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Although some managers and HR professionals do not see the value in exit interviews, they can provide useful information that you'll be able to utilize for current and future employees. Regardless of termination or resignation, an employee that is on his or her way out does not have much to lose and will be less likely to sugarcoat their answers. By taking the time to communicate with leaving employees, you may be able to increase job satisfaction and morale amongst current team members, resulting in a higher retention rate. Read on to discover several reasons why exit interviews are imperative.

When an employee chooses to leave a company, he or she may have no complaints and believe it's time to move on to something new. However, if employees are truly happy, they would likely try to present any concerns to their superiors before deciding to look elsewhere. The real purpose and need for exit interviews is to figure out how to retain top talent.

Most people probably believe that the focus of an exit interview should be why the employee is leaving - assuming he or she is resigning and was not fired. However, no matter how open the employee is to providing the answer to that question, it's not the real issue at hand. Yes, it's true, employees will leave for a job with better pay, more flexible hours or an advancement opportunity, but they were likely not sought out by their new employer. Although it is possible that they were sourced by temp agencies or through a professional network, it is more likely that they were actively searching. With this in mind, the primary focus of an exit interview should be what triggered the employee to start looking elsewhere.

It may be difficult to find out what specifically caused employees to look for other opportunities, as most will want to retain relationships with coworkers or at least be able to get a reference from their managers. Regardless, any information you can obtain will be useful as long as something is done with it. If employee responses are just filed away, you will reap no benefits, but if you begin to notice a trend in reasons for leaving, it's time to take action.

During the exit interviews, be sure to ask questions in a way that will get you the most valuable information possible. Instead of asking closed-ended questions such as, "Were you dissatisfied," ask what they were unhappy with and in which specific areas. For example, you may be able to uncover deficiencies in the following areas by being more precise:

  • Management and supervisor behavior
  • Training and development
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Work environment and culture
  • Company policies and procedures
  • Career path development
  • Clarity of goals and expectations

Management and Supervisor Behavior

During an exit interview, it is advisable to make use of a neutral third-party. Many leaving employees will be more closed off if they have had a negative experience with management, so having HR or a supervisor conduct the interviews will not yield the best results. Feedback on management practices and supervisor behavior may be very beneficial down the road, so you'll want to make sure your employees are as open to providing it as possible.

Training and Development

Workplace stress can stem from a lack of resources, and if your employees are leaving because they don't feel as though they received sufficient or proper training, it's important for you to take action. Ask specific questions to find out what improvements can be made in this area.

Compensation and Benefits

This is probably the area you'll get the most answers for because almost every employee looks for salary increases and better benefit options, and they don't feel guilty about it. While it may be the case that benefits and compensation are set in stone or on a specific scale, it's still beneficial to find out the specific issues employees have. Are the benefits too expensive? Are they looking for different types of benefits, e.g., wellness reimbursements and childcare? Do they have a decent salary but no opportunity for a raise? These are important questions, and the answers can help you shape the future of your organization.

Work Environment and Culture

Company culture can be created by organizing group social events, volunteering opportunities and other activities. Work environment is very important to employees, as it sets the feel of their day-to-day. During your exit interviews, make sure to find out if your employees were comfortable in their environment and if they have any suggestions for improvement.

Company Policies and Procedures

Any policies and procedures should be communicated with employees up front. However, during their time at your company, they may have found some of them troubling for one reason or another. By asking questions regarding their awareness and understanding of any company standards, you'll be able to find out where to provide further clarity with future employees.

Career Path Development

One of the most important aspects of a career is growth opportunity. No employee takes a job and wants to stay there forever. If you're not communicating with employees about where they want to go and where they can go, they will be more likely to look for growth at a different organization.

Clarity of Goals and Expectations

If your employees are unsure of what is expected of them, they will likely be less productive and overstressed. Instead of providing quarterly goals and annual reviews, set daily and weekly goals as well. This will help keep everyone on track and will leave no room for confusion.

If you're able to get your employees to take part in exit interviews and you're able to determine where improvements can be made, then your time was well spent. However, if you're not framing questions properly or conducting structured interviews, you probably have not acquired much if any useful information.

Finally, on top of improvements that can be made for retaining current and future employees, exit interviews provide a time to discuss company policies regarding confidential information and any employment contracts that were signed upon hire. Whoever is in charge of conducting the interview should be prepped to discuss these important items with employees, as they may be leaving on bad terms. Of course not all leaving employees will be tempted or have any reason to distribute confidential information, but in order to cover your bases, policies should be reviewed.

There will always be arguments both for and against exit interviews, but the fact remains that if you're able to pull any amount of useful information, time has not been wasted. Retaining top employees is an ongoing focus for most organizations because it saves money on recruiting and keeps performance strong. Exit interviews give leaving employees the opportunity to provide constructive feedback, and as a manager or HR professional, it's up to you how to use it.