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Updated Oct 23, 2023

Saying Goodbye: How to Conduct Effective Exit Interviews

Ask the right questions and learn from the feedback you receive.

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Jeremy Bender, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
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Exit interviews aren’t the time-wasting formality that some departing employees might think they are. In many cases, employees are a business’s most crucial asset. If conducted correctly, exit interviews can provide valuable insights into the company, including organizational and managerial challenges.

Effective exit interviews rely on asking the right questions, making employees feel comfortable, and providing appropriate structure. Depending on the employee and the company, a mix of written and in-person exit interviews may be ideal. We’ve put together the following best practices for conducting successful exit interviews.

Did You Know?Did you know
Exit interviews are a type of business survey. Other types include event evaluation surveys, new hire surveys and employee satisfaction surveys.

How to conduct an exit interview

Conducting a successful exit interview is an involved but straightforward process. Here are five exit interview best practices to consider:

  • Get the exit interview timing right. Exit interviews should be scheduled toward the end of the employee’s time at the company. As most employees give two weeks’ notice, exit interviews should be scheduled around four to five days before an employee leaves. In preparation, the interviewer should review the employee’s job description and speak to their manager about any additional responsibilities they have.
  • Leave bosses out of the exit interview. Whether the departing employee has a good boss or a bad boss, leave direct supervisors out of the exit interview. Having a direct supervisor sit in on the interviews may be uncomfortable for departing employees and might make them hold back on what they say. It’s better to have HR representatives conduct one-on-one meetings in private. If conducted in person, the interviewer should attempt to make the meeting as personable and comfortable as possible.
  • Explain the exit interview process. Before getting started, explain to the employee why you are conducting the interview and how the information will be used. Emphasize that what they say will be kept confidential.
  • Ask the right exit interview questions. Keep the questions brief and general. Ask why they’re leaving, what they liked and disliked about the company, and what recommendations they have to improve the workplace. Use the same general questions for each departing employee to gauge how well the business is retaining its talent. Businesses may also want to pair spoken questions with a written questionnaire, giving employees more time to think through their responses.
  • Take what’s said in the exit interview to heart. The point of exit interviews is to find ways to improve your organization. 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.
TipTip
Look for signs of employee burnout in your departing employee so you can evaluate their work environment and identify ways to improve task assignments and delegation.

Importance of employee exit interviews

A successful exit interview can help a business’s HR managers pull back the curtain to better understand the inner workings of the organization and any potentially harmful company dynamics. The chance to obtain honest employee feedback is sometimes the only silver lining to losing an employee.

Here are three reasons an exit interview is critical.

1. An exit interview can help you retain valuable employees.

While a successful exit interview won’t convince a departing employee to stay – and shouldn’t be used for that reason – it can help improve employee retention rates among your remaining valuable employees. Exit interviews can shed light on ongoing managerial issues within the company that might prompt employees to seek other jobs. With this knowledge, your HR team can enact policies that lead to better communication and employee engagement.

Did You Know?Did you know
Growth opportunities and a clear career path are vital elements for employee retention.

2. An exit interview can reveal internal challenges.

In addition to highlighting potential managerial issues, an effective exit interview allows employees to discuss organizational and workflow challenges they may not have been comfortable addressing previously. These challenges could include head-count shortages, unrealistic expectations, or complaints regarding third-party vendors or partners.

While an exit interview won’t solve these issues, it provides valuable intelligence for the HR team and management. For example, they can implement new policies about setting clear expectations for employees and ensuring adequate staffing.

Taking steps to solve existing workflow challenges could improve employee morale and convince other employees who are considering leaving to stay.

TipTip
Pay close attention to what your exiting employee reveals about the challenges they faced. Your organization may be breaking labor laws without realizing it.

3. An exit interview can generate competitive intelligence.

Not all employees leave because of problems at their current company; instead, some may be poached or leave for another company offering a better employee benefits package or a higher salary. In these cases, a departing employee might want to stay but can’t justify keeping their current position.

In these scenarios, exit interviews can help an HR team address shortfalls within the company. For example, it may not offer a 401(k) matching program, insurance options, flexible work policies, or other cool job perks that improve employee morale.

Implementing feedback from exit interviews

Businesses that implement feedback from exit interviews can, in the long term, help fix persistent issues and retain talent. The following tips can make exit interviews more actionable:

  • Think of exit interviews as feedback. Remember that exit interviews can be the last chance for a business to receive objective feedback. Use these opportunities to improve the office’s work environment for remaining employees.
  • Create an exit interview spreadsheet. A spreadsheet can help document relevant information from exit interviews. When you have the information from each interview saved in a structured format, you’ll be better able to spot long-term trends or specific areas that multiple sources say need improvement.
  • Focus on impactful change. Use the spreadsheet to address areas that were factors in multiple employees leaving. These areas are likely causing other current employees to consider alternative employment options.
  • Share exit interview feedback as necessary. Share negative and positive feedback with the relevant parties. Address negative feedback with a manager or executive so the company can address root issues before they cause more employees to leave.

Seeing exit interviews as learning opportunities

Saying goodbye to a valuable employee is never easy. However, a successful exit interview can help a business gain valuable insights that lead to workplace improvements that attract and retain the best employees in the future.

Chad Brooks contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. 

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Jeremy Bender, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Jeremy Bender is an experienced writer, researcher, reporter, and editor with a decade of experience in the digital media and private intelligence industries. He previously reported on geopolitics and cybersecurity for Business Insider's Military & Defense vertical, before becoming the vertical's editor. More recently, Jeremy has worked as a threat intelligence editor at the Business Risk Intelligence company Flashpoint and as a security intelligence writer at NTT Security, where he covered topics such as ongoing cyber attack campaigns and critical threat intelligence.
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