Departing data Featured

7:00pm EDT January 26, 2009

Every company experiences staff turnover. To ease these transitions, many companies follow a scripted off-boarding process, including a formal or informal exit interview.

A recent survey of HR professionals showed that nearly 75 percent of all companies utilize some form of exit interview. Properly executed, exit interviews provide a venue for managers and executives to gain accurate insights from departing employees.

“You want to hear supportive, positive comments about your organization, but I think the more successful employers are the ones open to receiving criticism, and knowing how to effectively respond to it,” said Chris Roederer, senior vice president, human resources, Tampa General Hospital, and director, Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance.

Smart Business recently spoke with Roederer about what you can learn from departing employees, and how to develop a formal and informal process to garner the most honest and constructive input.

What kind of information can departing employees provide to the company?

Departing employees can provide both positive and critical information — and both types are valuable. If feedback on organizational programs or processes is positive, it may reinforce that you are doing something that shouldn’t be changed, or can be built upon to continue enhancing it. If the feedback provides negative or critical information, then it’s especially valuable for the employer to address. The key to processing the information is to look at the trends and not isolated incidents. Some employees may have a personal issue and decide to use the exit interview to express dissatisfaction that may or may not warrant further review. If you begin to see a common trend developing that negatively impacts the organization, then it needs to be addressed.

How can business owners get past the negative stigma attached to exiting employees and take advantage of the situation?

In most cases, employees don’t leave for negative reasons so employers shouldn’t take an employee’s departure as personal. Employees leave for many reasons including advancement opportunities, greater compensation or relocation. I think the employer first has to be open to receive the information, and not always think that the first thing the employee is going to do is express negative feelings or dissatisfaction. However, if it is negative, that’s when the employers need to objectively receive that information and take advantage of that data to improve their organization. Remember, if something is wrong, the worst thing for an employer is to have no knowledge of a problem or situation, and exit interviews provide a vehicle to know.

Who within the company should be handling the exit interviews?

Based on my experience, exit interviews should be conducted externally, for multiple purposes. Employees are typically more open with their comments because they have a greater sense of confidentiality and objectivity, and you’ll get a greater percentage of responses from departing employees.

Also, many organizations don’t have the resources, depending on their size and financial situation, to meet with every departing employee. In addition to the external exit process, organizations should also allow for opportunities for feedback internally prior to an employee’s departure. Always offer an open door feedback policy for internal one-on-one discussions and maintain that personal contact with the employee.

How formal or informal should the process be?

The exit process should be a mixture of formal and informal or, at a minimum, formal. If you’re doing it just one way, you’re missing an opportunity. The formal part of the exit process allows for the employees to express their opinions while allowing for you to gather documented data to determine if trends exits. Ideally, the exit interview should be conducted prior to the departure of the employee. If the employee provides feedback on a negative situation that warrants attention by the employer, the employment may be a situation worth salvaging. Once an employee leaves, it makes it harder to salvage the situation. In addition to the formal exit process, you should also ensure that the door is open for an informal meeting with management or with a human resources representative. This gives the employee another opportunity to express his or her thoughts, both positive and negative.

How can business owners best get honest feedback and, in turn, use it to better business?

It’s like doing anything relative to employee communication and soliciting feedback. You’ve got to communicate the results to the existing staff to demonstrate your willingness to listen, take action and respond. Too many employers do surveys and then don’t respond. If employees sense it’s a waste of time, future surveys become less and less valuable, or reliable, because employees will disengage.

CHRIS ROEDERER is senior vice president, human resources, Tampa General Hospital, and director, Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance. Reach him at (813) 844-7716 or