Exit interviews, still front and centre?

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Are outgoing employees advocates for your company, or bitter and twisted, spraying bad publicity to all who will listen? Even after an employment relationships end badly, exit interviews can go towards ending on a high note.

While conducting outplacement services, Bruce Anderson, managing director of Lee Hect Harrison, has noticed that if the exit interview is handled well, those leaving a company may become advocates for their ex-employer. If it isn’t, ex-employees may leave with a poor perception of the company firmly entrenched – and pass it on to others.

Exit interviews remain a valuable source of gathering “very candid information” about a company, according to Anderson. During an exit interview, he advocates asking why the ex-employee joined in the first place and what the highlights of working for the company were. However, perhaps most importantly, it pays to discover the reason why the employee chose to leave and what could have motivated them to continue at the organisation, Anderson added. Exit interviews are an opportunity to reveal (and address) complaints which could stop others from leaving.

It’s also vital that information is gathered for a purpose. If it’s a ‘tick and flick’ exercise then interviewees are unlikely to engage, Anderson said, but conducting the process seriously can deliver priceless insight. Interviewees must be informed where their input is destined and what will be done with it, and the information they provide should be consolidated and trends reported on (and acted upon).

Anderson asserted that there are two correct ways of conducting an exit interview – either with someone from within the organisation, or by outsourcing it. He doesn’t believe in online questionnaires, which typically require you to provide explanations for your answers, because of the extra effort that they require. Another potential problem with an online tool is that it doesn’t allow for follow-up questions, and, the ‘gold nugget’ type information is usually only revealed on the  second or third question.

In a recent, widely-publicised case of mass redundancies, the relevant (and outraged) union acquired the template for the way in which the manager was to speak to departing employees and rang Anderson for his expert opinion.

His response? “My view is that the script was really important – it’s a highly emotional meeting, and the manager is on edge and nervous and so those meetings need to be well-organised, well-managed, and strongly supported.” 

Key points for conducting exit interviews:
 

  • Intend on using the information that you gather – otherwise, don’t bother!
  • Let the interviewee know where the information is going, and how it will be used.
  • Plan on conducting the interview within the organisation, or outsource it.  Don’t use an online questionnaire.
  • As the interviewee both what were the highlights of working for their ex-employer, and the lowlights.
  • Prepare for the interview thoroughly.

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