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Incorporating exit interviews into your offboarding process gives you the chance to capture a wealth of information — and the opportunity to learn more about any issues that may have inspired your employee to leave so you can create a better workplace going forward. Let’s take a closer look at best practices for successfully conducting an exit interview, what questions to ask, and how they can be most beneficial for you and your team.
What is an exit interview?
An exit interview is a conversation with a departing employee to get honest feedback about their experiences at your company and their reasons for leaving. The discussions are an opportunity to wrap up any loose items prior to the employee’s departure, answer any questions, and ensure your employees share anything they want you to know about their time in your employ. The exit interview process can take place in an in-person meeting or over the phone — or even structured as a survey.
Why are exit interviews important?
If you follow the right template, exit interviews should give you a unique opportunity to gain insight into your organization from your employees’ perspective. A departing employee typically has few reasons to hold back criticism, so it’s possible to get much more candor than you might get during a normal employee survey or feedback session. A departing employee is also likely to be leaving for a reason. Understanding why they were open to new opportunities may help you keep current employees better engaged. And it’s also a good way to understand what’s working.
The benefits of a strong exit interview process can hit any part of your business — from employee engagement to identifying poor managers to surfacing potential liabilities or HR compliance issues. Perhaps most importantly, good exit interviews can help you reduce the costs and operational disruptions of employee attrition. According to research from the Society for Human Resource Management, the costs to replace an employee can be as high as 50%-60% of their annual salary. Why? First, finding candidates and the interview process takes time. Then there’s the onboarding and training process, plus the time it takes for a new hire to get up to speed. It adds up more quickly than you may realize.
How to conduct an effective exit interview
The exit interview should be one of the very last steps of your offboarding process before the employee walks out the door. Ideally, it should be conducted by you or your HR manager. A direct supervisor can also be a part of the conversation, but keep in mind that this may cause the employee to be more hesitant in disclosing any issues relating to their manager or team.
Here are a few other best practices to keep in mind as you develop your process:
- Ask questions in a thoughtful and consistent manner.
- Be mindful of HR compliance laws about what you can and cannot ask employees.
- While there are a few key topics to cover, try to keep the meeting more conversational rather than formal.
- Listen for subtle cues in what’s being said and ask follow-up questions as appropriate.
- Be sure to document responses.
And be sure to set the right tone for the interview. While an employee may have less incentive to be guarded during an exit interview, they may also have reasons to lack trust in the process. So, do your best to have the conversation in a comfortable yet private setting. To begin, explain the goals of the meeting and how you’ll be using their feedback to improve experiences for future employees. Be sure to share that you value their honest feedback and that all responses will be handled confidentially.
What questions should you ask in an exit interview?
You can plan to ask as many questions as you need to within the allotted time, but here is a template you can start with:
- Why are you leaving the company? (This usually proves very useful in improving employee experiences in the future. So, do your best to understand and reflect on their response.)
- What did you like best about working here? What did you like least?
- How was your relationship with your supervisor? Your colleagues?
- Were you adequately and properly trained?
- How well were your skills utilized?
- Did you feel you had an opportunity to grow?
- Do you feel you were paid fairly for the work you performed?
- Would you recommend this company to others? Why, or why not?
- Do you have any suggestions to improve the workplace going forward?
- Are there any outstanding issues that need to be resolved or other information you’d like to share?
Depending on your business, different combinations or variations of these questions may be more applicable. For example, if employee safety is a major issue in your workplace, you might want to add a question about that. Use your best judgment to adjust questions as necessary for your business.
What to do when in-person just isn’t possible
Ideally, exit interviews are best conducted in person. But, sometimes an in-person interview just isn’t possible — especially for remote workers or after a short notice resignation. In any case, you can consider using an online survey with your questions. Although this method is less personable, it still allows you to gain some valuable insights.
Consider formatting most questions as statements utilizing a rating scale like strongly agree to strongly disagree. Save open-ended questions for key information you want to learn like “what was the primary cause for you to leave your job with us?” or “how was your working relationship with your team?” or “are there any outstanding issues that need to be addressed?” This way, you still allow employees the opportunity to address any concerns and give you their honest feedback, but in a more efficient way.
A good exit interview process can provide substantial benefits for both your company and your departing employee. It’s an opportunity to wrap up any loose ends and say goodbye. But, always keep in mind that exit interviews are the most effective if you utilize the feedback you receive. Putting an exit interview template in place won’t require anything more than your time, setting the right tone, and the willing participation of departing employees. Most importantly, it can be a great opportunity to learn and improve.