Every business owner knows that their company’s success depends on the strength of its workforce. This is why managers and HR professionals dedicate so much time to preparing employees through compliance training and other onboarding. However, employee training shouldn’t be the end of the story; if you really want to have a fulfilled and thriving workforce, you should also be learning from the people who leave your company.
Former employees help you improve your business in the long run — if you take the time to listen to what they have to say. How do you do that? By conducting exit interviews. This practice can yield invaluable insights that can benefit your organization at every level.
Should Your Company Conduct Exit Interviews?
According to a study from Harvard Business Review, about three-quarters of organizations conduct exit interviews with leaving employees. A percentage this high practically makes exit interviews an industry standard for every type of business — but if that isn’t reason enough to convince you exit interviews are worth it, let’s discuss the benefits you can glean from chatting with former employees.
When an employee leaves your company, he or she has a reason. Sometimes these reasons are outside your control (perhaps they’re moving to a new city or going back to school), but often, employees leave because they are somehow unhappy or unfulfilled in their current position. An exit interview gives the employee a chance to point out flaws they’ve noticed in your current organization — and it gives you a chance to look for opportunities to improve.
Did your employee have trouble understanding the requirements of their position? You might want to improve your onboarding process. Did a manager make your employee feel uncomfortable in the office? Time to address your workplace culture and make it more inclusive. These things are critical to creating a place where people WANT to work, but oftentimes you only learn of flaws in your organization through exit interviews.
Best Practices for Exit Interviews
Exit interviews are a great way to improve your corporate culture and employee practices. However, they will only be effective if you conduct them properly. If you want to get honest, useful information from your former employees, make sure you follow these helpful guidelines.
Make It a Known Expectation
Some companies choose to make exit interviews voluntary, believing that this will make the soon-to-be-former employees more comfortable. This is a big mistake. When you make an exit interview voluntary, the majority of workers will opt-out. If you want to get the valuable insights from your employees, you need to make sure that an exit interview is expected.
Of course, it is possible that some employees will decline an exit interview — and that is their right. If an employee refuses to take part in an exit interview, you don’t need to push it, but making exit interviews a known expectation within your company ensures that most employees share their insights with you.
Time It Right
There are a few different schools of thought regarding WHEN HR should conduct their exit interviews. Some believe that it should take place on the employee’s last day in the office. In many ways, this timing is ideal; it’s the last time you can guarantee that your employee and HR will be in the same place, and you can have everyone sit down to talk for a designated stretch of time.
However, there are others who believe that it’s best to give the employee time to process their feelings about their former employer to yield better insights. These organizations conduct their exit interviews via online questionnaire or telephone conversation usually one month after the employee’s departure. Obviously, this method can lead to more employees declining the interview, but in some cases, it can lead to more thoughtful responses (particularly if the employee felt their workplace was hostile).
Keep It Brief
Exit interviews are very important for your business but that doesn’t mean they need to last all day. In fact, many HR professionals have found that exit interviews reach a point of diminishing returns after about an hour. Most employees know exactly what made them start looking for employment elsewhere, and they’ll pass that information along in a timely manner.
Ideally, you should expect exit interviews to last an hour — but plan at least 90 minutes in your schedule. This will allow you to extend the interview if you and the employee want to continue your conversations.
Record All Information
We’ve all been there: you’ve had an inspiring, insightful conversation with a friend, mentor, or colleague, only to forget everything you discussed once you’re back in your office. This experience is bad enough under normal circumstances, but it’s disastrous when it comes to exit interviews.
Remember, exit interviews help you implement changes across your organization, which will ultimately help you change your business for the better. Therefore, it’s very important to record your interviews for future reference. Make sure your employees know that their interview will be recorded, and then retain that information as you implement changes across the workforce.
Keep It Professional
Finally, we should discuss one of the most difficult elements of exit interviews: taking criticism. It’s hard to keep your emotions in check when an employee discusses the problems they’ve seen with your organization — but it’s absolutely critical to remain professional and receptive to what your former workers have to say.
One way to maintain professionalism throughout the exit interview process is to hire a third-party company to conduct your interviews. These companies add a layer of separation between the employee and your organization, which can sometimes lead to more honest responses. Additionally, exit interview experts often compile data from several exit interviews, helping you to recognize trends in people’s perceptions of your corporate culture. This can help you determine where you need to make changes for a better employee experience.