The resignation of an employee can strike a strong chord. When the departing employee is an underperformer or otherwise toxic, we often emit sighs of relief upon hearing the news. More often than not, however, we’re sad to see employees leave.
An exit interview can serve as a silver lining in the difficult situation. Employee turnover is expensive, and failing as the employer of choice is a marker of company performance. Research from the Center for American Progress found that the average economic cost of turning over a highly skilled job is 213% the cost of the annual compensation for that role! Exit interview feedback can help reduce turnover costs and increase retention rates among star performers. Candid exit interview feedback, especially as it pertains to culture, compensation, leadership, factors contributing to the departure, and competing employers of choice can help inform future organizational improvements.
Despite the many advantages, however, far too many organizations fail to facilitate effective and meaningful exit interview conversations.
1. Get the timing right
Many organizations opt to conduct exit interviews during the departing employees’ last week or day on the job. This strategy is ill-advisable. If you wait until the last moment, employees are likely to be mentally checked out, perhaps focused on their upcoming cruise to the Bahamas. If employees are mentally distant, they'll be less able to accurately reflect on their experiences.
Alternatively, some organizations choose to conduct interviews as soon as an employee is asked to leave or announces his/her intention to leave. This approach can prove equally ineffective. Even if resignations are voluntary, there tends to be a flurry of emotions at play in the immediate aftermath of the announcement, including anxiety, regret, and panic. This flood of emotions increases employees’ cognitive loads and renders them less capable of accurately reflecting on their experiences. It’s best to let emotions subside and conduct exit interviews at the half-way point between the time of the announcement and the time of the departure.
2. Review results
Far too many companies see exit interviews as a mere formality, something they are supposed to do. They don't devote sufficient time to evaluating the results and insights gleaned via exit interviews. It’s imperative that organizations analyze exit interview feedback as it can serve as an invaluable source of knowledge. Although exit interview results are lagging interviews, they can shed light on key ways to increase retention in the future. Shelly Funderburg, director of hiring solutions at Manpower Inc., recommends that information collected via exit interviews “be included in the company’s annual review, strategic planning, recruiting strategies, training plans, management development program and any tool companies use to evaluate themselves.” Exit interview feedback should be systematically evaluated and studied.
3. Do not rely exclusively on third parties
Far too many companies outsource exit interviews and rely exclusively on third parties. Many believe that the use of an objective third party will cause employees to share more accurate and authentic feedback.
Contrary to popular belief, exit interviews tend to be most effective when at least one member of the organization is involved in conducting the interview. When a current member of the organization participates in exit interviews, departing employees are more likely to believe that the feedback they provide is valued, won't be ignored, and isn't just a formality. This reduces the risk of negative posts on social media such as GlassDoor and Yelp, since many employees just want to be heard and understood. As well, current members of the organization also more likely to have intimate knowledge of the workplace culture and politics at play. As a result, they tend to be more effective at sparking meaningful conversations that address the root causes of problems.
When it comes to selecting an internal member of your organization to conduct and/or participate in exit interviews, it’s best to maintain one degree of separation. Departing employees are less likely to provide candid feedback when in the presence of their boss. They may withhold information for fear of triggering hurt feelings or, worse yet, an abusive attack.
Exit interviews are one of the most underleveraged tools at an organization’s disposal. An executive coach can help you re-evaluate your exit strategy protocol and empower you to more effectively diagnose the root causes of turnover. Haphazardly outsourcing your exit interview to a third party or administrating a quick web-based survey are as genuine and effective as sending a “Why did you break up with me?" text message to an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend.
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner