How to carry out an exit interview

How to Carry Out an Exit Interview - Thinkstock

Employers fully understand the damage caused by staff attrition, in terms of direct and indirect cost to their organisation. The loss of key workers can impact on overall productivity and morale levels, and the need to advertise a role, interview candidates and onboard the new recruit inevitably leads to further expenditure. 

As such, employers invest time and more in their employee retention strategies, aiming to keep talented people within their organisation for longer. One of the common tactics is to conduct exit interviews when people leave, in a bid to tap into the employee psyche and find out attitudes within the workplace

Employers hope that by discussing job-related issues and other matters with people who are leaving, they can gain the knowledge and intelligence needed to appease those who remain. It might be too late to prevent the exit interviewee from leaving, but the information they provide can potentially improve the organisation's employee retention strategy.

  • How common are exit interviews?

The vast majority (95 per cent) of HR directors surveyed by OfficeTeam said they believe exit interviews are either ‘sometimes’ or ‘very’ beneficial in helping to improve the working environment for employees.This has the potential to reduce long-term employee turnover.

However, less than a third (31 per cent) of HR directors said that they ‘always’ conduct exit interviews with staff.  A further 46 per cent ‘sometimes’ undertake exit interviews, depending on seniority, while 17 per cent undertake them depending on HR resources available.

Some organisations choose to conduct exit interviews internally, while others use the services of a recruitment agency. The latter approach - which sees a neutral third-party deliver the questions - increases the likelihood that interviewees will give honest, candid answers.

If employees have something negative to say - information which could help improve the retention strategy in the future - it is important they feel able to speak their mind. Sometimes, exit interviewees may be too wary of 'burning bridges' with an organisation to say exactly what they think.

  • What questions should you ask?

First and foremost, employers need to establish why the individual has chosen to leave, and whether there was anything that could be done to prevent the departure. Are they leaving to progress their career, and/or take on a better-paid role? Or are they making a sideways move, out of a desire to get out of your organisation?

It makes sense to ask exit interviewees directly what they think could be done better within your organisation. Often individuals raise pay and benefits issues, but they may also identify a need for additional training, more progression opportunities, increased employee flexibility, and revised management approaches.

It may also be worth asking interviewees which aspect of their job they have enjoyed the most - this can help employers play to their strengths in the future. There is also an opportunity to learn about relationships within the workplace - for instance, what does the departing employee think about their line manager and,more generally, their bosses?

Learning about the methods they used to find a new job is advisable - this offers insight into current patterns of behaviour. This can inform organisation's job marketing strategy, telling them which channels, websites, jobs boards etc to focus on. If all the in-demand professionals are looking for advertised roles in the same place, this may be where the ideal replacement candidate is found.

Employers should always ask exit interviewees whether they would consider working for the organisation again in the future. It may well be they are leaving due to a perceived lack of progression opportunities, but a suitable vacancy could open up in the future. At this point, it might be possible to tempt the high-performer back on improved terms.

  • How to conduct successful exit interviews

Carrying out successful exit interviews is not just about asking the right questions - employers also need to create the right environment. With this in mind, OfficeTeam has outlined five tips for conducting successful exit interviews:

    • Get the timing right - employers are urged to conduct the interview at an early stage, giving them time to investigate any potential grievances a departing worker may have. This might even encourage them to change their mind.
    • Earn the employee's trust - interviewees need to know that the information they provide will be taken in confidence, particularly if it is of a sensitive nature. Permission should be sought to share this with relevant individuals, such as senior members of staff.
    • Ensure interviews happen - even if managers are run off their feet, they need to ensure formal exit interviews take place. The information gleaned could be invaluable, so it is important to ensure these do not simply slide off the agenda.
    • Listen to employees - it is the role of the exit interviewer to listen, rather than talk. Their role is not to defend the way the company operates - it is to gain insight into the minds of employees.
    • Follow up the interview - there is little point conducting exit interviews if there is no follow-up. Employers need to review the findings, see how they compare to other exit interviews, and determine an appropriate course of action.

Phil Sheridan, UK managing director of OfficeTeam, said all the evidence shows employers recognise the value of seeking insight from those leaving the business.

"With increased job market confidence and employees looking for new opportunities, having a standardised exit interview strategy will ensure companies glean the right information to help them instill a positive work environment and employee programmes that will both retain and attract top talent," he added.