How employers can use exit interviews as a tool for recruitment, retention and process improvement

Gary Belancik, Director of Marketing and Strategic Development, Ashton

There are more than a few reasons for companies to conduct exit interviews. The benefits can far outweigh the effort of putting a simple and respectful process into place for surveying a departing employee.

“The exit interview is a direct reflection of the company’s culture and values,” says Gary Belancik, director of marketing and strategic development at Ashton. “The leader of an organization must ask him or herself what value, if any, do I place on the tenure of the exiting employee? What vehicle do I have in place to capture that information? If I were leaving a company, how would I want to be treated?”

Smart Business spoke to Belancik about the vital knowledge employers can glean from departing employees.

How are exit interviews valuable to employers?

An employee should be viewed as a client, albeit an internal one; a client with a history and relationship with the organization that on some level is vital to the company’s continued growth. The exit interview is a great opportunity to glean potential helpful information as a driver for organizational improvement. Information gained in a positive exit interview could help change the way you recruit and retain your employees.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the ‘exit,’ this meeting could enable a transfer of critical knowledge and/or developed relationships from the exiting employee to their successor.

It could provide a chance to get to the root cause of the decision to exit and ultimately a chance to save key employees from leaving. This is an opportunity to allow the departing employee to speak freely and share something they might not if they were otherwise still employed there. When both parties make peace, it only strengthens the reputation of the company. Keep in mind you may want to re-hire the employee in the future. Also note that your handling of the exit process may filter back to your current employees.

Another benefit of this meeting is that it may uncover potential negligence or gross misconduct of another employee that could cause further damage if left unaddressed.

Who should be conducting the interviews, and what kinds of questions should be asked?

The departing employee must know the ground rules for an exit interview:

  • It is voluntary
  • It is safe
  • It is chance for them to improve the organization they are leaving
  • It would be appreciated and hold meaning for the company

Depending on the size of the company, it should be conducted by a human resources manager, senior manager, or owner.

The best results are obtained when the employee who is exiting is placed in a ‘safe environment’ and feels that who they are meeting with has the authority to appreciate and act on the information that is shared, and there is no chance for any type of retaliatory action.

The exit interview could be equal to or greater than the initial hiring interview. You would never think of going into an initial interview without questions and a specific goal in mind. Nor should you with an exit interview. Just as in an initial interview, it is best to ask open-ended behavioral questions.

Questions should be developed in a non-threatening and objective manner. The meeting should not feel like an interrogation but more like a chance for them to share their side of the story. The questions should be aimed at the true cause of the decision to leave and should not be vague or general.

What type of format and/or setting is best for obtaining honest answers?

The best results are achieved in a face-to-face meeting. This allows better communication and understanding, and a truer interpretation of the employee’s feelings. It also enables you to show your true feelings and support with the exiting employee. This could enable you to get past the standard, sometimes defensive answers and get to the root cause of the decision.

The setting should always be professional and in an environment that fosters trust and openness. It should never be casual, and never in an open environment. Again, let them know this is truly voluntary and is greatly appreciated by you and is critical to the company.

A face-to-face meeting may be view by some as intimidating and an uncomfortable setting in which to share their true feelings. In those instances it is best to provide them with a questionnaire or some form of third-party electronic survey.

How can employers best use the information gleaned in exit interviews?

Information gained in the exit interview can be helpful in many ways, ranging from strategic process improvement to identifying and mitigating  potential hazards and risks.

Process improvement:

  • Recruitment
  • Induction into your organization
  • Training and development
  • Career development and pathing
  • Team-building initiatives
  • Empowerment
  • Compensation
  • Improvements and efficiencies specific to their position

Hazards and risks:

  • Discrimination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Theft/unlawful practices
  • Unsafe work environment
  • Misinterpretation of rules and misuse of authority

What would you say to an employer who doesn’t see the value in conducting exit interviews?

You are missing out on a great opportunity to improve your company.

You would never consider hiring someone without interviewing them first; you should never allow someone to leave your employ without a chance to learn from their time spent with your company.

Look at it as the start of the hiring process, not the end.

Gary Belancik is director of marketing and strategic development at Ashton. Reach him at [email protected]