Running Your Business

Exit Interviews: 3 Important Topics to Emphasize


  • A key strategy for improving employee retention is understanding why employees leave

  • Exit interviews can help organizations understand workplace trends

  • Conducting an effective exit interview takes time and resources

Posted by May 8, 2019

According to a study by Future Workplace and Kronos Incorporated, 87 percent of employers said that improving employee retention is a critical priority for their organization. One of the key strategies for improving retention is understanding why employees leave.

If organizations don’t understand why employees start looking for new opportunities, they can’t address any challenges that might be present. The best way to find out why employees leave is simply asking them. When conducted properly, an exit interview can help organizations understand trends within their workforce.

Structuring the Exit Interview to Produce Results

Exit interviews are feedback discussions with employees who are leaving. Organizations need to shed the opinion that these conversations are simply an opportunity for workers to say negative things. While it’s true that employees might offer criticism, they also allow organizations the chance to learn what the individuals actually enjoyed about their employment experience.

Well-designed processes lead to valuable outcomes. Here are a couple things for companies to keep in mind when conducting an exit interview.

Timing Is Everything

Some organizations like to do interviews at the moment an employee announces their resignation. An alternative to consider is waiting not only until after the employee leaves, but even giving them a couple of weeks. Time can allow employees to gain useful perspective.

A departing employee might be upset with the company or their manager, but after a couple weeks, they may be able to talk about the situation with less emotion. They might still be unhappy, but it’s likely that they’ll offer better feedback.

Select the Right Person

Keep in mind, if an employee had an issue with their supervisor, the chances of the employee sharing that insight with their supervisor during the interview are pretty slim. The same philosophy applies to Human Resources. Since HR is often considered the keeper of employee references, this could prohibit workers from opening up—an employee might not want to burn bridges. If organizations really want team members to provide open, honest and unfiltered feedback, they might want to consider engaging a neutral, third-party.

Conducting exit interviews can be a valuable experience for any organization, provided the interview is done for the right reasons. If a company is simply conducting them to determine if the departing employee plans to sue, it isn’t using its resources wisely.

3 Topics Companies Should Discuss During Exit Interviews

Organizations conduct exit interviews to get information about the employee experience. The feedback received could be valuable on its own or used in conjunction with other exit interview data. Here are three important topics to discuss during these conversations.

1. Why the Employee Started Looking for a New Job

An employee’s desire to leave on good terms could influence their responses. For example, an employee might say they are resigning for more money, better benefits, flexible scheduling, shorter commute, etc. And all of that might be true—but what the employee didn’t tell you was the catalyst that influenced them to look for a new opportunity in the first place.

What was the issue that motivated them to read the classified ads or post their resume on a job board? It could have been a comment from their manager. The goal is to find out what caused the employee to start looking.

2. The Best (and Worst) Parts of the Employment Experience

There are a lot of potential exit interview questions that touch on an individual’s personal experience. A quick internet search will yield hundreds. The Muse outlines seven of the most common questions that can provide actionable insights into an organization’s operation.

One thing to keep in mind is that it’s important to plan time wisely. An exit interview isn’t a substitute for having regular one-on-one meetings or annual employee engagement surveys. The organization should align its questions with the goal of the exit interview. Finally, companies should be prepared (and willing) to address the issues they’re asking about. There’s nothing worse than asking someone for feedback, only to ignore it.

3. The Former Employee’s Future Relationship With the Company

Exit interviews are usually one-way feedback—where the employee provides the organization with their thoughts and opinions. But maybe that needs to change. Not every employee leaves because they are disgruntled and hate the business. There are times when companies need to let employees explore new opportunities or gain new skills.

Individuals sometimes need to experience other organizations and different industries. It helps them grow personally and professionally. A good exit interview doesn’t mean the company should talk an employee out of leaving, but employers should invest some energy into the impression they want great employees to leave with.

Taking Action With Exit Interviews

Conducting an effective exit interview takes time and resources. The last thing an organization should do after making this kind of investment is simply file away the responses after a quick glance by management. Once the company has collected the information, it’s a good idea to have a process for reviewing (and acting on) those results. By using the information they receive, the company is able to incorporate positive changes into the workplace and, hopefully, reduce employee turnover.

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