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Conducting an Exit Interview

Tarni Santiago, Omnia Group

Beth is leaving your company after four years of outstanding service. Her resignation letter included the standard verbiage that she decided to pursue an opportunity with another company.

Even though Beth gave her two-week notice on what appears to be good terms, you wonder if a specific situation accelerated her departure. Was there a problem with co-workers or management that led to poor morale? What about burnout, poor working conditions or unreported sexual harassment?

The best way to understand the reasons behind Beth's departure is with an exit interview. Typically conducted after an employee has voluntarily decided to leave, the exit interview shows that your company is trying to improve the workplace and you are willing to act on an employee’s suggestions. It is intended to improve the company, not put the employee on the spot.

When used properly, the information you receive could increase operational efficiency, boost employee morale and create a more profitable company. The obvious short-term benefit is that you decrease the possibility of losing other valuable employees.

The exit interview provides an excellent forum to discuss the reasons for an employee’s termination. It allows you to gain insight into your supervisor’s management skills and how effectively he runs his department. You might learn of changes your company should consider that could make the position more competitive with your market’s compensation/benefits packages, flexible work arrangements, and so forth. It is also a good time to discuss final pay and benefits issues; ensure the return of keys, security cards or company property; and explain policies relating to the departing employee.

The same person should conduct all exit interviews using identical questions. To ensure that responses are not driven by emotion, the employee's immediate supervisor should never conduct the exit interview.

Consider scheduling the interview 24 to 48 hours before the employee’s last day. In the event of meetings or other prior commitments, you can interview your employee a week or two post-termination. In some cases, waiting a few months will allow your employee time to gain a new perspective on his tenure with your company; he may find that the grass is not always greener elsewhere.

Conduct the interview as informally as possible to put the employee at ease and increase your chances of receiving the most valid, helpful responses possible. Sit beside your departing employee, not across your desk.

Begin the interview by telling the resigning employee that he is welcome to return to the company if mutual interest exists. Ask neutral questions and avoid those that may require the employee to criticize a supervisor or co-worker. Open-ended questions work best, as they require explanations, not one-word answers.

Consider these questions in your next exit interview:

• What prompted your decision to leave?

• What did you like about working for our company?

• What didn’t you like about working for our company?

• Where are you going to work next?

• Does the new job carry an increase in salary, a higher position or better benefits?

• What could have kept you with our company?

• What would it take for you to consider returning to our company one day?

• If you had the chance, what would you change about our company?

As you review the responses, watch out for trends:

• Are you losing valuable employees due to low wages, lack of advancement opportunities or professional growth, or is there a problem with a certain manager?

• Does your company need to review its policies, market wages or benefits package?

• Could you offer on-the-job training or supplement your employee’s continuing education as long as it is job related?

• Are there managers or employees who need to be retrained or replaced?

Beth disclosed many significant concerns in her exit interview, leading to changes that improved company functionality and morale. Even though she is pleased with her new job, your 15-minute conversation with her resulted in improved employee morale and client satisfaction – and an attractive bottom line for your company.


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