Employee Retention: Making the Most Out of Exit Interviews

The greatest goal for any company is to retain valued employees since research has shown that high turnover is often an indicator of low performance. Worse, you may be losing your skilled workers to competitors, putting your company at a significant disadvantage. 

If your team members are leaving at increasing numbers, one tool can help you combat the problem: exit interviews. Last year, we discussed what questions and approaches managers should take to get the most out of them. This article will discuss the structures exit interviews should take, including who should do the interviewing and other important factors to consider. 

In the Door and Out Again

The general consensus with implementing exit interviews is that it helps companies either improve retention or produce useful information about workflow processes and management strategies. If your exit interviews aren’t producing any actionable feedback, it typically boils down to three reasons.

  1. Poor data quality. Whether or not you receive answers that you can derive real solutions from, depends on the honesty of the leaving employee – and there are many reasons for them to hold back their true feelings. They may not want to critique their superiors or they may just not care. If they’re hoping for a reference letter, then it’s twice as unlikely for them to be truthful. 
  2. Lack of standardized best practices. The goals and strategies of exit interviews vary. The workplace hierarchy and reporting network adds another level of difficulty especially when there are specific processes in place that prevent managers from having those meaningful retention conversations.
  3. Findings are left unreported. Exit interviews and programs may be administered but any findings may not be shared with management depending on the process in place. For example, the Human Resources department may be responsible for administering all the steps, but managers need to be involved to take advantage of any new insights. 

Making it Work

If you have defined your goals and strategies, here are some important factors to consider when creating your techniques. 

Have direct managers conduct the interviews. Managers who have spent more time managing the leaving employee typically receive more honest feedback. These managers are also in a position to follow up immediately and effectively with the employee’s personality and attitude in mind. 

Prioritize who you’ll interview. If you can’t interview everyone, make it mandatory to interview high-value employees. These individuals are harder to replace and are generally more knowledgeable about both the company and its competitors as they are recruitment targets. In the future, they may wield great influence in the industry and can provide you with the most valuable insights. 

Not all questions have to be standardized. Standardized interview questions make it easier to spot trends but rarely do they deliver new insights. They can also come off as perfunctory, signaling to employees that their opinions don’t matter and are another process to get through. 

Don’t discuss any “solutions” or “fixes.” Interviewers should listen and be patient and friendly. They should not offer solutions or rebuttals for any problems that surface and instead ask about where improvements can be made.

Exit interviews can offer a lot of valuable information and should not be wholly focused on failure. It should be a welcoming addition to a series of regular conversations between managers and employees that focus on growth and relationship building. Making small changes can create a big difference in retaining employees and positioning your company for long-term growth and success.