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An employee exit interview can be a great way to learn how to improve your organization and retain more talent down the road. If you are an HR professional or engaged manager, you should seriously consider implementing or revising an employee exit interview strategy for your organization.

What Is an Employee Exit Interview?

An employee exit interview is a meeting with an employee who is about to leave the organization. The goal is to obtain honest feedback from the employee about how the organization can improve. Usually, the interview is conducted by an HR staff member, manager, or supervisor.

Employee exit interviews are often viewed as part of a long-term employee engagement strategy. While it’s generally too late to retain the employee who is leaving the company, an interview can provide insight managers can use to avoid losing additional employees and create a better work environment.

5 Tips to Gain More Insight During an Employee Exit Interview

While employee exit interviews can be a source of valuable insight, it’s easy to miss something important or gain only vague ideas. Interviewers can try these tips for a more fruitful conversation:

Create a Comfortable Environment and Assuage Fears

It’s hard to gain feedback if the exiting employee does not feel comfortable during the meeting.

Before you start asking questions, you should tell the employee that you appreciate their honest feedback and mitigate their fears.

Many exiting employees are still concerned about their reputations, even if they no longer need to worry about the direct repercussions of sharing their opinion at a job they are leaving. They want to know that if they run into former coworkers in the future, they will not have burned any bridges. As an interviewer, you should reassure the employee that information they share in their exit interview will be kept private.

You should also strive to ensure the interview takes place with someone the employee trusts and is comfortable with. If the interview is conducted by someone the employee finds intimidating, they may not be as willing to share meaningful information.

It’s often a good idea to let the employee choose the time and setting of the interview. Some employees may be more comfortable in an enclosed private space, while others may be more willing to share their perspectives in a café or through a video chat.

Ideally, employees should already feel comfortable sharing ideas openly at your workplace. Healthy organizations encourage employees to critique processes when they see issues and do not punish them for sharing their thoughts. Unfortunately, if this attitude is not already built into your work culture, it may be harder to get useful feedback from an employee exit interview regardless of how you approach it.

Come Prepared With Questions

The best way to learn more from an employee exit interview is often to ask more questions. This strategy helps the interview more easily understand both what the employee is saying and what they are not saying, which could be just as important. Often, a person’s words do not completely convey their true feelings, and the employee’s subtle word choices can contain crucial information.

The best questions to ask depend on your organization, but a few you might consider are:

  • Why are you leaving?
  • Can you describe your general feelings about working here?
  • What is the organization doing well? What is it doing poorly?
  • How could the situation be improved?
  • Do you have a sense of how most of the other employees feel about the situation?
  • What would you change about employee orientation and onboarding? How did you feel about the first part of your employment?
  • What advice do you have for the next person in your position?

If you only have a limited amount of time for the exit interview, be sure to make time for the most important question: why the employee left. If the employee was proactively looking for a new job, they may have felt dissatisfied in their previous role. Or, they may have been offered better compensation or opportunities for growth elsewhere.

Ask About Positives as Well as Negatives

Employee engagement and retention are about more than just avoiding negatives. Positive aspects of the employee experience are just as important to retaining talent down the road.

Ask the employee for any positive feedback they want to share about the company culture, their managers, benefits, and the organization’s mission. You may find out, for example, that a company benefit you were thinking of dropping was the main reason the employee was originally drawn to the organization.

This part of the exit interview is also a good time to ask about compensation and benefits at competing companies if the employee has already accepted an offer elsewhere. You may discover your company is no longer offering competitive compensation, or find out employees value a particular benefit available at other companies much more than you thought.

Avoid Asking Targeted Questions About Specific People and Issues

It’s important to avoid inserting your own opinions into the conversation. Asking for general feedback about a supervisor is a good idea, but asking about a specific issue, even if you’re reasonably sure it’s happening, could lead to feedback that is over-weighted toward what you already believe about the organization.

In a similar vein, you should avoid saying anything that could be construed as slander or might sound like you are setting another employee up for termination. If the employee has something negative to say about someone else, the best thing to do is to listen without agreeing or disagreeing. The conversation should be focused on the individual employee’s experience.

Write Down What You Hear

Most of us don’t want to trust our memory to retain everything the employee says. Even if you do have an excellent memory, writing down the employee’s responses can be helpful because it will show the employee that you care about their perspective and are taking them seriously. You may be able to collect more information this way than you would have otherwise.

After the interview, you can process the employee’s feedback and identify opportunities for improvement. If the employee had any feedback they wanted to give to their supervisor, you can share it with them.

You may want to put your notes into a spreadsheet with information from other employee exit interviews that you can quickly scan for patterns. When you see a pattern or trend, you can take the aggregated data to the relevant leadership team and suggest actions to be taken.

The Big Picture

Even the most diligent efforts to retain employees sometimes fail. However, most organizations can still reduce the outward flow of talent by continually working on engagement and using feedback from both current and past employees. An effective employee exit interview process is one of the first steps toward a healthier, happier, and more productive workplace.

For more employee engagement and retention ideas, check out our blog.