Exit interviews are a brilliant way for employers to find out how they might better engage and retain staff.
Employees leaving an organisation tend to speak a little more frankly about their experiences, which can sometimes uncover problem areas you might not have picked up on.
While not required by law, exit interviews can offer valuable insights, so they’re well worth doing.
But to make sure you get the most out of them, you need to be asking the right questions.
Broadly, the questions you’ll want to ask will fall into four topics:
- The role itself
- Pay and benefits
- Management/supervision, recognition and support
- The wider organisation and its culture.
Depending on how you wish to use the information, you may want to have an informal discussion, weaving in your required questions. Or, you may decide to have a structured list of questions. This may feel more stilted, but it will enable a more accurate analysis of groups of responses.
Best questions to ask in an exit interview
1. Talk to me about why you are leaving?
Remember that the employee may be going on to other employment, or they may be leaving for other reasons, which they may not feel so comfortable discussing.
2. Where will you be working and in what role?
If the employee is going to other employment, this question will help you to understand more about the reasons for their leaving, ie. a promotion, or a change of sector.
3. How will the pay and benefits compare to those you receive here?
This can give you insights into the packages offered by your competitors for staff
4. Did you feel you were well supported in your role and equipped to succeed?
This question can help you asses the strengths and weaknesses of training and supervision within your organization.
5. Were you satisfied with the way you were managed?
This question will help you hone in on any areas or concerns with regards to supervisors/management.
6. Did you feel your work was suitably recognised and rewarded?
Everyone wants to feel valued. It’s important to check that those working for you feel seen and appreciated.
7. How would you describe the culture here?
Answers will reflect on how well your company lives out its stated values.
8. What did you like most about working here? What would you improve?
It’s always useful to know what your strengths and weaknesses are from the employee’s perspective; they could be very different to what you perceive them to be.
9. Do you feel that the way the role was presented at the recruitment stage was accurate?
This helps you understand if the role and the way it is presented are consistent.
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What not to ask in an exit interview?
Avoid probing about the behaviours of any individuals, unless the employee raises this themselves.
If the employee does bring up a complaint about the behaviour of another employee or manager, you will need to assess how serious this is and consider offering them a way of resolving this internally, for example through using your grievance process.
Avoid making negative judgments about what they say – for example, voicing your opinion that this is a bad career move for them.
Avoid asking whether they can be persuaded to stay. It’s generally too late for this question by the exit interview. If you had wanted to hold on to the employee, finding out whether there was anything you could do to make them stay should have been asked as soon as they handed in their resignation.
How to get the most out of your exit interviews
Before getting stuck in with the questions, take some time to set the tone for the interview.
Thank the employee for coming to the meeting, explain that this is a standard process and that the purpose is to understand why people leave, so that you can identify whether there are any areas where improvements could be made.
Explain that the information will be treated confidentially.
Also let them know that they don’t have to answer every question if they’d prefer not to. If they’re tense and anxious about how what they say may be followed up, you’re unlikely to get the most valuable responses from them.
Most employees will remain professional in their exit interview with you. However, you will find those who’ll relish the opportunity to vent! If this is the case, remember to maintain a neutral and professional standpoint in the discussion.
Who should conduct an exit interview?
Along with thinking about what you might ask in an exit interview, you need to consider who will be the best person to do the questioning.
Ideally, line managers won’t conduct exit interviews for their reports. If the employee has been unhappy with the way they were managed, this is unlikely to come out if they’re talking to their own manager!
If possible, the person conducting the exit interview won’t have worked too closely with the employee or have built up much of a relationship with them.
In larger organisations with an internal HR function, exit interviews are usually carried out by HR personnel. But for smaller businesses without in-house HR, look to senior members of staff who worked at some distance from the employee, perhaps the manager of a different team or function if that’s possible.
When to conduct an exit interview?
You should hold the exit interview towards the end of the employee’s notice period; the final few days of their employment is best.
What if an employee refuses to participate in an exit interview?
You may be able to persuade an employee to attend by explaining the purpose of the meeting and providing reassurances regarding confidentiality. However, if an employee really doesn’t want to attend, it’s not sensible to try and force them to participate.
Alternatives to interviews
Some employers prefer to issue a leaving questionnaire and only invite someone into an interview if this raises issues of concern. While this can save time, the quality of the feedback tends to be weaker than that derived from a face-to-face discussion.
What to do with the feedback from exit interviews?
The exit interview is far from over when the conversation ends. The most important job for you now is to process the information you’ve just gathered.
With the exception of issues relating to bullying and/or harassment or unlawful discrimination, which should be promptly investigated, it’s usually impractical to react straight away to most of the points raised during an exit interview.
What you can do, however, is look for trends. Has something been mentioned that’s also come up in previous exit interviews?
It can be helpful to try to summarise and collate all your exit interview conversations into one document to help you identify trends and reoccurring themes and comments over time.
Once you see trends starting to emerge, evaluate which issues to prioritise and make plans to address these.
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If you need advice on conducting exit interviews or tackling the problem areas that you’ve identified through carrying them out, our HR consultants can help.
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