Exit Interviews

A good exit interview starts with a stay interview

Some employers don’t conduct exit interviews, but these experts say they’re key to retention.
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4 min read

Have you ever wished you could conduct an exit interview with your ex? What went wrong, a multiple-choice questionnaire, or even the chance to learn how sometimes it is you?

Well, HR professionals are in a unique position because they can find out what went wrong—with an exit interview. While there’s not an approach that will work for every company, experts told HR Brew that there are some surefire ways to make the process more effective.

Back up. Exit interviews are the company’s last opportunity to not only make an impression on a departing employee, but to gain a window into potential issues within the organization. Perhaps there’s a culture problem that HR isn’t aware of, but it’s causing good employees to want out.

“[HR is] mining the departing employee for information that they can use to potentially make their organization better,” Brooks Scott, a career advisor, told CBS News this month.

You say…stay. We’ll resist shouting any Lisa Loeb lyrics (tempting as it is), but stay interviews are a tool managers can use to find out if workers are content or if they’re looking for an exit. Anita Grantham, head of HR at BambooHR, told HR Brew that stay interviews should be part of any exit interview strategy. “We save ourselves exits if we incorporate the process before [employees] leave. Because by the time they’re gone, they’re gone,” she said.

Jana Galbraith, VP of people experience at Xero, agreed that stay interviews are a valuable piece of the puzzle. Xero instructs its leaders to conduct stay conversations to understand why employees enjoy their jobs and what drains them, so they can make changes before talent leaves.

Exit strategy. There’s not a perfect way to structure exit interviews, according to Galbraith and Grantham. They take different approaches, although both stressed the importance of conducting some type of exit interview before saying goodbye to the departing employee to gain valuable data and insights.

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Grantham said that HR should tailor their conversations based on who is leaving. BambooHR found at one point that they had a high salesperson attrition rate, she said, and exit interviews allowed them to identify what was going wrong, and ultimately create more sales levels and changed salary bands. But she spends more time when a high-level executive resigns, sometimes spending up to six hours gathering information. She noted though, that it’s a process that also includes a survey for employees to fill out. “It does have to be customized based on role, impact of role, who the role reports to [but] yes, I still want my blanket survey,” said Grantham.

Alternatively, Galbraith said that HR leaders need to be protective of their time and resources, and should only have conversations with high-ranking leadership. Her company instituted an automated 15-question exit interview strategy, which she says has been effective so far. The globally distributed HR team at Xero spent months collaborating to settle on the questions that would provide the most insightful data.

“What I have found is that people are happy to sit there and type and put their thoughts in,” Galbraith said, noting that you can get more insight through a list of questions that workers fill out themselves.“When you’re talking live, you’re relying on [an] HR generalist to transcribe and make notes as they go along.”

Grantham said that HR departments will know their exit interview strategy is working when attrition rates improve and when the company is effectively bringing in new, desirable talent.

Regardless of what exit interview tactic people leaders use, Galbraith said they’re important, even if it’s just a couple of questions in a Google sheet. “HR professionals, even more so now, have to use their time wisely,” Grantham said.—KT

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.