Should HR Conduct Exit Interviews?

June 25, 2015 Zuman

exitstageleft-2Many HR departments conduct exit interviews when employees give their notice to determine why people leave, where they go to work next and if there is anything that could have been done differently to prevent the turnover. When several employees leave around the same time, executives may get a bit desperate to find out why. However, there is little agreement in human resources about whether exit interviews are actually effective. Some HR managers argue these interviews are a valuable source of data they can put into action, and they are a strategy to decrease risks. In addition, they provides closure for employees and gives employers a chance to build positive feelings so former employees might consider recommending the organization in the future.

Why Aren’t Exit Interviews More Effective?
When multiple people accept job offers elsewhere, the HR department needs data. However, it’s very difficult for companies to use this information to make proactive changes to improve retention. Top performers often leave because of bad leadership – a situation that isn’t easy to rectify. On the other hand, some employees may be afraid to express their true feelings in fear of retaliation, so the manager conducting the interview may not get the information they were hoping for.

An employee’s relationship with his or her manager is a major factor in turnover. It could be because a team lead isn’t good at communicating or doesn’t take the time to meet one-on-one with team members to discuss employee development. Despite this, many departing employees won’t come out and say they didn’t like their managers, especially in the tech industry where the same people tend to shuffle back and forth between a small pool of companies, according to Quartz. It’s likely that someone could end up working for the same manager down the road in his or her career. Employees are more likely to keep their negative comments to themselves rather than risk jeopardizing future career prospects.

Why It May Be Time to Ditch Exit Interviews
In general, employees do not like exit interviews. It may frustrate your top performers that they weren’t being asked these same questions for the past year. In addition, some employers ask if there is anything they can do to change the worker’s mind, but they don’t have a genuine offer. The person conducting the exit interview often has a checklist of questions and takes notes, which doesn’t do much to put the employee at ease.

Even when two valued employees leave for similar reasons, executives may not want to accept the correlation unless the HR department has more data. By the time HR managers collect enough information to make meaningful changes, all the company’s top performers may have moved on to other opportunities. Ultimately, if no one plans to put these insights to use, conducting exit interviews may be a waste of time.

How to Make Exit Interviews More Effective

If you still want to gain insight into why top performers leave, you may need to reconfigure how you proceed. Rather than approaching the exit interview as a formal process with a checklist, employees may feel more comfortable and more likely to be honest if it’s in a conversational format. In addition, the person conducting the exit interview should guarantee confidentiality for whatever the employee might say. Without honest feedback, the process is useless for everyone involved.

Exit interviews are more effective when they are held on a one-on-one basis. Employees may feel overwhelmed if multiple managers sit in on the interview. Although there are likely some questions you are required to ask, it may be a good idea to keep it as simple as possible to avoid taking too much of a departing employee’s time. Don’t ask employees if there’s anything that would keep them there unless you’re prepared to deliver. For example, if someone is otherwise happy but accepted an offer for more money, he or she will likely ask for a substantial raise, which may not be possible.

Ask specific questions to uncover the root causes of why people are leaving, including:

  • How well or how often do you feel your work was recognized or appreciated?
  • What could be done to make this company a better place to work?
  • How would you describe your team’s morale?
  • How did the job meet your expectations?
  • Would you recommend this company as a great place to work to a friend?
  • Did the work line up with your personal goals and interests?
  • Did you have the tools or training you needed to do your job effectively?

Most importantly, employers need to be prepared to put what they learn from exit interviews to use. Otherwise, they may face higher turnover rates and consistently lose their best hires.

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