How to conduct an exit interview for employee offboarding
Performance 4 minute read

How to conduct an exit interview for employee offboarding

Andra Mircioiu | July 2, 2020

Knowing how to conduct an exit interview is a valuable skill for any human resources manager. There is a lot that can be gained from a well-conducted exit interview.

When an employee quits your organization, it’s certainly a loss.

It’s also an opportunity.

By conducting an exit interview as part of your employee offboarding strategy, you can identify opportunities for improvement within your organization—opportunities which could help you reduce employee turnover and retain the talent you currently have.

The cost of losing an employee is $20,000 CAD (or $15,000 USD), as estimated by the Work Institute—and, according to them, that’s a conservative estimate. So it pays to understand why an employee has chosen to leave your company and what you can do to prevent others from following suit.

We’ve put together a quick guide on how to conduct an exit interview, including the best way to gather honest feedback, how to aggregate your findings, and the single most important question to ask your departing employees.

An exit interview is not about assigning blame or airing past grievances. It’s a fact-finding, knowledge-sharing discussion that can help you gather useful information and identify patterns in the feedback you get from your departing employees.

In other words, the purpose of an exit interview is to find out why an employee is leaving your organization and if you can do anything to fix it. Fixing it, in this case, means improving things for the employees that haven’t yet given notice.

An easy way to find patterns in your exit interview data is to gather all the feedback into a spreadsheet and quickly scan for repeating keywords or phrases.

Once you’ve identified patterns, you can then create a plan of action to address them and share it with senior executives within your organization to gain buy-in and traction.

For example:

  • If some of your departing employees tell you that the work wasn’t what they expected, it might mean that your job postings don’t clearly outline the expectations of the role.
  • If most of the departing employees mention disliking the working environment, e.g. long hours and no recognition, it’s time to review your organization’s commitment to work-life balance.
  • If the general feedback points to few or no opportunities for advancement, refocus your attention on the possibility of promoting internal candidates and paying for more employees to attend seminars or conferences.

By gathering feedback in an exit interview and transforming it into visible improvements within your organization, you’re demonstrating to your current employees that you value everyone’s opinion—and bolstering employee morale.

Honesty is the most important thing when it comes to an effective exit interview.

Feedback that isn’t genuine isn’t helpful to you, so it’s critical to make your departing employees feel that they can be truthful with you.

One way to do that is to emphasize, repeatedly, that the feedback is anonymous and confidential. Remember that departing employees are wary of burning bridges or ruining future references from your organization. If you assure a departing employee that their feedback is kept confidential and anonymously aggregated, you have the best chance of getting honest feedback rather than scripted responses.

There may be exceptions to this, of course. If your employee says (or even hints) that they’re leaving because of discrimination or harassment, you’ll need to follow your standard Human Resources investigation procedures to understand what happened and address it as you normally would address any other complaint.

‘Why’ is the most important question to ask during an exit interview. Why did an employee start looking for a new role (the inciting factor) and why did they decide to accept the new role (the hook). Sometimes, there’s no inciting factor and an employee is poached by a company who can offer higher pay or title. Sometimes, it’s conflict with their manager that incites them to look for another role and they might take any other job in their field to get away from a bad situation at your company.

As your employee is answering the ‘why’, and any follow-up questions, paraphrase their answers before writing them down. Read what you’ve written out loud to get confirmation from the department employee that it’s what they meant to say. This way, there’s less opportunity for miscommunication or misunderstandings and it lets you nail down any nuances.

One final consideration during an exit interview is broaching the subject of your employee’s potential return (as a boomerang employee) by inviting them to connect with you on LinkedIn or join your employee alumni network.

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