Exit Interviews

Exit interviews are a way to survey departing employees about topics related to the employee experience of organizational culture, work motivation, management style, and other items pertaining to the functioning of the organization.

Since employees are leaving the organization they are significantly more likely to give honest feedback that they might otherwise withhold. It is through exit interviews that organizations gain unique insight into the strengths and perhaps undocumented weaknesses of organization structure.

What is an exit interview?

An exit interview is a forty-five to sixty minute meeting between a current employee and an employee leaving the organization due to voluntary or involuntary termination. Exit interviews shed light on how the organization might improve, send the employee off feeling good about their time with the organization, and, in certain circumstances, provide a platform to try and retain the employee.

Information collected can include perception of management style, motivation for the mission, areas of frustration, positive aspects of their work experience, and any general departing thoughts the employee would like to share.

What is the importance of exit interviews?

Exit interviews are not only important for the organization in terms of collecting honest feedback from the departing employee but they also help to send the employee off with a positive experience, as the employee feels that the organization values their service and their opinion.

If done well, exit interviews can support organizations in making major internal improvements that lead to the strengthening staff engagement and retention, goal accomplishment, and level of impact in the organization’s service area.

Should there be an exit interview policy?

The first thing that organizations should implement is a standard policy that all employees leaving the organization must complete a mandatory and confidential exit interview. All employees should confirm they understand the policy, which could be kept in the standard Staff Handbook.

A separate, perhaps more internal policy should be written regarding how the organization will store and utilize the information collected during each exit interview. Exit interviews are not helpful unless the organization knows how to use the information to evaluate structure and potentially create improvement strategies.

Who conducts the exit interview?

Any current employee may conduct an exit interview, such as an employee’s direct supervisor or a neutral human resources staff member. The interviewer should be viewed by the departing employee as someone who will maintain confidentiality and be genuinely engaged and seriously the employee’s feedback.

The most important thing in choosing an interviewer is to make sure the interviewer has strong active listening skills and ability to be empathetic. Topics discussed in exit interviews can be sensitive and it is counter-productive if the interviewer takes offense to the departing employee’s feedback. Thus, the interviewer may be someone outside of a supervisory or human resource role but who has strong interviewing skills and practical training.

How to conduct an exit interview?

Scheduling

The interviewer needs to schedule the interview, which can be either a few days before an employee leaves up to a few weeks after their last day. The timing of the interview depends on how forthcoming the interviewer believes the employee will be. Oftentimes employees are more engaged right before their departure.

Optional survey

In place of or in addition to the exit interview, the employee can be given a survey with standard questions. If it is in place of an exit interview the employee could fill out an anonymous online form, otherwise the employee can be asked to complete the survey and turn into the interviewer a few days prior. The interviewer can then use this information to focus on the most valuable areas for feedback.

Questions

The interviewer should enter the conversation with pre-determined questions and proceed through the questions one by one, taking detailed notes and asking follow-up and clarifying questions as needed.

Questions can include topics such as pay and benefits, management structure, organizational culture, general work environment, and anything else the organization would find it helpful to know.

While asking the questions and recording answers the interviewer must remain neutral and objective, to maintain trust of the employee and to ensure answers are not modified.

Closing the Interview

At the end of the interview, the interviewer should thank the employee for their contribution and service and honest feedback as well as wish them well on their future pursuits. The goal is to leave the conversation on a positive note and a relationship intact.

Where should the completed exit interview forms be stored?

All exit interview notes should be stored in each employee’s personnel file and, if preferred, a file that includes all exit interviews.

When analyzing the information it is important to separate the feedback from employees who were involuntarily terminated and from those employees who choose to leave independently.