How to conduct the ideal exit interview for millennials

Leaders and managers are very worried about high levels of turnover among millennials, and they are right to be. Why do they leave?

Many organizations conduct exit interviews with departing employees to answer that very question. But it’s very hard to get people to be totally candid and forthcoming in exit interviews because most people simply don’t want to burn their bridges. They want to leave on good terms so they often won’t say anything negative or revealing in exit interviews.

Is there any way around this?

Yes, you could use an outside third party to conduct exit interviews. And this does usually garner more information.

But if departing employees are not secure about their anonymity and confidentiality, they usually will still be quite selective in what they are willing to say. If you have enough employees departing, you can aggregate some data over time. And if you have a pattern of employees leaving a particular manager, department, or location, this can be a clue that further investigation is required.

Still none of this solves the problem for the individual manager who loses a valued employee and really wants to know why.

How can one conduct an exit interview to solve that problem?

Managers are sometimes offended that millennials have needs and wants and expect their bosses to help them meet those needs and wants. I often tell managers that it’s a transactional relationship. No hard feelings. “My boss just wouldn’t do business with me. He’d look at me as if I had no right to expect anything from him,” a millennial recently told me.

“His approach was, ‘You get what I decide you get when I decide you get it.’ Well, if you won’t do business with me, I’m not going to do business with you.”

Millennials are coming to work to earn. Part of your job is to help them earn. And that’s the key to retention. You have to turn the reasons millennials leave into reasons they will stay and work harder.

Don’t wait until millennials start thinking about leaving to ask, “Is there anything we can do to keep you?” Ask on the first day of employment and keep asking every single day.

Does that mean you should do everything for everybody? No. Should you cater to their every whim? No. But Millennials need to know that somebody knows what they want and need, somebody cares, and somebody is going to work with them to help them earn more of it.

No false hopes

The key is not to give them false hope or make false promises. When millennials express needs and wants that are totally unrealistic, you should let them know that immediately so that their expectations are clear. The next step, however, is to help them see what is realistic.

As one manager puts it:  “I tell them off the bat when they come to work here, ‘Tell me what you need. I’m here to facilitate your work. If you are not happy, you need to come tell me. If you need something, you need to come tell me.’ Of course, some of them do, and some of them don’t. It’s the ones who don’t come tell me that I really have to worry about. I have to go ask them once in a while.”

The reality is that you can’t do everything for everybody. But you can often do enough to retain the best.  Start talking with millennials about retention on day one, and keep talking about it. If you are talking with them about how to meet their needs and wants on an ongoing basis, they are much more likely to talk with you at those key points when they are trying to decide whether to leave or stay.

If you are willing to work with them, you can be flexible and generous. That’s how you make them want to stay and work harder, at least for a little while longer. Years from now, the millennials who turn out to be long-term employees will be the ones who decided over and over again that they wanted to stay a little while longer.

Bruce Tulgan is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. He is the author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), , and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected], you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website