Ideally, you never want your employees to submit a resignation. However, if you aren’t taking the time to conduct exit interviews, you can miss out on critical information that can prevent others from leaving.
“For us, that exit interview is critical for our development,” says Daniel Garcia-Enriquez, a recruiter and human resources generalist for Mullin, based in St. Rose, Louisiana. “We want to hear everyone’s voice, want to hear everyone’s feedback, what we can improve on, and give the offboarding employee the opportunity to voice any opinion they might have. In some cases, it’s actually an opportunity for us to try and retain that employee.”
Garcia-Enriquez says in some cases they have even been able to resolve the issue raised during the exit interview and were able to retain the employee.
“We want to make sure we try and retain top talent,” Garcia-Enriquez says. “We want to make sure that people with us are here and understand that this is a career with us.”
Who to Exit Interview
Determining who to conduct exit interviews with is a matter of your company’s preference. At Belknap Landscape Company, based in Gilford, New Hampshire, human resources manager Angie Carignan, says they have exit interviews for employees who have been with the company for at least three months and who have not been terminated for disciplinary reasons.
Piscataqua Landscaping & Tree Service (PLTS), based in Eliot, Maine, offers exit interviews on a voluntary basis to employees who have provided their resignation notice.
“It’s important to us that the departing employee is interested in sharing their experience from a willing, genuine perspective,” says Emily McNeil, human resources manager for Piscataqua.
Similarly, Mullin offers exit interviews on a voluntary basis because they genuinely want to know if there is something they could have done or an area to improve upon. Garcia-Enriquez they’ve never had an instance where someone was unwilling to do the interview.
Questions to Ask
How much you gain from an exit interview mainly depends on the type of questions you decide to ask.
“We ask a lot of questions that target the employee/manager relationship, department morale, and overall improvements related to the employee experience,” McNeil says. “It’s really an opportunity for the leadership team to get raw, honest feedback. In addition to the standard questions, employees are encouraged to discuss any work-related topic(s) that they may have not felt heard on during their time at PLTS.”
Carignan says in the past, they would have employees rate several employment categories on a scale of 1 to 5 with a few open-ended questions, but in the past three months, they have changed to all open-ended questions so they can dive deeper into the comments. Below are some of the questions that they ask:
- What prompted you to seek alternative employment?
- Did you investigate options to enable you to stay prior to making a decision to leave?
- Did you receive regular feedback on how you were doing in your role and ways you could improve or advance your skills?
- How would you describe the company culture?
- If you could change one thing about the department you worked in, what would it be? What would be the purpose of the change?
- Would you consider returning if a position you are qualified for was to open up?
The more structure you have to your exit interview, the easier it will be to identify common themes that may need to be addressed. Garcia-Enriquez says they use a questionnaire as a guide, but some of the questions they ask will vary.
“We want to make sure that the employee that’s leaving gives us full-hearted answers and that they can understand and shed some light on the opportunity of where we can improve,” he says.
Carignan and McNeil both say a common theme mentioned in the exit interviews is communication, either in a positive or critical way. Garcia-Enriquez says their employees often praise the benefits and compensation at Mullin and are often relocating.
Responding to Feedback
Taking the time to talk to your departing employees does you no good if you don’t do anything with the feedback you’ve gathered.
“It’s counterproductive for us to invest our time, invest my time, HR’s time, the manager’s time to sit down with them, have this questionnaire and then do nothing with it,” Garcia-Enriquez says. “We want to make sure that we get the most out of it.”
He says while HR conducts the exit interviews, they will share the relevant information with that employee’s former direct supervisor and develop a plan if there is a repeating trend causing employees to leave for a certain reason. Carignan says they share their exit interview feedback with the executive team as well as the supervisors of the department. They will address anything that stands out as a concern.
While some employee complaints are valid and should be handled quickly, Garcia-Enriquez says you have to take employee tenure into consideration as those who have only been at the company for a few weeks or months haven’t had time to grow with the company. Carignan says it is important to understand the context of the employee’s answer instead of just the content.
An employee saying “My supervisor is awful” doesn’t provide context and needs follow-up questions to determine why the employee feels that way. If they elaborate and say the supervisor is always on their phone and doesn’t visit the jobsite for long, that employee might not be aware of the supervisor’s role and responsibilities. Yet if the employee says the supervisor mocks employees who make mistakes and says the company doesn’t care about anyone, this would be a case that needs to be investigated
“As the famous saying goes: ‘There are three sides to every story – your side, my side, and the truth. And no one is lying,’” McNeil says. “We take action on feedback and process improvements when possible and appropriate, but we always do our due diligence before implementing changes or investigating complaints that may arise during these exit interviews.”
Tips for Success
If you truly want to learn from exit interviews, take them seriously.
“Don’t look at it as something that you need to check off your to do list,” Garcia-Enriquez says. “Really pay attention to them and don’t be afraid to get feedback.”
Carignan suggests providing a comfortable environment for the employee. Don’t include their direct supervisor, but rather the employee’s department head as they can help facilitate a more in-depth conversation.
For those conducting the exit interviews, McNeil encourages them not to take the feedback personally. Listen, gather examples of their concerns and later evaluate would you could have done differently to retain that employee.
“There are no downfalls to conducting exit interviews, except for the cost of your own time,” McNeil says. “Exit interviews pay dividends in the long run. It’s an investment in the future of your company, and part of the culture we work hard to preserve at PLTS. If you treat departing employees with the same compassion, respect and attentiveness they receive during the first week of employment – there is a good chance they may be returning to your company in the future. It has worked for us, many times!”