How to Conduct an Exit Interview That isn’t a Waste of Time

BlogHR Advice Posted: Wednesday 13th July 2016 by

Conducting an exit interview when someone resigns from your company is good practice for any HR or management professional.

There’s an ancient story about the employee in a remote location who won an enormous cash prize on a sweepstake and sent a telegram to his employer: Resign forthwith; insulting letter follows. When the relationship between you and a staff member is that bad, an exit interview may seem a waste of time. Overcome any sense of ‘It can’t be us, so it must be them’ and face up to the reality that every person who leaves your employment has a reason for it, and the reason may be good.

Good reasons for conducting exit interviews include:

  • To find out how strong the employee’s wish to go is, and (if her or his departure will be a genuine loss) whether the decision can be changed;
  • To learn the reasons for resignation. If a competitor is paying more, you need to know. If good people don’t see a career path in your company, you need to know. If there are problems in the way the employee’s part of your business operates, you need to know;
  • To avoid, as far as possible, sending an ex-employee into the world telling people (some of whom may be your customers) that ‘nobody listened’;
  • Because creating the sense that the company listens to its people improves staff morale.

The secret to a good exit interview is the same as the secret for most things: preparation. Think about your reason for holding it, think about the outcome you want and – most important of all – regard it as a worthwhile activity and not as one of those HR things you have to do even when you don’t believe in them. From your reasons for holding the interview and your conclusions about the outcome you want, it should be fairly easy to prepare some questions to ask.

As with almost any kind of interview, questions should be open – that is, it should not be possible to answer them with either Yes or No. Avoid anything that might create a contentious atmosphere: don’t ask the person’s opinion of anyone in the company (including yourself) and, whatever you do, don’t respond to criticism, whether spoken or implicit, either by becoming visibly upset or by denying the charge. You may feel that what the employee has said is not true, but it’s true for the employee and finding out where that belief comes from can only have positive results.

The departing employee may see an exit interview as an opportunity to sound off against the company, its people or its policies. If so, the time spent may be wasted. It’s just as likely, though, that the employee will seize the last chance she or he will ever have to make constructive criticism in a forum where it may do some good – but that will only happen if you create the right atmosphere for it.

Human Results offer expert HR services on retainer, or on a one-off basis to help guide you through the daily challenges of managing your business from a people perspective, including employee engagement, dispute resolution and resolving workplace conflict. We also provide expert leadership development coaching programmes to secure long-term capability within your organisation, and a critical support structure for your leaders.

For more information, call Human Results on 01952 288361 for a no obligation, confidential discussion.

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