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Conducting Employee Exit Interviews is Good for Your Business

iStock_000016483137SmallIt may not be immediately clear why it’s worthwhile to spend some time talking to a (soon-to-be) former employee, but in fact you can learn a lot about your business this way. Assuming the situation is amicable—that is, the employee is leaving voluntarily for another position—this represents a unique opportunity to get candid feedback from someone who’s been in the trenches and can shed light on management and work conditions in general.

And shouldn’t you be fully aware of how employees are being treated in your business?

First of all, the departing employee is a potential “brand ambassador” who under the right circumstances might be willing to refer other prospective job candidates or even customers to your business. An exit interview is your last, best opportunity to forge a favorable bond with this person.

While it’s often standard policy for HR to conduct an exit interview, depending on your time and/or size of your business, think about handling this yourself. In any case, the exit interview shouldn’t be conducted by the departing employee’s immediate supervisor (since that individual may be part of the reason he’s leaving). Also consider hiring an outside third-party for the best possible results.

Though most exit interviews are conducted on or near the employee’s departure day, there’s a school of thought that suggests a brief waiting period instead. An employee’s last few days in the office are usually pretty emotional (finishing projects, saying farewell to co-workers, anticipating what’s around the corner), so if it’s possible to schedule the interview a week or so later, you’ll likely get more objective results.

The true value of the exit interview rests on the types of questions you ask. Naturally, you want to know why the employee made the decision to leave your organization. Beyond that, here are open-ended questions that can provide valuable insights into how employees perceive your company culture:

  • What could we have done to prevent your decision to leave?
  • What can we do to make this a more desirable place to work?
  • What’s your view on the quality of communication and feedback here?
  • Did you have all the necessary resources to do your job?
  • What did you like best about working here? What did you like least?
  • What is your new employer offering that we don’t?
  • How would you compare our compensation and benefits package with your new employer?
  • What advice would you give to the person we hire to replace you?

It’s also a good idea to give these questions to the ex-employee before the scheduled interview. That way, he or she has time to think about their answers.

After the exit interview is concluded, thank the individual for taking time to talk with you. Now it’s time to act on what you’ve learned.

  • If you see a problem with the ex-employee’s supervisor, think about ways to change the situation.
  • If there’s a significant disparity between salary levels, it might be time to overhaul your compensation program.
  • If the exit interview has uncovered other problem areas, consider options for improvement as soon as possible.

The actions you take could result in improved employee retention—and less need to conduct employee exit interviews.

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