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Saying Goodbye: How to Conduct Effective Exit Interviews

Saying Goodbye: How to Conduct Effective Exit Interviews
Credit: Kenary820/Shutterstock

Exit interviews aren't the time-wasting formality that some departing employees might think they are, new research finds.

The majority of human resources managers listen carefully to what's said during interviews with exiting workers, with more than 60 percent saying their organization takes action on the feedback given by employees on their way out, according to a study from the staffing firm OfficeTeam.

Specifically, 29 percent of those who act on the newly gleaned information update job descriptions, 24 percent address comments about management, 22 percent make changes to the work environment, and 19 percent review employee salaries.

The ability to obtain candid feedback is sometimes the only silver lining to losing an employee, said Brandi Britton, a district president for OfficeTeam. [See Related Story: 7 Reasons Happy Workers Quit Their Jobs ]

"Departing workers can provide valuable insights that current staff may be reluctant to share," Britton said in a statement. "Although not every criticism will be worth responding to, the most crucial issues should be addressed immediately to help keep existing team members happy and loyal."

To help employers, OfficeTeam offers several tips for conducting effective exit interviews:

  • Get the timing right. Exit interviews should be brief and scheduled on one of the worker's last days.
  • Leave bosses out of it. Having a direct supervisor sit in one the interviews can often be uncomfortable for departing employees and might make them hold back on what they say. It's better to have human resources representatives conduct one-on-one meetings in private. 
  • Explain the process. Before getting started, be sure to explain to the employee why you are conducting the interview, how the information will be used, and that what they say will be kept confidential.
  • Ask the right questions. Keep the questions brief and on the general side. Ask them about why they are leaving, what they liked and disliked about the company and what recommendations they have to make it a better place to work.
  • Don't be defensive. Accept what the employee says and don't try to correct or confront them on any of their criticisms.
  • Take what's said to heart. The whole point of these interviews is to find ways to improve your organization. Be sure to give all comments the attention they deserve. In addition, see if what's being said has been echoed in previous exit interviews. If so, that's a sign of a persistent problem that needs fixing.

The study was based on surveys of more than 300 HR managers at U.S. companies with 20 or more employees.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.