How Can You Make Exit Interviews More Useful?

Q. Our company's employee turnover numbers, which had been steady and low, are beginning to increase. Some of our leaders want to start conducting exit interviews to understand why departing employees are leaving, but others think it's a waste of time. Is it possible to get constructive information from an exit interview?

A. Any time you solicit input from employees, you have an opportunity to gain insights into the inner workings of your company. Exit interviews, like any other way of gathering feedback, can help you learn things that you might not be aware of or reinforce information you already have.

When you're experiencing a rise in turnover and aren't sure why, exit interviews are particularly important. To maximize their benefit, consider following these steps:

Set a strategic time for the meeting. To get the most actionable information, conduct the meeting in the last few days of an individual's employment. If you have it too early, he or she might feel uncomfortable speaking freely about co-workers. If you wait until the last day, the departing employee will probably be focused on his or her future.

Encourage a frank and honest conversation. To encourage participation by departing employees, stress the value they brought to the company throughout their employment and explain how their input can help the team they're leaving behind to perform better. Also, meet in private and have the interview conducted by someone other than the employee's direct supervisor. Some companies use a neutral third party for these meetings. Another option is to use an online or paper survey, but you lose the ability to ask specific follow-up questions when you're not face-to-face.

Ask questions you can't ask in other forums. Exit interviews provide you with an opportunity to find out what employees are really thinking. Take advantage of this by asking questions such as:

Keep comments confidential. No one wants to feel like they've burned a bridge, so let departing employees know that you'll safeguard their feedback. Also inform them how you'll use the information. It will encourage them to speak openly. This means that you shouldn't provide names when sharing feedback, even if those individuals are no longer employed at your company. Instead, combine ex-employees' comments and use them to explain trends.

Use the information wisely. Many companies conduct exit interviews and collect information, but do nothing with it. If you make changes based on the feedback from exiting employees, others will take the process seriously. A third party can be particularly helpful in this area because of its objectivity and ability to analyze trends and provide solutions.

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