Are exit interviews worth the effort?

by
October 7, 2020

Exit interviews can be a great tool to help you improve your organisation, reduce staff turnover and increase productivity. But not all companies conduct exit interviews – and those that do often don’t do it properly. So today, I want to look at what makes an effective exit interview, and some tips on how you can improve yours.

What is an exit interview?

Exit interviews take place when somebody leaves an organisation or institution. Exit interviews can take many forms, and exist within many institutions – a business, a religion, a school, a university. But most commonly, exit interviews are used by employers, to find out why an employee is leaving – or to get feedback on their experience as an employee

Normally, exit interviews are designed to help the business take measures to:

  • Reduce turnover
  • Increase productivity and engagement
  • Speed up recruitment
  • Reduce absenteeism 
  • Avoid litigation

The exit interview is an important part of the employee lifecycle, and can yield some pretty useful knowledge. But as with many things in life and business, if you don’t do it right, you might as well not bother doing it at all.

Exit interviews are ineffective if you don’t do them correctly

Unfortunately, many organisations have turned exit interviews into just another tick box exercise. And I’m not sure, but I think this might be even worse than not doing them at all!

According to research by Harvard Business Review, companies tend to fall into four rough groups when it comes to exit interviews

  1. They don’t conduct them at all
  2. They collect the data, but don’t analyse it
  3. They collect and analyse the data, but don’t share it with senior management
  4. They collect, analyse and share the data, then follow up with action

It’s not a surprise at all that the companies falling into that final category were the ones that were undoubtedly better as a result! Which category do you fall into?

Five tips for more effective exit interviews

In my experience, exit interviews can be a really useful tool. And so I’ve put together a few of the tips I’ve learned over the years, which I believe will have the biggest impact on how effective your exit interviews are.

  1. Act quickly. Schedule the interview as soon as possible. Ideally, as soon as you’re aware an employee is going to be leaving – and where possible, long before their last day. This will help you get the most accurate picture on why they’re leaving, instead of tapping into a faded or mutated memory further down the line. And in some cases, early action may even help you persuade a shining star to change their mind.
  2. Use an independent interviewer. Whoever conducts your exit interview should have as little connection to the leaver as possible. Do not ask a person’s line manager to conduct their exit interview, unless you want to risk receiving a highly fabricated version of events! In some cases, a leaver may not be best friends with their boss, which may lead to poor cooperation. And in other cases, employees may have concerns that they do not want to share with a ‘good’ boss, in case they offend or upset them. Remember, you want accurate feedback, otherwise you’re wasting your time.
  3. Ask the right questions. Some people make exit interviews all about one particular issue, like money. Sure, an employee’s salary might have influenced their decision to leave… but there could be 101 other reasons, and you shouldn’t be afraid to probe a little deeper. If they’re leaving for another organisation, for example, you might want to find out what attracted them to this place, beyond the salary. And you might want to learn about their complaints with your organisation, in ways that run deeper than whether or not you were paying them enough – how were their relationships with their colleagues, for example?
  4. Follow up at a later date. Not everybody will be easy to track down, but where possible, you should aim to arrange a second chat, for a few weeks or months down the line. This is because your first interview may well be tainted with emotion and impulse. If you conduct a second interview after the dust has settled, you may find you get a better picture to work with.
  5. Take action. It’s no good gathering all this data if you’re not doing anything with it. Use what you learn to make improvements to the way you run your organisation.

Stay ahead with HR

Get free HR insights, expert tips and exclusive interviews, and start making more impact at work

Please enter a valid email address

See People HR in action

View our short video demo

Get started absolutely free

No credit card required

Talk with an expert to learn how People HR could help your organisation