Exit Interviews: A Treasure Chest of Information

March 23, 2017

Employees come and go. Depending on the size and nature of a business and general category of employees, some businesses experience more turnover than others. Most of the time, significant consideration is put into the interview process on the front-end when hiring, but little time is spent on the back-end when an employee leaves.

When interviewing to hire, employers question a prospective employee to determine if the candidate is a good fit for the job and company. Unfortunately, after a company has spent considerable time and expense training an employee, important, in-depth questions are frequently never asked why someone is leaving. The departing employee not only leaves a gap in employment but also leaves with valuable experience that has been accumulated during the employment tenure.

Exit interviews provide companies with a wealth of information that can help retain current employees. It is this human capital that contributes to a company’s success. This holds true for a business of any size. Rather than simply saying good-bye to a departing employee with a going-away party, taking ample time with an exit interview can yield insights into the business that might not be acquired in any other way. 

Asking open-ended questions (rather than yes and no questions) during exit interviews can elicit feedback on critical areas of a business such as:

Management effectiveness – Managers can make or break companies and individual departments. While current employees normally are skeptical of complaining about their manager, they are normally very candid about their individual manager...management style, leadership characteristics, showing appreciation, communication, etc…if asked by someone else (owner, senior manager, or HR manager) during an exit interview. When there is nothing to lose (especially, one's job), departing employees can give much needed insight into how their particular area is being managed. Of course, if a departing employee is never asked why they are leaving except for very superficial questions, then an owner or senior manager might think the status quo is all good when that might not necessarily be the case. 

•    Question to ask: How would you describe your manager's style and leadership skills, and what do you desire in a manager?

Mentoring and career path – Most employees appreciate being mentored, want the ability to grow professionally, and know there is advancement potential where they work. Without an incentive to stay, energetic and motivated employees will at some point in time decide to make a career change where more opportunities exist. 

•    Question to ask: How were you mentored on the job, and did you feel as though you had advancement opportunities here?

Company culture – All businesses have a certain culture. Many times, the culture that the owner or management thinks exists is quite different than the culture that employees know really exists. When employees leave because of what they say is the culture, management must decide if the employee was just not a right fit for the company, or if changes to the culture need to be made from within. Changing a culture will not save the departing employee but might very well help retain other employees. 

•    Question:  How would you describe the company culture, and what is your ideal company culture?

Teamwork – Teamwork is sometimes not totally evident to an owner or management. At some companies, employees assist each other whenever possible while at the other end of the spectrum an atmosphere exists where employees are only interested in accomplishing what they consider to be their individual job responsibilities. Although some employees are not interested in a teamwork environment, others may want collaboration rather than isolation. 

•    Question: How would you describe the atmosphere relating to teamwork and cooperation among your co-workers?

Communication – The way a company communicates with employees can have either a very positive or very negative effect. When communication is not openly shared, employees feel left in the dark not knowing how the business is doing or their prospects for job stability. 

•    Question: How would you describe the overall company communication?

Compensation and benefits – Regardless of someone’s position in a company, everyone wants to be adequately compensated with reasonable benefits. If a business is not keeping up with the competition in this important area, employees will soon leave for better paying jobs. 

•    Question: How do you think our compensation and benefits compare with other similar type companies and, specifically, with the new job you are accepting?

Flexible hours and location – Many companies now offer flexible work hours and opportunities to work remotely from home or other location depending on the type of business. This can be a real "perk" for many employees and a trend within certain industries. 

•    Question (if applicable): How do you think our flex and remote working policy compares to similar companies and, specifically, with the new job you are accepting?

Business improvement – It is amazing how employees can offer suggestions for business, sales, and operational improvement. Often times, however, they are never asked or if suggestions are made feel as though their voices are never heard. Rather than miss out on what might be valuable tips for improvement from employees actually doing a particular job, an exit interview question pertaining to the overall business should not be overlooked. 

•    Question: What suggestions can you make to improve our overall business?

Halt the turnover - Gain valuable knowledge

Businesses cannot afford a constant turnover of employees. When employees do make a decision to leave voluntarily, the opportunity to discover issues of why they are resigning can help bring about necessary changes in working conditions, culture, compensation, etc. Soliciting input from departing employees creates a knowledge base of information that if shared with management can strengthen a company enabling it to retain valued employees.