The Exit Interview – Commercial Opportunity or Boring Routine?

If you view exit interviews as boring routine and nothing changes as result of the process, then you really do need to pay attention. There is no point in talking about commercial HR if you don’t pay attention to the obvious and hidden cost of employee turnover and realise the savings you can make to the bottom line by addressing the reasons why people are leaving.

But the internet is littered with a raft of information as to the top reasons why people leave companies, so why bother with exit interviews? Simply this, you need the information, the specifics and the detail to effect change.

So how to make the interview effective and get the most out of it? Here are my favourite tips:

1. Use the information you know already to structure your interview and questions. You know the main reasons why most people leave companies and just to recap they are:

 My Manager The top reason, it may revolve around how that manager operates or it might be just one critical thing they do that sends your employee nuts. Unclear in setting expectations, unrealistic workload, being micro-managed, abandoned, talked down to, ignored, are all typical.
Bad fit to job and environment So the recruitment process isn’t working at its best or the employee was just testing out the environment. Job content not as expected, changes to job that don’t sit well, skills underutilised, no career stretch can be expected responses.
Lack of connection with company This is the disengaged employee who is struggling to see development opportunities, has no sense of belonging, may suffer from lack of teamwork or co-operation between colleagues and departments.
Work habits of other employees So what do you have to do to get recognition around here and why is it all so unfair? This is the under-valued employee who works hard, takes little time off, is good at their job but sees colleagues take excessive time off or get promoted for being a triumph of style over substance. It’s where bad habits are rewarded or ignored and the good guys get left to pick up the work.
Sub-par remuneration and benefits Where your employee isn’t being paid at market rate or is being discriminated against.

So a good foundation is to base your questions around these areas. It’s more than likely these will have in some way contributed to your employee leaving.shutterstock_157997729

2. Be aware of gender and age related research on reasons why people leave jobs:
Research is now showing that gender and age can influence reasons for leaving, so for example women tend to leave for reasons of flexibility more than men and as employees get older, remuneration tends to slip down the priority list.

3. Prepare: Once the resignation has happened, get something in the diary pretty soon after. This is not the sort of discussion to have on the fly in the last 48 hours of the outgoing employee’s notice period. You will probably already have the headlines of why this person is leaving, so base your preparation around that. Make it clear that you are taking this discussion seriously, as the employee may well have some important things to say.

4. Be creative in your thinking: Test out some of your ideas for increasing your retention statistics as you’ll get feedback from these employees. Ask them for theirs.

5. Identify your problem area and the information you need to effect change: So for example, if you only have issues with losing your best people then consider just focusing most of your Exit Interview efforts on that group of people. Develop yourself a strategy that you can manage and that will give you results.

6. Listen, listen and listen some more: If you are asking the right questions, then be prepared to hear the answers. It is easy to fall into the trap of trying to defend against any feedback you are receiving. This is not the time to go in for ‘he said, she said’ discussions. Better to take on board as much as a departing employee is prepared to share. Analysis of its accuracy can be determined at a later stage.

7. Don’t take it personally – This is a career decision for someone and it is best to leave emotions out of the discussion. Frankly, anything they choose to share with you is their prerogative, and there may well be instances when the meeting does not go as you might like. It’s fine to let them know if you are disappointed to lose them, but at the same time you have to respect their decision and focus on using this meeting to help prevent someone leaving for the same reason again, wherever possible. At the same time, you must also accept that some of the reasons will be out of your hands, and indeed the hands of the business.

8. Show your commercial credentials. Use the information – all too many findings from exit interviews are forgotten almost before the meeting is over, thus rendering the entire process pointless at best and a waste of time and money at worst. Review the information, check and reflect on what you hear, consult and agree a course of action. Prevent losing good employees through lack of action.