The Case Against Exit Interviews

by Roxanna Coldiron

When a valued employee decides to leave the company, the age-old wisdom has been to conduct an exit interview to find out why that employee has chosen to leave. The typical process for this interview involves asking the employee standardized questions about their reason for leaving and what they liked or did not like about the company or their position. An exit interview might take place as an uncomfortable in-person interview in the office or as an impersonal survey that is sent directly to corporate human resources for processing, only to be forgotten.

According to a Harvard Business Review research study, companies approach the exit interview process in a variety of ways. Some companies choose to task the human resources department with handling the interviews, while others will have the direct supervisor or even an external consultant interview the departing employee. Exit interviews tend to get filed away because companies struggle to quantify the information gathered from the interviews into actionable change.

Another issue is that employees will not always provide honest answers when they leave, which skews the results.

“Many employees feel that they have nothing to gain and everything to lose in disclosing their true assessment of the company,” says Dr. Julie Gurner, doctor of psychology and business consultant. “Employees leaving the company often want to stay on good terms for a positive reference and are not inclined to burn bridges as they move onto the next employer who might be reaching out to this company in the future.”

Without the right metrics, open responses and a means to analyze the data into an actionable strategy, exit interviews can become a waste of time for both employers and employees. So, what can a company do to learn about why their employees leave and work toward retaining the employees that they bring on in the future and currently have on staff?

“Stop waiting until the exit interview to gather information on the health of your company culture.”

 

“Stop waiting until the exit interview to gather information on the health of your company culture.” Dr. Gurner says, “Your current employees are far more likely to know why individuals are the leaving the company if there is turnover than the individuals departing will ever share.”

Conducting anonymous surveys with current staff that identifies the problem areas and pain points within the company culture can give insight into how employees feel about the company and which areas the company needs to improve upon. These can be regular “check-ins” that gauge the health of the company culture and the satisfaction of current staff.

“As long as current employees are aware that they can provide information anonymously, that it will be used constructively, and they begin to see issues addressed, they will be motivated to give more honest responses,” Dr. Gurner says. “Employees leave for many reasons that are usually well known to their colleagues far in advance of their departure.”

If the company must implement an exit interview process, then it is better to conduct the interviews before the last day of employment, have a face-to-face discussion with the employee that avoids threatening behavior or prying into their personal lives and finally, applying the responses to an actionable strategy that improves on current company culture with the goal of retaining the employees who have stayed.

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