Performance Management

Dos and Don'ts of Exit Interviews

April 14, 2017

Losing a talented employee is nothing short of disappointing. Coworkers are discouraged to see their team member leave and managers are stressed over the daunting task of finding a successor. Regardless, there’s one final task that should be done correctly during the offboarding process:  the exit interview. Often mistaken as a poor use of time, this discussion provides insight that can aid in developing retention strategies and fixing organizational issues.

As with any breakup, this conversation should be handled with care. Here are several often overlooked dos and don’ts for conducting exit interviews:

Do:

  • Provide the employee with advance written notice of the interview.
  • Consider scheduling the interview several days prior or within two weeks of their final day, if time permits. The time may allow them to gain perspective and, if there was animosity with the departure, they’ll be in a better position to discuss with less emotion.
  • Communicate the expectation that departing employees participate in the interview process but understand that they don’t have any legal obligation to participate. To encourage greater participation, employers should explain the purpose of the interview to help promote an open discussion.
  •  If possible, have someone other than the employee’s immediate supervisor conduct the interview.
  • Prepare questions in advance to gain truthful information on what’s lacking in the company and culture, areas that are proven to be successful and specific job details in the position that can be passed onto the replacement.  Consider developing a set of questions you ask all departing employees. That way you can more easily identify trends in the responses.
  • Maintain confidentiality to the extent possible. Based on what departing employees say it may not be possible. (I.e. sexual harassment claims, ethics violations, etc.)
  • Take notes and collect exit detailed interview data from all key departing employees in order to identify workplaces issues that might be causing low morale and turnover.   

Don’t:

  • Adhere only to the list of exit interview questions. Ask follow-up questions to understand the key reasons for why they are leaving and why they aren’t staying.
  • Get defensive to ensure the employee feels comfortable in speaking openly.
  • Fuel office gossip. Avoid asking specific questions about people within the organization and including your personal opinions.
  • Use this as an opportunity to coerce the employee into staying by fixing their issues. That discussion should have taken place when they initially announced their resignation rather than during their exit interview.
  • Take the feedback personally. Approach the interview with a professional, business mindset and put personal issues aside.
  • Assume that you’ll find that golden nugget of information to reduce future turnover. The process may not tell you everything that you need to know but can serve as a good start to learn why your top talent leaves.
  • Burn bridges. Leave the relationship on a positive note.

It's not necessary to wait until an employee leaves to conduct this type of interview. Consider holding “stay interviews” to determine why employees stay with you. This retention tool can boost engagement and employees will appreciate that their opinions are heard while they’re still on your team. Knowledge is power and with solid data from departing staff, you can implement positive changes to strengthen the organization and retain valuable employees.

This communication is for informational purposes only; it is not legal, tax or accounting advice; and is not an offer to sell, buy or procure insurance

By Natalie Kramer

Natalie Kramer is a customer marketing specialist at TriNet.

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