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Getting the Answers You Need From Exit Interviews
Say more than just farewell

Losing an employee to another workplace is never a great thing, but it can be a good learning opportunity if you play your cards right. Before you let them walk out the door for the last time, make sure you conduct an effective exit interview.

Why an exit interview?

An exit interview might seem like a waste of time. It’s not like the conversation can make the staff member stay or make a difficult separation any easier. However, a departing employee can offer a peek behind the curtain at what really goes on in your office. Martha Frase-Blunt wrote for the Society of Human Resource Management that employees in an exit interview might be more blunt and candid in their feedback than before since your opportunities for backlash are limited.

Who should conduct the interview?

Picking the right interviewer for an exit interview is just as critical as picking who talks to prospective hires. According to Susan M. Heathfield of The Balance Careers, many businesses have the human resources department handle the process. While a member of HR might have a more neutral position going into the discussion than someone who worked with the terminating employee, Everett Spain and Boris Groysberg of the Harvard Business Review suggest that managers above the individual’s direct supervisor are a good option. The two researchers say that these second- or third-line managers can do more with the answers to the questions and make a real change.

Regardless of who conducts the interview, it’s important to write down answers so details aren’t forgotten later. “When you write down the responses that your exiting employee provides, the person receives the message that you care about the information that he or she is providing. This, in turn, may allow you to collect more information and feedback than you otherwise may have received,” says Heathfield.

Have goals in mind

Before you go into the exit interview, make sure you have your questions in mind to make the best use of your time. The goals of the discussion should be tailored to your organization, but Spain and Groysberg suggest some broad topics like HR department issues or effectiveness, how your employees truly view their work, if any supervisors or management styles caused this move, if your salary or benefits aren’t competitive and ask for areas of improvement. While you want answers, make sure that you still treat the departing staff member with respect so that they still speak highly of your organization to any contacts that could work for you in the future, say Spain and Groysberg.

Don’t forget the point

While you can ask about their favorite tasks and any flaws in the company you should know about, don’t get so mired down in details that you forget the big answer you need from an exit interview: Why your employee started job hunting. Some things are outside of your control, like a spouse needing to move cities for their job, but it’s essential to know what the straw was that broke the camel’s back. Your workplace might never be perfect, but it’s important to know what you might need to look at first to prevent losing any more talent.

Having all of these things in mind will help you conduct an exit interview that can improve your organization down the road. If you’re still worried, talk to a human resources professional.


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