There may be times when companies see talented employees resign and wonder if they could have done more to prevent their decision. It may be too late to save that particular individual, but a well thought-out exit interview process can help employers work to prevent similar departures.

What are exit interviews?

Fundamentally, exit interviews allow employers to have a discussion with people who have resigned and are working their notice, to explore their reasons for leaving the company. It is not a legal requirement to have this meeting, but they can be a very useful method of gathering data on what employees think of the organisation and whether why they are leaving is something to do with their experience at the company rather than purely personal reasons.

The benefits of an exit interview

Providing they are carried out in the correct manner, exit interviews can be extremely beneficial to a company, helping it to take steps that can improve employee retention. This is because employees are given the opportunity to provide honest feedback on their experiences without fear of management reprisal. As they are already leaving, they will have little to lose and are more likely to be honest about any underlying issues. Conducting exit interviews on a routine basis will provide an idea of any recurring trends and potential areas for improvement within an organisation, particularly if the company is seeing high levels of employee turnover. They can also present opportunities to uncover any incidents of bullying or harassment that may have played a contributing factor in the employee’s departure, enabling appropriate action to be taken. Staff who feel safe and supported at work are less likely to look elsewhere for employment.

The exit interview process

To get the most out of this process, employers must first identify if the interview will be conducted online or in person. While less experienced employers may favour an online questionnaire to avoid any awkward situations, a one-to-one meeting may actually produce the most useful results as individuals may be able to elaborate on their opinions in more detail. If employers do wish to avoid a direct interview with employees who depart their business, they should draft up an exit interview questions template and make it business standard to distribute it when an employee leaves. If an employer would prefer to meet with the employee, it’s important to arrange the interview for a time and date that best suits both parties. Many employers opt to arrange this for some time during the employee’s final week. Companies should ensure the employee is afforded plenty of notice and try to avoid having to rearrange any proposed interview time to show that it is being treated with importance.

While there’s no specific exit interview questionnaire template to follow, there are a certain set of questions that should be covered.

  • What made the employee start looking for a new role?

  • What does their new role offer that their current role doesn’t?

  • Did they have the equipment to do their job correctly?

  • What would have helped them to stay?

  • Were they happy with the company culture?

  • What could the company have done to help them stay?

  • Would they want to return in the future?

It is important to prepare for any potential hostility as some employees may see the interviews as an opportunity to take a “parting shot” at the organisation. Employers should remain calm in these situations and remind the employee to behave professionally if their language or behaviour during the interview falls short. Having said this, employers should also be alert to any valid and constructive comments the employee makes about the organisation. There will be a reason why the employee is opting to leave and resolving any issues is likely to help with retention efforts in the future. It is also important to remember that one of their main reasons for leaving could be because of the employee’s line manager. It is therefore advisable that another manager, or HR representative, conduct the interview.

Making use of the data collected

Following the meeting, employers should review the information that the employee has provided and work to identify any areas within the management or daily activities of the company that may require evaluating or updating. For example, the employee may have enjoyed their job but felt that there were not enough opportunities for their training and development, meaning it may be worth identifying if the company should be doing more to provide this. Alternatively, the exit interview may reveal a toxic working environment that needs to be addressed, such as lack of support, unreasonable management expectations or even that some employees are favoured above others. It is a good idea to collate this information into a database and analyse it over a period of time. From here, an action plan can be developed to implement any changes.

The data should also be summarised and distributed to management staff, in order to make them aware of any recurring reasons why employees are leaving and encourage them to think about ways to counteract this. Ideas could be tabled at management meetings that are based on the comments made by leavers and are designed to improve performance and people management. This may call for adjustments to the work environment or mentoring of individual managers. Feedback from the exit interview could also be used to discuss ideas with existing employees in the company, noting their views on changes that could improve the working environment such as seating arrangements, provision of an area where rest breaks can be taken or opportunities for social events or team briefings. Where this type of information comes to light, it is useful to discuss it with other members of the team to understand their perspective and decide what action can be taken. While there may have been nothing to stop an employee from leaving, employers need to be aware if their colleagues are equally as disillusioned in their roles.

Conclusion

Although exit interviews may be time consuming and, occasionally, unpleasant, they can also be an invaluable tool of identifying areas for improvement within a company, fostering stronger workplace relations and, ultimately, assisting in the continued growth and development of the organisation.

Last reviewed 28 August 2019