Exit interviews … why bother? Throughout my HR experience in companies of all sizes and in various industries, I have seen the benefits of conducting exit interviews. It’s these interviews that provide an invaluable source of information on what’s working and what’s not working in the organization. The purpose of an exit interview is to shed light on areas requiring further attention to ultimately improve retention and engagement and in turn reduce turnover. However, exit interviews will only be a valuable resource if executed with proper care and for the right reasons.
The following 7 factors are pivotal best practices to gain the most value out of your exit interviews:
- Timing is important
- Confidentiality must be upheld
- The mechanism to collect data matters
- Choosing the right interviewer is crucial for honest feedback
- Aligning questions to engagement measures provides a deeper analysis
- Interviews must be administered consistently across levels and only for voluntary departures
- Sharing the results must be embedded into metrics, quarterly reviews and executive discussions
1. Timing is important
By simply adjusting the time period to conduct the exit interview resulted in almost a doubling of the completion rate of exit interviews within an organization I worked in. Prior to making the adjustment, we had sent out the exit interview survey on the employee’s last day. On the last day, employees are typically checked out and completing an exit interview is the farthest thing from their mind. We had little to no traction on our exit interviews. By working with the HR team to map out our exit interview process from the start (employee has voluntarily resigned) to the end (employee has left the organization), we were able to shift timelines of when to send out the exit interview. We changed the process to:
- Sending out the exit interview upon receiving the notification of resignation.
- On average, most employees provided 2 weeks’ notice giving our employees a two-week window to complete the exit interview.
- Sending out a reminder email on completing the exit interview one week prior to their last day.
Assess your process and analyze your exit interview completion rates. Are you getting a high completion rate? If not, it may be an opportune time to re-evaluate the timing of when you send out the exit interview.
2. Confidentiality must be upheld
If you say your exit interviews are confidential, then ensure they are. Remember that the purpose of an exit interview is to give you insight into opportunities to improve; however, this should never be seen as an opportunity to share verbatim what employees have chosen to disclose. Pick up on trends, commonalities of responses and summarize the information so that confidentiality can be upheld.
3. The mechanism to collect data matters
I’ve seen companies send out extensive exit interviews with 20+ questions and mandatory comment fields for each question. Exit interviews don’t need to be complex or entail many questions to gather valuable information about what’s working and what isn’t. To increase the likelihood of having your departing employees complete the exit interview, I’ve learned that the exit interview must be user-friendly, mobile-friendly and include an opportunity for the employee to choose whether they would prefer to have the exit interview conducted via survey or face-to-face interview.
- Make the exit interview easy to understand and minimize the administrative back-and-forth.
- Make it a PDF fillable form with a submit button to direct the form to the appropriate unit (i.e. HR).
- Create an online survey, allowing the employee to simply tab through the questions.
- Provide drop-downs and scales to allow for easier completion but also add a comments section, as this tends to be the most telling information.
- Create an online survey, so employees can complete the exit interview on their mobile devices at their convenience.
- Provide a link to the survey in your exit interview communications so the employee can easily click and complete.
Face-to-face interview vs. survey
- Some employees would prefer to meet with HR/appropriate stakeholder to verbally complete the exit interview so provide that option. Just ensure you choose the right interviewer … that brings us to point #4.
4. Choosing the right interviewer is crucial for honest feedback
You have to carefully choose who interviews each respective employee. One size doesn’t fit all in this case. I have found that having a direct Manager conduct the exit interview results in surface-level feedback. As the saying goes “People leave Managers, not companies” so having a Manager conduct an exit interview may not result in honest feedback. To create an open and safe environment, choose a representative/interviewer outside of the direct reporting lines of the departing employee.
5. Aligning questions to engagement measures provides a deeper analysis
To get the most out of your exit interviews, make sure your questions are relevant and insightful. This requires a bit of creativity and a lot of trial and error. In my experience, when reviewing our exit interview processes and associated forms, I’ve always asked – “Will these questions reveal powerful and actionable insights?” Here are some ways I’ve revamped our questions to garner more insightful and valuable feedback:
- Align questions to your core values. This will reveal whether you live and breathe your core values and which particular values are demonstrated regularly and which ones are lacking in day-to-day interactions.
- Add in questions related to your engagement survey measures. If you’ve completed a baseline engagement survey, use the exit interviews as a pulse-check to continually assess how you’re doing on engagement measures. Is there improvement? Is it still seen as an opportunity to improve?
6. Interviews must be administered consistently across levels and only for voluntary departures
If exit interviews are a part of your employee life cycle process, then exit interviews should be administered to all employees who voluntarily leave your organization. An exit interview shouldn’t be administered only at the front-line staff level. It should be administered throughout levels, from front-line staff to management to executives. Gathering intel and making sense of this intel (i.e. trends and patterns within each level) will reveal more robust information on what’s working and what’s not working within the different layers and operations of the company.
7. Sharing the results must be embedded into metrics, quarterly reviews and executive discussions
It’s what you do with the information gathered from exit interviews that is a telling sign if employees choose to participate. If they know that their feedback will be actioned, they are more likely to share.
I’ve seen companies conduct exit interviews and capture results in spreadsheets, but do very little with analyzing results and metrics and sharing this invaluable information with leaders within the organization.
I found that when I made sense of the information flowing in, summarized trends at each level and correlated it to our company direction/goals, this is what resonated with our leadership team. Presenting the exit interviews with relevant metrics and a correlation to our business drivers/goals, allowed our leaders to see exit interviews as more than just a form but instead a strategic must-have. The metrics derived from our exit interviews became a static agenda item on quarterly reviews and monthly leadership meetings.
Exit interviews provide an opportunity to gain insight into strengths and issues within your organization and pinpoint what improvements need to be made to increase retention and engagement. Adopting best practices will lead to not only a higher participation in your exit interviews but also lead to more valuable feedback on the day-to-day operations, leadership, culture and more.
Take the time to re-evaluate your exit interview process. Are you getting the most value out of your existing process and forms?
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