An exit interview is a voluntary, verbal interview between an employee who’s leaving your company and someone else (an HR person if you have one; you, if you don’t). The interview often takes place one to two days before the employee actually leaves.
Purpose of The Interview
The goal of this interaction is two-fold: firstly, the employee has a chance to vent their feelings about the work experience. This includes what worked and what didn’t. Subjects covered may include their boss, their colleagues, company procedure, staff interaction, productivity, morale, finances, equipment, job satisfaction and so on.
To get the most out of the interview, it’s helpful if you give the employee an overview of the questions you’ll be asking. This way, the interview becomes a discussion rather than an interrogation, whereby both parties are prepared to talk about the work situation.
Simply gathering the information is only part of the exit interview process. The second purpose is to analyse it, and share it with the departing employee’s colleagues. Since the goal here is to improve any aspect of the organisation that was discussed, it’s crucial for you to formulate comments, even negative ones, in an educational, positive framework. Although this may be difficult, especially if the information is negative, there’s no point relaying negative information without the purpose of changing a troubled area.
An employee who’s about to leave the company is often more forthcoming than one who isn’t. Don’t be surprised if the employee’s supervisor is taken aback by some of the feedback. They may even get defensive, and try to lay blame on that employee. As a skilled communicator, you must state the problem, yet frame it in such a way that it also demonstrates the possibility of turning a negative situation around.
Fortunately, the information you’ll get won’t always be negative, and you should also share the employee’s positive comments with their supervisor and others involved.
Does This Interview Really Help?
Not always. Some employees, reluctant to “burn their bridges”, are not completely honest for fear of getting a negative reference for a future employer. Instead, they either paint a rosy picture or withhold negative information. This creates a system in which change is critically needed, but no one knows it because everyone’s afraid to point out the obvious.
So how can you encourage more effective exit interviews? First, show employees that the exit interview process has had a positive impact because something the departing employee complained about was actually addressed. For example, a departing employee complains that the boss never gave superior ratings on the performance appraisal, despite productivity being well above average. The next time an evaluation was given, if some high achievers received appropriately superior ratings, this would signal to your employees that you were willing to correct a negative situation.
Also, this interview is rendered ineffective if the departing employee isn’t interested in sharing information and gives brief “yes” or “no” answers. There are reasons for this: maybe the employee didn’t like their job, wasn’t challenged by it, or didn’t care about the job or the company or the exit interview process. Or maybe they’re afraid the offending supervisor may retaliate against the remaining employees. And, if other employees have complained during their exit interviews and nothing appears to have happened as a result, employees can lose faith in the process and won’t be forthright at their own exit interviews.
The process also won’t work when it’s apparent that the departing employee isn’t telling the truth. Signs of this include information that is overly negative or positive, or that is extreme in nature, such as stories showing nothing or little the supervisor ever did was positive – or that everything the supervisor did was extremely positive. If you watch for these instances, you can modify the tone of the interview so that the process can be effective and productive.