Exit interviews: Best practices and HR strategy

Let’s face it: every employer has to conduct exit interviews every now and then. Considering the current state of the labor market—where employees are resigning at record rates—many organizations are finding themselves scheduling exit interviews more often than ever before.

Sawyer Welham, Senior HR business partner at MorganFranklin Consulting, a Vaco Company, is the guest author for this article.

Gathering feedback from departing employees is critical, and companies that don’t take the time to do so face the likely risk of increasing turnover. Worse yet, when exiting employees aren’t provided with an opportunity to share their experiences, they may line up to “spill the tea” on their previous employers to networking groups or via online review platforms. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Companies that put emphasis on a strategic exit interview process are in a position to make the most of the last days of an employee’s tenure. By taking the time to turn exit interviews into opportunities to gather valuable, honest feedback, HR professionals can identify trends that show where retention strategies are missing the mark.

Wondering how to help your HR team tighten up its offboarding process? Here are some tips for establishing exit interview best practices and effectively incorporating them into your HR strategy. 

The importance of gathering regular employee feedback

An old saying applies to effective employee retention strategies: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Simply put, if you can address workplace issues before they cause unhappy employees to quit, you can avoid the costly fallout that high turnover brings.

Regular check-ins, engagement or pulse surveys, and stay interviews all provide continuous snapshots on the state of your workplace, as well as highlight any specific issues or concerns from team members. Collecting and digesting this information can help you address problems in real time and make necessary changes to ensure that your employee retention strategy aligns with your overall goals.

If you already have channels in place that allow employees to provide regular feedback, great! Use the trends you identify in exit interviews to reexamine and modify employee survey questions over time to stay in touch with workplace changes, which relies upon your data collection process.

Analyze turnover data to support a successful retention strategy

One key benefit of gathering exit interview feedback is the ability to analyze turnover data and align the results to your retention strategy. To collect enough data to identify trends and patterns, however, you’ll need to create a consistent exit interview process. Then, you need to commit to following up on a regular basis to act on your observations.

Here are 3 tips you can use for better exit interview data collection and analysis:

  • Ask leadership for input before collecting data. Ask stakeholders for specific data points that will help them gain insights to support a happier, more engaged workplace.
  • Standardize your exit interview or survey questions. Put simply, you must ask exiting employees the same questions if you want to identify trends. (If you want to gather more casual, off-the-script observations, you may combine our exit interview tips below with a standardized survey.)
  • Offer a survey and an in-person/virtual exit interview. In-person/virtual exit interviews provide an opportunity to dive deeper into responses, gaining additional context and clarity. However, due to high turnover volume or simple scheduling hangups, you may not catch every departing employee before they leave so offering multiple channels to get feedback can help you collect more data.

After you have created a standardized exit survey and/or interview format, it’s time to focus on how you schedule and conduct your feedback opportunities during employee offboarding.

4 best practices to create a comfortable exit interview environment

The first thing to remember when considering your exit interview process is that it’s not mandatory for departing employees to participate. Whether exit interviews are in-person or online, it’s vital to foster an environment that makes departing employees feel comfortable enough to be forthright and provide honest feedback during the discussion.

These 4 simple tips can go a long way in creating an open atmosphere for an exit interview:

  1. Send meeting invites and exit surveys with plenty of time in advance: Departing employees are usually juggling many offboarding tasks in their last few days on the job. Don’t wait until the last minute to request their time for an exit interview.
  2. Choose an unbiased interviewer: An HR representative, outside consultant, or department head can bring an unbiased perspective that encourages authentic feedback. An employee’s direct supervisor should already be proactively reaching out to the support the departing employee – not only with transition items, but to gain any project or role specific insights that the employee may not have felt comfortable sharing prior.
  3. Emphasize purpose and value: Before jumping into the exit interview, reiterate the purpose of the discussion and the value gained from candid responses. Summarize how the feedback will be analyzed and shared with leadership in the aggregate to enhance the employee experience.
  4. Keep the interview atmosphere casual and positive: Express appreciation for their participation and stay upbeat about their decision to move on. Keeping a positive tone encourages participation and helps both parties cut ties on a good note. This can leave the door open for a “boomerang hire,” where they may return to work for your company down the road, bringing new perspectives.

So, you have the data—and you’ve discovered some interesting feedback on a per-interview basis. Now it’s time to interpret your data in a way that allows your leadership team to take meaningful action.

You’ve collected exit interview responses. What’s next?

A key benefit of gathering exit interview data is the ability to develop a turnover analysis and retention strategy. Your ideal process will depend on your team’s size, management structure, and the gravity of the challenges your workplace is facing. However, there are a few tips you can keep in mind for a successful implementation:

  • Be careful about sharing exit interview responses. In many cases, sharing specific exit interview responses with current team members is not a good idea. Responses may be taken out of context and upset employees who worked directly with the departing team member. Make a plan to share responses with key members of leadership across the business to get consensus on what feedback should be shared.
  • Report exit interview data to leadership at regular intervals. Too many companies fail to consistently follow up on turnover trends and data—and the results can be costly. Create a process that syncs your reporting with the executive leadership decision-making cycle to ensure alignment of the retention strategy with changing workplace attitudes.
  • Use exit data to improve recruitment processes. Utilizing exit interview data doesn’t always boil down to reacting to internal challenges. In some cases, attrition trends start with recruiting. Be sure to involve the recruiting team with your executive stakeholders to ensure you’re offering competitive compensation, hiring people at the right skill level, asking the most useful questions during the hiring process, and leveraging case studies that align with role expectations.

In today’s hot labor market, failure to react to changing employee attitudes can have a far-reaching effect on your ability to recruit the best talent moving forward.

Successful employee retention means you can’t afford to wait

The big takeaway with employee retention is that you can’t afford to wait until the exit interview. Regular employee check-ins are your best overall prevention strategy. And when you are reacting to exit interview feedback at the corporate level, place an emphasis on proactive solutions as well. Involving recruiting in your exit interview analysis can help isolate issues that may be preventing you from hiring the right talent in the first place.

Searching for powerful global talent solutions? Vaco is with you all the way.

Sawyer Welham
Learn more about Sawyer Welham of MorganFranklin Consulting.


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