exit interview tips for employers

As an employer, employee retention is one of your biggest goals. Chances are that despite your best efforts to make employees happy, you will inevitably be handed some resignations along the way. This can be especially painful when the resignation comes from your top performers. Sometimes, you may not know the true value of an employee until after they say goodbye. There is always a lesson that can be learned when an employee leaves and these exit interview tips can help maximize the learning potential. Conducting an exit interview properly can garner information to drastically improve future employee retention.

If you’re losing valuable employees, it’s important to let them know their work was appreciated, and they were valued during their time with the organization. Then, conduct a meaningful exit interview. Here are a few exit interview tips employers can utilize for an improved retention strategy:

1. Only ask the important questions

There are several questions you can ask in an exit interview. But only a few really matter. 

“What caused you to start looking for a new position?”

The question is designed to be open-ended. This way, there is room for exploration. Questions like “Do you feel you were given the tools to be successful?” and “Did you feel supported by your manager?” may offer insight, but they can also be too leading. By asking what caused an employee to start looking for another role, you can cover a lot of ground without steering the answer. If you’re able to get to the cause, you could prevent others from leaving for the same reasons.

“What needed to change for you to have stayed here?”

This question should help you makes sense of the exiting employee’s departure. Understand if the reasons the employee indicates are things that the organization can (and is willing to) change. It may be tempting to ask questions about company culture, but remember that is very subjective. These responses will be filtered through an employee’s personal lens and unique view of the situation. The answers aren’t always meaningful, so rather than asking for this specific information, allow employees to determine what is valuable to the conversation.

“What are the details of your new position?”

It’s critical to uncover whether an employee was actively job searching or was simply a passive candidate open to being recruited. Make sure you probe into the reasons your employees were open to other offers (even the passive ones). Learn what made the new roles attractive to them. And yes, the specifics matter. It’s very important to learn about the new titles, functions, salaries and benefits your exiting employees are accepting if they are willing to share this information. Evaluate the answers you receive from departing employees collectively over a measured period of time. This way, you can take action to ensure your employee development, benefits and compensation are competitive within the talent market.

2. Support a transparent discussion

Employees overwhelmingly want to maintain good relationships with the organizations they are leaving. The level of honesty contributed by a departing employees can depend on their personal experience with the company as well as the reasons they’ve decided to leave. It’s important to be supportive of an employee’s decision to leave to encourage an open discussion. Of course, if this was a disruptive employee, it may not be easy to create a feeling of comfort during the process. However, letting exiting employees know that their feedback will remain private and be used in an aggregated fashion with responses from other exit interviews can certainly help. Recognizing that managers will not see specific employee responses often allows for a more transparent discussion.

3. Review the data

Responses within a single exit interview don’t have that much value on their own. It’s the collective information over time that is vital to organizations. Track responses and look for overarching patterns. Is one department experiencing more turnover than all others? Are the majority of your exiting employees being recruited or actively looking for work? Is there a common theme that’s causing employees to seek new employment? For example, you could learn that company growth opportunities are too limited if employees are consistently departing at similar points within their career development.

Meaningful exit interviews alone will not improve employee retention. Companies must be committed to taking action. Listen to employees who are leaving, understand the patterns behind their departures and consider how it’s impacting your business. Then, take action to ensure you are retaining valuable talent.

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