Exit Interviews

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What is an exit interview?

An exit interview is a discussion or on-line questionnaire that takes place with an employee as they exit the business and the purpose of the discussion is to gather information about their new job role (although they aren’t obliged to tell you anything) but more importantly to get their views on aspects of the business including communication, development opportunities, training, leadership, culture and general observations.

Let’s not kid ourselves, some exit interviews are just an opportunity for an embittered or aggrieved employee to get a whole load of stuff off their chest – they may slag off their line manager (maybe with good reason), criticise the business for their communications, moan about the fact they were overlooked for promotion and the oldest one in the book “I’ve never had an appraisal”.

Are exit interviews a statutory requirement?

No, there is no legal foundation to an exit interview, however, they are regarded as good practice and if the process is used well, can give some excellent feedback to the leadership team.

However, I’ve known businesses who are required to do an exit interview because this it is part of an HR process within their Quality Management systems.

Is there any benefit in carrying out an exit interview?

Yes, but only as long as the business is prepared to listen and learn, take on board the feedback and to identify a trend – for instance, high attrition in a certain team might be attributed to a particular individual supervisor or line manager. This person may – for all we know – have bullying tendencies but no-one is prepared to put their head above the parapet and challenge the behaviour.

But it is important to recognise that exit interviews will only be done with employees who have given their notice and are about to move on so, therefore, they will probably be quite outspoken or maybe, disillusioned, demoralised, de-mob happy and they don’t really care what they say. Some of what they say will need to be filtered.

It could be argued that exit interviews carried out by the line manager have limited value because the employee will be guarded in what they say and may also be reliant on this person for a reference. So, a level of independence in the exit interview process definitely has value – this may be from the HR team or an external, independent person who doesn’t have a conflict of interest.

What sort of issues get raised in an exit interview?

It’s a bit like when a business carries out an anonymous employee motivation survey, you can be sure that the top issues that will be criticised will be

Training and development – specifically poor or limited opportunity and possibly limited career progression and not promoting from within.

Communication – however good your communications are, they will be criticised because the employee will remember the one instance where you failed to communicate something.

Pay and benefits – probably because they will be moving to a better paid job with more benefits

Performance appraisal/PDR – it is an easy target and employees will criticise the frequency of the process and its value – “I haven’t had an appraisal for 3 years!” 

Can you spot trends in exit interviews?

Yes, without doubt. There may be pockets of discontent in the business which maybe to do with a small team or it may be directly related to a specific individual. However, there may be wider deep rooted problems in connection with the leadership team and culture.

Spotting a trend is one thing – doing something about it is quite a different issue. People will often say things like – “5 people have left because of him/her….” Prove it! It is very difficult to prove that one person is responsible for the exodus in a team – it’s quite possible and likely but how can you prove it?

Don’t just base a trend on exit interview qualitative information – use data to validate findings.

Do you need to do exit interviews when an employee is made redundant?

No – the process is likely to have limited value because the employees are likely to have a bit of a grudge and they are unlikely to give a balanced point of view. Probably not worth wasting your time!

How do you get maximum value from an exit interview process?

  • The process needs to be facilitated independently
  • Employees need to have confidence that their responses are anonymous but this is difficult in very small companies where they may only have a few leavers a year
  • Act on the feedback and identify trends
  • If there are concerns around the management style and behaviours of key individuals, address them.

Adrian Berwick provides HR Support to businesses and if you want help dealing with a difficult issue, contact Adrian on 07885 714771 or email adrian@abhrsolutions.co.uk

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