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The Exit Interview - Top Questions & Best Practices

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For some employers the exit interview is seen as a tick-the-box exercise. For others, it’s not even a mandatory one. But most employers are missing a trick.

A thoughtful exit interview can inform a company what it needs to change in order to enhance employee retention in the future. Through finding out why the employee is leaving, whether it be through a face-to-face conversation, a questionnaire or a combination, it can improve leaders’ listening skills, reveal what does or doesn’t work inside an organisation, highlight hidden challenges and opportunities and generate essential competitive intelligence. It’s about maximising the opportunities to improve your organisation, at a time when attracting top talent has never been more challenging.

The main goal for any business is to not lose valued employees in the first place. But that’s a virtually impossible feat, so employers need to view the exit interview as a useful tool and hopefully minimise staff turnover to a point where it is lower than competitors.

An organisation with lower staff attrition than its competitors’ can be at a considerable advantage—particularly if it retains its top performers. If people are leaving an organisation in growing numbers, figuring out why is crucial. A strategic exit interview programme will be extremely beneficial, but it needs to be tailored to the business as it is not a one size-fits all situation. That said, it will help if employers focus on certain goals.

What are the Exit Interview goals employers need to follow?

Get the timing right:

Don’t wait until the employee has disengaged. This is one of the biggest mistakes an employer can make. Waiting too long to conduct the exit interview could mean they have checked out mentally and won’t be as willing to have an open and honest discussion about their reasons for leaving. Equally, not having the interview too early, such as right after they announce they are leaving, as emotions are at peak level. Somewhere in between is ideal.

Unmask any HR issues:

But don’t be too focused on salary and benefits. Managers and business leaders sometimes assume an employee is leaving as they are being offered more money elsewhere. More often than not, that’s not the case. Especially now. People have re-evaluated what’s important to them over the last couple of years including what’s important to them in their career; therefore their reasons for leaving will be varied.

Understand the employee’s opinion of their role:

It’s about figuring out what did and did not motivate them. Delve a little deeper here. By getting the employee’s frank thoughts on their actual job but also things like working conditions and office culture, it can lead to an opportunity to improve motivation, efficiency and effective teamwork for remaining and future staff.

Be open to ideas for improvement:

This innovative approach speaks volumes by showing an exiting employee that their opinion matters. It’s about using the opportunity to simply find out where the employee sees room for improvement. By taking this approach, it shows you care as an employer. The candidate will depart with a positive impression and feeling valued. And it could also reveal a trend if the same suggestion is brought up time and time again.

Choose the right person to be interviewer:

Careful consideration should be given to who the exit interviewer will be. It depends on the seniority of the departing employee, but a good idea is to involve the staff member directly above them. Why? Because they are more likely to give them honest feedback. The relationship is likely to be stronger. And these managers can take immediate action in implementing change.

Some questions to consider asking employees in the exit interview:

·         What is the company doing right?

·         How could conditions be improved?

·         What would you do to change any aspect of the organisation?

·         Can you describe your general feelings about working here and if possible, outline your reasons for leaving?

·         What did you enjoy about working here?

·         What advice would you give for the next person in your role?

What topics to avoid discussing in the exit interview:

·         Don’t ask targeted questions about specific people or issues

·         Don’t feed office gossip

·         Don’t agree or disagree with any negative feedback, particularly about other members of staff

·         Don’t get into personal issues

·         Don’t try to dissuade them from leaving at this point – ideally this would be done at the time the employee gave notice.