Exit interview intelligence Featured

8:00pm EDT September 25, 2008

Saying goodbye to good employees when they leave for greener pastures is not always easy. Along with a going away party, a gift and a handshake, businesses should also conduct an exit interview to find out deeper reasons why an employee has left for another company. Gathering this kind of information, if done properly, is a good way to learn how to improve staff retention.

“Gathering data to address areas of decreased employee satisfaction can give an organization the tools it needs to identify trends and patterns,” says Bette Puffer, Corporate Recruiter for Talent Tree Inc., a staffing company based in Houston.

Smart Business spoke with Puffer about the benefits of conducting exit interviews and what you need to ask your employees before they leave for good.

What are the benefits of conducting an exit interview?

The biggest benefit is the data gathered from the interview, which can shed light on areas where employees are dissatisfied. This data can be used to:

  • Put strategies in place. If you can spot the trends of why employees are leaving, you can put into place strategies that address these problems, which in turn can reduce turnover.

  • Increase morale. Decreasing turnover rates increases the productivity of an entire work unit or team, since high turnover means increased workloads for other employees, stress, tension and decline of corporate morale.

  • Save money. Replacing employees is expensive. If you learn why employees leave your company and work to correct any problems, you can save money in advertising, training, interviewing time and relocation costs.

Are there any downsides to conducting exit interviews?

If an exit interview is conducted face-to-face there is a tendency for employees to be reluctant to reveal the real reasons for leaving, and instead offer a ‘politically correct’ reason for leaving. A typical answer might be ‘better pay’ or ‘better job opportunity,’ when, in reality, it might be that the manager or supervisor is a micromanager and the employee does not work well under that kind of scrutiny. Or perhaps there has been some sort of harassment that the employee is hesitant to divulge for fear of future negative action.

The traditional method of having an assigned HR representative or the employee’s supervisor conduct the exit interview (usually on the last day), can provide a number of challenging difficulties: It is time-consuming, difficult to tabulate and not always executed consistently.

If face-to-face exit interviews don’t necessarily give businesses the honest answers they need, what is the alternative?

Many employers have found that using a third party to conduct the exit interview works as a best practice. Online survey companies will either provide useful questions or allow you to customize your own exit survey. They will also provide an analysis of the data, which can be both time- and cost-effective.

Whether using a third party or conducting in-house interviews, some common principles for planning should be applied.

  • Use a universal form or questionnaire. All voluntary departures should be given an appropriate questionnaire.

  • Use standardized questions. Ask consistent core questions to ensure comparability throughout the organization and across time.

  • Make data accessible to managers. Make sure any data gathered is available to the appropriate managers and supervisors to increase the likelihood that the data is used to address any problems.

  • Monitor and create strategies. Data is only good if it is put to use. Make sure that this data is reviewed and used to create policies and procedures that will help turnover.

  • Ask the right questions. The interview or questionnaire should include feedback on the work environment in addition to reasons for leaving.

Are there any tips for creating an interview or questionnaire that will elicit honest answers from the departing employee?

Do not focus solely on the employee’s reasons for leaving. Although this is important information, it is also critical to include a broader scope, which includes the employee’s attitudes and experiences, to identify the deep-seated reasons for making the decision to leave.

Ensure that there is more than one way for employees to express their reasons for leaving and include several open-ended questions for them to elaborate.

To get beyond the decision itself, ask questions that address the employee’s satisfaction with the job itself, such as: assessment of the organization’s work culture, the effectiveness of lines of communication, how well the employee’s job responsibilities were defined, perceived opportunities for advancement and the employee’s perspective on the amount of training, feedback and recognition received.

BETTE PUFFER is the Corporate Recruiter for Talent Tree Inc., www.talenttree.com, a staffing company based in Houston. Reach her at (713) 361-7511 or bette.puffer@talenttree.com.