Exit interview tips for employers

How to have a great exit interview with an employee

HR consultant Kate Marchant of Running HR Ltd provides her exit interview tips for employers, in order to have insightful and fruitful exit interviews with employees.

Exit interviews present a great opportunity for businesses to act on employee feedback. These interviews really do give employers the chance to find out the good, the bad, and the ugly about working for them and, more importantly, information upon which to effect positive change.

So much knowledge and insight on business process can be obtained from these interviews, including: learning and development opportunities, working relationships, insight into job role and design, culture, wellbeing, and much more. Addressing the issues raised in exit interviews not only could ultimately reduce your employee turnover but help to improve the culture and working environment for your employees.

What is an exit interview?

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The word ‘interview’ perhaps makes it sound overly formal. An exit interview can best be described as a structured discussion between the business and the employee, with the purpose of assessing their overall experience of the company and identifying areas for improvement.

Most exit interviews follow a set of questions to prompt discussion and feedback from the employee, so that consistent data can be obtained and analysed. It is also useful to have these questions set out in the form of a questionnaire, which can also support remote completion.

Do you have to do an exit interview?

The short answer is ‘No’. However, if as an employer you want to get an insight as to how departing employees feel about their experience working for you and why they are leaving, then I’d go so far as to say that it’s essential.

Who should carry out an exit interview?

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Opinion can be divided on this, but generally it is thought of as an HR activity. This is usually to alleviate concerns employees may have around not being able to be truly open if, for example, their line manager was conducting the interview. It is essential that the employee feels comfortable about expressing their views and experiences (especially if they want to raise some sensitive issues such as the relationship with their manager). So, determining who should carry out the interview is an important part of the process if the company is to gain maximum benefit from the activity.

Related article: Psychological safety – what it is and why it matters

If a business does not have an HR department, then this activity could be something to outsource to a third party or, possibly, nominate an exit interview champion (or champions) to conduct the interviews on behalf of the company. Either way, the person conducting the interview needs to have the relevant skills to handle the interview.

How should the interview be carried out?

Wherever possible, the interview should be carried out in person. Of course, you can ask an employee to complete the questionnaire on their own but a) they may not bother and b) you miss the opportunity to delve into some answers and probe for any underlying issues. Obviously, there are occasions when you may have no option but to ask the employee to complete it themselves and return it to you.

The actual interview should be as informal as possible and could even be done over lunch or a ‘virtual’ coffee via zoom – the employee should feel relaxed and definitely not overwhelmed or anxious about completing the exit interview. The person carrying out the interview needs to be able to listen well, write down all the relevant information, and recognise when to ‘deep dive’ into an answer.

Exit interview policy

An exit interview policy is often useful, so that all employees are aware that they will be requested to complete one when leaving, plus will go some way to reassure them that they are not being targeted for any particular reason. For employers, such a policy will also set out a consistent approach to exit interviews and expectations around completion.

Related article: How to create great HR policies as an SME

Thought should be given as to the timing of the interview – it is probably best to do this either on, or near to, the employee’s last day. Too soon after they have resigned may mean that the answers given are tempered somewhat – especially if the employee has a few months left to serve out their notice. Some recommend they are done after the employee has actually left; however, I have found this a difficult approach to take as once the employee has left their emotions are often invested in a new role and they are less motivated to do this.

What should I ask in an exit interview?

Questions to ask in an exit interview

There are so many questions that could be asked! However, it is best to not ask so many questions that the interview is too long winded and potentially intimidating. A business needs to think about what is important to them about the employee experience and shape the questions around this.

Examples of exit interview questions/subjects:

  • What are your reasons for leaving?
  • How did you feel about working here?
  • How would you rate your overall experience?
  • If you could change anything what would be your top 3 things?
  • Did you feel supported in your role with opportunity to develop (if not please expand)?
  • How well recognised and appreciated did you feel?
  • How clear was your job role and responsibilities?
  • Did you feel adequately rewarded for the work you did?
  • How did you feel about the benefits on offer? (plus, if appropriate – are you happy to share the salary package and role you are going to?)
  • Please describe your working relationships
  • Would you recommend our company to others?

Exit interview data analysis

This is possibly where exit interviews can fall down – if you go to the effort of carrying them out but omit any analysis then it’s an opportunity lost. However, analysing data can be difficult when the answers can be quite long and detailed.

It is possible to categorise the responses in terms of reasons for leaving, views on remuneration and benefits, culture and environment, job design, L&D effectiveness, scores on employee overall experience and more. Analysing the data can provide the basis of a strategy around priority issues to be addressed.

And finally…

The Exit Interview is a great tool but it’s also worth asking employees why they stay! This can be covered through ongoing feedback sessions, more formally via an employee engagement survey – say every 2 to 3 years – and backed up with targeted ‘temperature’ checks. But possibly another subject for another day!

More articles from the myhrtoolkit blog

What to do when an employee leaves the business

5 tips for creating a clear and concise HR survey

Picture of Kate Marchant

Written by Kate Marchant

Kate Marchant is an experienced HR professional and CIPD Associate Member who offers straight talking HR solutions for SMEs with friendly and jargon free advice through her consultancy Running HR Ltd.

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