Dear David: Conducting exit interviews

April 22, 2016

April 11/18, 2016; Volume 30, Number 21

By David Romano

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 2.10.32 PMDear David:

How do I find out why I am losing my employees? My manager keeps telling me they leave because they want to make more money but I find that hard to swallow because I pay more than my competition. Can you offer some advice on this matter?

Dear In-The-Dark Owner,

Let’s start off with some facts to give you a frame of reference. According to a survey conducted in 1999 (yes, I know that was a long time ago), where 2,000 exit interview surveys were sent to separated employees for a large 19-store retail chain, 76% of the reasons given for leaving on the follow-up survey reflected dissatisfaction with the organization. A more puzzling output of this survey was 95% of the reasons given on the survey were different than the reasons given at the exit interview.

So, the majority of people leaving your organization are not departing for more money; they are leaving because they don’t like where they work. In fact, after doing further research I found that very seldom is the first reason people give as to why they are leaving the company the truth; it is most likely the second or third reason.

If you truly want to find out what is going on, I highly suggest you start conducting some exit interviews. These interviews should be conducted with departing employees as well as any previously separated employees. That means you would need to track down those who have left and ask them why they decided to leave. It may sound crazy, but statistics show employees who have already left are very open with the reason of departure because they don’t fear any repercussion from speaking the truth.

Exit interviews provide valuable information that can prove to be useful in all aspects of the work environment. All companies should conduct exit interviews as they will give you the opportunity to get the opinions of those leaving the company in terms of how they perceive the organization and, most important, why they decided to leave. It is also a way to tie up loose ends and reduce any bad will that could get out to the public as most employees stay within the same field upon departure.

Here are some things you should ask departing/former employees:

  1. Overall, how did you find your experience working on this team?
  2. What did you like about it?
  3. What could have been better?
  4. What is/was your primary reason for leaving?
  5. What would it have taken for you to stay?
  6. Did you receive enough training and support to do your job effectively?
  7. Did you receive sufficient and meaningful feedback about your performance between reviews?
  8. Did any policies/procedures/issues make your job more difficult?
  9. Would you consider working for this organization again in the future?
  10. What does your new position offer that your previous one doesn’t?
  11. Any other comments?

When you receive the feedback from these exit interviews, you will need to go through the results and determine what is within your control of changing and what is not. Use the results that are within your control to improve the workplace; this will make things better for new employees and ensure the same mistakes will not be made again. The results are an important retention tool—if you act upon them. After you have implemented the changes, it would be ideal if there was a means for measuring their impact on the team. As an example, a team survey or more neutral interviews with current employees six to 12 months after the changes are implemented would be a valuable experiment to conduct.

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