The exit interview is an element of the recruitment process that most organisations overlook. Why? Perhaps it’s fear of discovering that your organisation isn’t as wonderful as you thought it was. Or maybe you’re too lazy or ignorant to ask. Yet the often candid exit interview can reveal uncensored information about how an organisation can put a stop to staff leaving in the future. So why not ask the question of why your staff are heading for the exit?

Just to be clear, the exit interview is a highly effective recruitment tool. Yes, that’s right. Employees are leaving and interviewing them will assist you to improve your retention rates. You see, employees who have made the decision to rescind their role with your organisation have much less to lose. It’s a time where the risk of openly sharing their true opinion of the company is at its lowest. The astute exiting employee will understand though that it is smart play to protect the relationships they have built, and the necessity for a reference in the future should they ever require one. So in essence, while there is a heightened level of comfort in being honest, it is not likely to come at the departing employee’s expense.

So what can you learn by engaging with the disengaged employee? Patterns that exist within that are causing dissension can emerge. And when you can identify trouble areas or common reasons why employees leave, you can put into effect strategies to combat or eliminate these issues. But this information is only of value if you use it to undertake meaningful action and improve processes and culture. Imagine for a moment there was high turnover in one department only. You may begin to conclude that your gun department manager is not such a gun after all. Or, through conducting and exit interview, you may discover that your manager is indeed the right person for the job, but you have a clicky cantankerous group of employees that are too defiant to change and adapt to an evolving industry…or outsider. Consequently you need to recruit a new character of employee that fits your company’s progressive values. Not laterally move your manager.

Simply conducting an exit interview is not a guarantee that you will define existing issues within. Here’s what a lot of organisations who are performing exit interviews are doing. They are putting together a checklist of questions that really don’t probe deeply enough to get to the heart of existing issues, but rather just require you to tick a box. Task complete, right? Wrong!!! Exit interviews are not about the person leaving, they’re about the next person entering the organisation. You know how costly recruitment is, yes? You need to find some strategic value within the exit interview to make better recruiting decisions in the future. It need not be a negative process.

The productive exit interview should be conducted by a conscientious, experienced interviewer with the ability to remain neutral. Choose a non-threatening environment and avoid a rigid, highly structured ‘conversation’. Are you reading between the lines here? Turf the checklist. Stick to open questions. Allow yourself to discover the tasks and responsibilities of the position so that you can understand if the role has changed substantially. The original position description may now be obsolete. Identify existing issues surrounding managerial style, access to opportunities and career development, working hours, benefits and so on. Ask if the employee found the job interesting. If there were any unfavourable working conditions, relationship issues within or outmoded policies and practices applied. Essentially you want to understand the key drivers that have led to their departure, particularly if they are a highly valued employee. You may just discover that some simple changes could reverse a decision to leave. Ideally you would have discovered this during the conversation that ensued when the resignation first came to light. Not on the last day when conducting an exit interview. Following the exit interview one would logically analyse the information gathered and prepare recommendations for remedial actions. Remember, the cost of recruitment is high! Don’t let this be an exercise in lip service.

One matter to bear in mind when undertaking an exit interview is an employee’s potential to exaggerate a problem if jaded. The smart employee will find an avenue to vent their frustrations beforehand. Or perhaps the astute interviewer will have a clever exercise for the cynical employee to undertake prior so that when arriving at the often dreaded exit interview they are able to deliver professional and facts based responses. Being devoid of emotion, doors can remain open.

I’m not sure why people stress over such a moment though, it’s not like one can be fired. They’re leaving!

Preparing for a departure you will also ensure company materials are collected, administrative forms are complete, knowledge is shared and projects and documents transferred. Loose ends following ones departure can be difficult to tie off.

Understanding why an employee is leaving can offer you the opportunity to retain an employee’s value through the negotiation of change, or aid in the elimination of problems so that the services of new employees can be held for the longer term. With so much value to be gained from a simple exercise, a practice that could save your company thousands, companies should want to learn about the culture and how they can keep staff more engaged. What are you doing to curb the flow of talent exiting your organisation? And is it working!?

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