The purpose of exit interviews

Recently I was doing some work with a company striving to improve their retention rate. We got into a discussion about exit interviews. I found out they were not doing them.

Their reasoning, I discovered, was simple — why spend the time with someone that is leaving? We don’t have time for looking backwards! With the loss of an employee, we should only be spending time in trying to hire the person to take over for the exiting employee.

I pushed back on this reasoning, explaining that the goal of the exit interview is to gain insight into the reason for leaving, so that the organization can improve. With the right kind of self-reflection, brought about by the exit interview, the hiring team can use the information to more effectively hire and retain the next person.

A Human Resources Manager with exceptional interpersonal skills is a good choice for conducting the exit interview. The intent is to create an open and trusting environment so that the exiting employee feels comfortable in pointing exactly to the reason for departure.

The Human Resources Manager should explore the issues without judgment. They should ask questions that thoroughly explore problems — whether they are skills related (I was not comfortable with the level of work being asked of me); personal (I did not get along with my manager); or unrelated (my wife got a transfer to Tampa).

During the exit interview the HR Manager should take copious notes. Later these notes should be utilized to improve the organization. Never for gossip or political reasons. A good HR Manager understands the difference between these two paths, and has learned to maneuver in this way.

The exit interview should be one-on-one. I can’t think of any scenario where it would make sense for the exiting employee would feel more comfortable, or more likely to be honest, if there were several people present in an exit interview.

After we discussed the reasoning and the methodology of the exit interview, the company started to employee the technique. I am looking forward to seeing the results of this new practice.

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Dan Erling