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Have Employees Leaving? Make Sure to Conduct an Exit Interview

written by: N Nayab•edited by: Ginny Edwards•updated: 6/9/2011

Exit interviews are interviews conducted with the departing managerial and supervisory level employees, just before or after they leave the organization. The departing employees usually open their mind and provide valuable feedback on the state of the organization and on employee perceptions.

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    A properly conducted exit interview for executives provides the organization with useful information on the actual environment at the work floor, including the processes and systems, the degree to which employees accept or are happy with the organizational culture, and how the employees perceive the management. Some specific purposes served are as follows:

    • The departing employee makes open criticism and blunt analysis of the organization. The criticism and analysis that comes without fear of reprisal provides the organization with valuable and very often correct feedback, and becomes a good base to institute corrective measures.
    • The Human Resources team probes the real reasons for the departure. Many employees sugar-coat the resignation letter owing to fear of reprisal. Probing the real reason, especially when the fear of reprisal is gone very often reveals hidden facts about bad supervisors, forgotten promises, poor communication issues, some negative dimensions to the corporate culture, and more, again providing the organization with an opportunity to make amends.
    • The departing employee hands over key files and job related knowledge to the successor before leaving, but invariably takes away a portion of the organization’s intellectual capital. The knowledge lost may range from an informal shortcut to do a process fast to a rapport with a key supplier, or anything else. Interviewing the departing employee allows the organization to retain some of this intellectual capital, especially knowledge regarded as casual and overlooked during the official handing over process.

    Good interviews highlight both the underlying tension and competence of the organization in its relationships with staff, customers, suppliers, third-parties and the public.

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    The procedure and structure of the exit interview is the same as that of any normal interview. A face-to-face mode works best to comprehend emotions and non-verbal messages such as body language cues, but a non-visual interview, through voice or text chat encourages the employee to make brutally blunt criticisms. Most interviews follow a structured approach with pre-determined questions, but an interactive interview allows the interviewer to ask follow up questions depending on the employee's answer.

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    Common Questions

    Most interviewers ask questions that solicit employees views and feedback regarding the time in the organization. Some of the common questions that find inclusion in the questionnaire or on the interviewer's mind when conducting a non-structured interview are:

    • reasons for leaving
    • what the organization could have done differently to prevent the resignation
    • what the employee liked best about the organization
    • what the employee disliked the most about the organization
    • feedback on the processes, procedures and systems
    • feedback on the communication within the organization
    • feedback on whether the employee feels the organization is doing enough to motivate the employees
    • feedback on the different leadership styles witnessed by the employee in the organization
    • whether the organization used the employee’s talents fully, and what the employee could have done extra if provided with the opportunity
    • feedback on the training and developmental interventions offered to the employee
    • feedback on the objectivity of the promotion policy
    • feedback on the equity and perceived equity of the compensation package
    • feedback on the working conditions, such as hours of work, holidays, and the like
    • feedback on working conditions, such as soundness of machinery, safety policy, and the like
    • whether the employee felt proud to say he or she was working with the company, with reasons
    • whether the employee has been a victim of discrimination or harassment at any stage
    • what considerations offered by the new company prompted the employee to leave
    • additional information that the employee might want to offer the company

    Depending on the company policy and the human resource availability situation, some organizations make a final attempt to persuade the employee to stay back based on the employee’s answers.

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    Success of the exit interview for executives depend on many factors. Participation by the departing employee leaving is voluntary, and even if they do so, they need not necessarily provide quality feedback. On the other side, many employers, owing to insecurity and a defensive mindset, fail to act on the findings, and thereby defeat the very purpose of the interview.

    Organizations that act on the findings send across the message their willingness to accept criticism and learn from mistakes. This raises the stature of the organization and contributes to better employee morale and reduced employee turnover, besides improving overall organizational climate and performance.

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    Source: Author's own experience

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