Gathering Information Before the Door Hits Employees on the Way Out

The end of employment is a hectic time for HR. You have to document the reasons for the employee’s departure, deal with benefits issues, and ensure that the soon-to-be-ex-employee’s final paycheck is accurate. Sometimes, you’re simply relieved to get the departing employee out the door. Before you kick him to the curb, however, you should consider the benefits of conducting an exit interview.exit interviews

The information employers obtain through exit interviews is often very valuable. Exit interviews take a minimal amount of time and cost you nothing out of pocket. Moreover, you can tap in to what’s good, bad, and ugly about your workplace.

Why Do Exit Interviews?

Conducting exit interviews can certainly be a hassle, especially for large employers. But the information and insight you can gain about your business, and even the business of your competitors, can be well worth the investment. Exit interviews can tell you why employees are choosing to leave your organization, shed light on the factors that lured them to another business (e.g., wages, benefits, or opportunities offered elsewhere), and allow you to uncover the positive and not-so-positive things going on in your organization.

Exit interviews provide an opportunity to learn about management and business problems that you may not have known existed. They also provide an opportunity to gather suggestions for improvement from employees who are intimately familiar with your business but didn’t speak up before they decided to leave.

How to Do an Exit Interview

First of all, you should conduct exit interviews only with employees who are voluntarily leaving your organization. Employees who are discharged aren’t likely to share useful information when they leave, and you need to complete the departure process for a terminated employee much more quickly than for an employee who provided advance notice of her departure.

Exit interviews can be done in person, over the telephone, or through a written questionnaire. While some HR experts believe that former employees are more likely to be candid on paper, I’m a believer that there’s no substitution for talking with someone face-to-face.

The person conducting the interview should prepare a list of general topics to be covered in advance to ensure consistency in the feedback being sought and provide a road map for a smoother interview. The interviewer should also be able to ask follow-up questions to elicit honest and thoughtful responses. The general topics in the interview outline should include questions such as:

  • What made you decide to leave your employment with us?
  • What attracted you to your new job?
  • What does your new job offer that you believe is better or different from your position with us?
  • What did you enjoy about your employment with us?
  • What are some issues or concerns you had during your employment with us?
  • What could we do better to improve our business?
  • What could we do better to improve our work environment?
  • Do you have other comments or suggestions about your employment with us?

Selecting who will conduct the exit interview is an important decision. You could assign the task to your HR manager or another manager at the organization. The interviewer must have excellent communication skills, including the ability to listen carefully, probe for thoughtful answers, and encourage a dialogue with the departing employee.

What to Do with the Information You Get

The biggest mistake you can make with regard to exit interviews is failing to do anything with the information you receive. Because much of the useful information is anecdotal, it isn’t easily compiled into graphs and statistics that are easy to review and digest.

As a result, you should develop a process for compiling the information in a meaningful way so upper management can review it on a regular basis. By implementing such a process, you will be able to utilize the information gleaned to improve your working environment, internal policies and procedures, and overall business operations.

Bottom Line

Exit interviews are an effective method for gaining insight regarding your organization. You will learn about the things your business is doing well and things it is not. While many employers pay big bucks to consultants to come in and identify the good and the bad about their work environments and businesses, some of this information can be easily gathered from your departing employees for free.

Taking the time to implement a regular exit interview process, eliciting thoughtful feedback regarding your work environment and business and reviewing and analyzing that feedback can be a significant asset to your organization.

Susan Llewellyn Deniker, contributor to West Virginia Employment Law Letter, may be reached at susan.deniker@steptoe-johnson.com.

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