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Making the most of exit interviews: Questions to ask and lessons to apply

Published on April 10th, 2018 by Triton Benefits & HR Solutions

No matter what type of business employees work for, there will eventually come a time when workers leave the company. This event can happen for a number of different reasons, including retirement or moving on to another position. Whatever the motivation behind an employee's exit, this instance presents a valuable opportunity for the organization's human resources team.

Many enterprises conduct exit interviews, and according to a survey from OfficeTeam, 63 percent of companies apply the lessons they learn from these discussions to their business processes.

But how can you be sure that your HR team is making the most of exit interviews? There are a few key questions to make sure you ask your departing employees, which can pave the way toward improvements for the current and future workforce.

Avoiding common exit interview pitfalls

Before we take a look at which questions to ask, there are a few things to consider first. As Harvard Business Review contributors Everett Spain and Boris Groysberg pointed out, exit interview programs can trend toward failure for two reasons:

  • No single, confirmed strategy: Businesses and their HR teams currently use a wide range of approaches to exit interviews, making it difficult for the industry to come to a consensus on best practices. Because companies leverage different strategies and have different goals, the results of one firm's exit interviews may often appear vague or conflicting when compared to other findings.
  • Data quality and honesty: The second, more obvious reason why exit interviews can fail to provide actionable insights for HR stakeholders is because employees that leave the company often aren't completely honest about their reasoning. A worker may have taken issue with their supervisor, for example, but doesn't want to risk a good recommendation and decide to keep this information to themselves.

Luckily, there are a few tips you and your HR team can try, alongside properly worded questions, which can help you avoid these missteps and come away with beneficial results following your exit interviews.

Man and woman wearing suits sitting at a desk across from another person during an interview. An exit interview can offer beneficial insights for HR managers.

Interview tips and techniques

When preparing for an exit interview, there are a few strategies to consider, including who will conduct the actual discussion. As opposed to sitting an exiting employee down with their direct supervisor, some businesses have found successful interactions between the worker and their second-line manager (the direct supervisor's manager). Because they're not directly involved with the employee on a day-to-day basis, he or she might feel more comfortable to share honest answers.

It's also important to consider the timing of the interview. As Spain and Groysberg pointed out, this can be tricky, however.

"Some experts argue that the most productive moment to conduct the initial EI is halfway between the announcement of an intention to leave and the actual departure—after the initial rush of emotion has died down, but before the employee has checked out mentally," Spain and Groysberg wrote. "Unfortunately, most exit interviews are conducted during the last week of an employee's tenure, which is probably long after he or she has disengaged."

"Strive to pinpoint any HR or management issues, and identify insights that can be applied to improve the business."

Other organizations have found more successful results when the interview is conducted after the employee actually leaves. In this way, it removes any potential risk for the worker and can help encourage more honest answers.

Questions to ask

When it comes to the actual questions the HR team will ask, it's important that these are considered with particular goals in mind. Stakeholders should strive to pinpoint any HR or management issues, and work to identify insights that can be applied to improve the business and employee experience.

Some of the most important questions to include in exit interviews include:

  • What prompted you to begin looking for a different employment position?
  • Are there any circumstances that might encourage you to consider returning to the company?
  • Did you feel that your and other employees' contributions were effectively recognized by your managers? If not, are there specific ways in which this kind of recognition can be improved?
  • Did you have difficulty understanding any company policies or practices? Are there ways in which these can be made more clear?
  • In your experience, did you have the resources and training needed to be successful in your role? If not, are there specific areas here that could be improved?
  • What did you enjoy most about your job?
  • Are there any specific concerns about the company that you'd like to discuss?

Finally, it's always important to ask exiting employees if there's anything they'd like to add to enable a more free-range discussion of topics that might not have been covered in the questions.

Exit interviews can be difficult, but they are worth the effort in order to glean insights and actionable lessons to improve your organization.

To find out more, connect with the experts at Triton today.