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Conducting exit interviews that are worth doing

Posted by | October 20, 2017 | Interviewers, Interviews, Tips

Via Herald Tribune : Conducting exit interviews that are worth doing

My last column was about onboarding for new employees. So it is only fitting that I cover the opposite end of this spectrum: conducting exit interviews for the recently departed.

One important consideration is whether the employee has resigned or been involuntarily terminated. Exit answers may be very different — and perhaps unreliable — for terminated employees.

These are some comments on the subject I gleaned from a question I posted at helpareporter.com. They make it apparent that getting good information from an exit interview can be difficult but is invaluable.

Employees who leave on their terms

“In cases where people are leaving on positive terms, you often get throwaway reasons such as compensation, or gentle rationales like, ‘It’s a great place and I wasn’t actively looking, but the opportunity is just amazing.’ This is understandable because people want to preserve relationships,” said Tim Toterhi, an Internatinoal Coach Federation-certified executive coach and founder of Plotline Leadership (www.plotlineleadership.com),

Employees who are terminated

Toterhi continues, “When people are let go or leave under a negative cloud, the response is often raw, exaggerated and hyper-focused on recent activity. You may learn something about the conditions that led to the event but you rarely get to the root cause.”

Other issues

“Few people are properly trained on how to conduct an exit interview, and fewer have a strategy for what they hope to achieve,” Toterhi said.

“Do they hope to find the root cause, uncover patterns in talent loss, win back key employees via a “stay interview” or preserve the brand through a positive final interaction? Teaching managers to have productive conversations with employees while they are still employed is much better.”

Kevin Huhn, chief inspirational officer at the motivational company Be Your Best Today, said that, “Exit interview answers often come out of desperation, not inspiration. I recall a situation where a female manager changed her story with HR and it resulted in a crying session.”

“I believe that people will do whatever is necessary to protect themselves. They’ll comply with exit interview questions if they feel safe. Most of the time, the answers are what they think the company wants to hear, or they use the opportunity as a chance to blow off steam. A life lesson I learned is that hurt people, hurt people.”

Jamie Press, senior vice president of PrimePay, a nationwide payroll provider, says, “The problem with conducting exit interviews is that employees are often reluctant to be transparent about the issues they are having with their employer.

“Exit interviews are important because a person has little to lose when they are no longer employed. Information collected in these interviews can be used to find patterns and trends to help shape decision-making in the future. For example, we can examine what most people think about our benefits compared to other companies. For us, it helps to understand the company’s strengths and weaknesses.

“We can help determine areas for management training or if there are areas of the business with on-going problems that need to be addressed. If there are specific employee-related issues, those can be examined as well.”

Start, stop or continue?

Lisa Barrington, a certified coach who is working on a doctoral dissertation on employee engagement, said “Ideally, exit interviews should be used to identify the reason the employee is leaving. Once identified, further query into the employee’s experience will be helpful for leadership, in particular if it is rolled up with other data (exit interviews, engagement surveys).

“Ideally, a firm wants to collect information from a “start, stop, continue” approach. What is it that the company needs to start doing that would have kept you? What do they need to stop doing that would have kept you? What did they do that kept you here up to this point? Demographic data should be tracked to identify if there are issues with a particular leader; or with a particular group leaving at a faster pace than others.”

Deanna Arnold, president and owner of Employers Advantage LLC, suggests, “If a company chooses to do exit interviews, they need to make sure they do something with the information provided by the employees.

“They should only be done with employees who voluntarily resign and not with employees who are fired or involuntarily terminated. Not only will the information from them probably be skewed, it isn’t a good idea to let someone go and then ask them to do the company a favor by completing an exit interview.”

“The expectation from conducting an exit interview,” Arnold said, “is that the employer will be able to get insight and information about the company, benefits, management, etc., to help them create a better work environment.

“Don’t wait until the employees are leaving to ask them those questions,” she said. “Conduct stay interviews instead.”

In summary, know what you want to get out of the interview and listen carefully. Your goals should include improving retention and minimizing risk and employee turnover by discovering why good employees leave. Ask open-ended questions about how to improve communications and processes and about how to work better together.

Then change what is needed to keep the good ones from leaving. Exit interviews should be part of your employee-engagement program.

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