will ensure that the employee can be as honest as possible with their feedback.
How to Conduct an Exit Interview
You should strive to conduct an exit interview that is as pleasant as possible that will provide your company with useful, actionable information. Let’s look at 7 tips for performing the best exit interview.
1. Create a Comfortable Interview Setting
Hold exit interviews in a private place within your company. An office or empty conference room will suffice. Reassure the employee that any information they share will remain confidential and hold true to that stipulation for all exit interviews. The purpose of speaking with departing employees is so that they may candidly offer their input. If you uphold confidentiality, you will nurture an environment where employees will be eager to share their feelings, regardless of whether or not it is for an exit interview.
2. Reduce Employee Anxiety and Promote a Productive Interview
As per the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 56 percent of employees stated that anxiety affects their workplace performance. In that same study, 43 percent of employees claimed that anxiety impacted their relationship with their supervisors. These statistics point to the fact that stress is not only a part of the employees’ experience at your company but that it can impact the information they choose to share in your exit interview.
Besides giving the employee reassurance that their answers will remain confidential, assure them that their responses will be aggregated with those of other departed employees so as to draw conclusions. Be sure to facilitate a relaxed environment where the interviewee is completely at ease with the process.
3. Make Exit Interviews One-On-One
It sometimes occurs that human resource department hiring managers conduct interviews along with a manager of the department where the prospective candidate will be working. This should not be the case in an exit interview. One-On-One interaction is best suited for fostering an environment of trust and sharing.
4. Be Consistent in Your Exit Interviews
Being consistent with your exit interviews will give you the ability to derive measurable and actionable information. Consistency in the questions you ask in all your exit interviews will allow you to draw direct comparisons. It is acceptable to add a question if you feel you will gain additional benefits from having it answered by departing employees but you need to strive for comparable data. Having a predetermined set of questions will give you the ability to pinpoint trends and recurring issues.
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5. Look for the Positive
Exit interviews are not only about ascertaining what the potential negative aspects of working at your company are. A departing employee can provide invaluable information about the positive aspects of employment at your organization. Making sure the positive elements of your corporate culture are identified and reinforced can boost productivity and foster a tribe mentality that draws employees closer together.
Gallup, reporting on the work of two researchers, that a tribal mentality is more important than anything else at work. Thousands of employees were studied over a span of a decade to reach this overarching conclusion. Finding what makes your employees come together to create synergies can be the single most potent pursuit your human resources department can have.
6. Pay Close Attention
The person called upon to conduct the exit interview will have to take down the answers the interviewee is giving. Understanding what the employee is saying, as well as what they are not saying, is essential. This means that the HR specialist needs to take notice of things like tone of voice and body language. An exit interview can be stressful for the departing employee and you want to be able to understand their true emotions on the questions.
It is a good idea for the interviewer to take adequate notes so that they do not conflate different answers or omit any useful input. Be mindful of the differences between qualitative and quantitative data, as defined here by Simply Psychology, as well as how to derive each type from the interviewee’s answers. This will be useful when you are compiling the data you have received and drawing your conclusions.
7. Determine the Why
Perhaps the most important question that an employer wants to have answered by someone that is leaving their organization is why the employee is leaving. You want to know what caused the employee to avail themselves of an opportunity to work for a different company. This has nothing to do with placing stress on the employee and everything to do with trying to improve your own organization. A job is a station on someone’s life journey. Some stops last longer than others and opportunities will drive people down different paths. You need to try and make your company a station that people strive to achieve and are happy when they have arrived there. If you come to the ‘why’ question from this standpoint, you will be able to relay it successfully in the exit interview.
What Are Some Good Exit Interview Questions?
Exit interview questions should be to the point and seek to provide useful insight. Let’s look at a list of 10 good exit interview questions you can ask so as to gather the most useful information for your company.
1. What is it that you disliked the most about your job?
Give them the space to be direct and honest. The interviewer should not pass judgment or offer a rebuttal. Remember, you are recording their point of view.
2. What was the best thing about your job?
This is as much of a qualitative question as it is a quantitative one. You will want to find commonalities with the answers of others and guide your policies and activities by what people find good about being working for your company.
3. Can you describe your relationship with your supervisor?
Be sure to record what the person’s feelings are. Also, you should avoid inadvertently coloring their account with anything that is not being relayed.
4. How enjoyable was it working with your colleagues?
This question is geared more towards finding out how the work environment can be strengthened between employees, as opposed to singling out individuals that the departing employee may not have interacted well with.
5. Were you content with your pay, benefits, and incentives?
A follow-up question can be asked here regarding any benefits or incentives the person thinks the company could add so as to make employees happier or whether the person thinks a pay increase for the position is in order.
6. What caused you to start searching for another job?
Answers to this question can be classified based on whether or not the circumstances of the person’s departure are due to the company or to extraneous factors. People often change jobs because of a move to a different geographical area or because they decide to enter an entirely different field of work. Be sure to record the answer so that you can make this classification clearly.
7. What was it that made you accept another job offer?
In this case, you are looking for congruency with the answer from above. For example, perhaps the person was looking for a job in another state. A higher salary might have allowed them to make the switch.
8. Would you recommend our company a great place to work?
This is a subtle way to gather their opinion of the company. You aren’t asking them directly what they believe about your company. They are answering in an indirect way, which could take away some of the pressure.
9. What qualifications and skills do should we look for in your replacement?
If the position was starting to evolve beyond the qualifications of the departing employee, it is good to know if they believe any additional skills are required to do the job effectively. This can help human resources adjust their hiring so as to find the most suitable replacement.
10. What do you think could be done to make our company a better place to work?
Encourage the interviewee to see the work experience as a whole and to talk about any aspect of the corporate culture they believe could use some improvement.
What to do Post-Exit Interview
The first thing to do after the exit interview is to go through the notes that have been taken and summarize them. If you have created a standardized system for compiling information from your exit interviews, you’ll want to enter it in the database or other software tools so that it joins the data from the rest of the conversations. Business News Daily offers a list of the types of software solutions your HR department can use. There are engagement and performance tools where you can record and analyze employee input.
It is at this point that the benefits of exit interviews will start to appear; that is after you compile the data and you start to notice trends. As stated at the beginning of this guide, the point of exit interviews is to make your company a better place to work for those that honor you with their time and devotion.
Just because a few departing employees answered a question in a certain way does not mean you have to jump to conclusions and reshape your entire organization. Look at the trends provided by the exit interviews with a critical eye and balance them with the feedback you get from current employees and management.
Devising an Actionable Plan to Boost Results
Creating an actionable plan that is based on the measurable data you have collected is a matter of different departments in your company working together. Not everything will be implemented by human resources, and therefore it is important to have a way for the different disciplines within an organization to communicate.
At a meeting where multiple departments are present, set a block of time for human resources to present the information gathered and compiled from the exit interviews. Interviewing current managers or even employees on how they feel about the findings may offer corroboration for some of the changes that need to be made.
Don’t Be Overwhelmed.
In the case that your company is too small to have a human resources department, you can still benefit from exit interviews. You don’t necessarily have to start out with all the logistics for the process in place. Start by conducting exit interviews as the situation arises. Collect the information and get into the habit of making hypotheses about the responses you received. Make small changes in your company and see if they have a positive impact on your bottom line, but more importantly, employee fulfillment and productivity.
What Are the Take-Aways?
Conducting exit interviews and using the data to effect change in your organization can be a useful tool. Make sure you set up the right conditions for exit interviews and have people from different departments work together to put any improvements that come out of the process into place.
While exit interviews can provide a plethora of suggestions for improving your business’ effectiveness and corporate culture, they are not the end-all-be-all of driving innovation and change. A lively and friendly environment where you conduct recurring employee interviews is equally as helpful. You need your current employees’ input just as much as you need that of those that decide to move on. An easy way to get current employees’ feedback without taking up too much of their time is to employee attitude and engagement surveys. This can also be done on an intranet where members of your company can log on and enter their responses.
Check out this condensed summary of the basic points for conducting exit interviews and return to this guide if you need to read up on the details.
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