Exit Interviews – what are they and why do them?

Exit interviews have been an HR responsibility for as long as I have worked in HR (over 40 years).  In my experience, every employee who voluntarily ended employment was asked to meet with an HR representative who would collect information regarding that employee’s reason for leaving and experience while they were employed.   It was believed that the exiting employee would be more forthcoming with valuable feedback regarding their experience with that employer if handled by HR versus their supervisor or another management representative.

Even where exit interviews were part of the offboarding process, it was often the case that it was not completed due to the employee choosing not to participate, or just timing issues (especially when the employee left with little to no notice). And not much was done in compiling and analyzing the feedback from the interviews completed. The feedback received was rarely genuine anyway, as most employees leaving voluntarily do not want to “burn the bridges” behind them, in case future references are needed or they wish to return to that employer at some point in their career.

Better methods for obtaining this feedback are needed to maximize the value to the employer. One such method is to seek exit feedback after the employee has left employment, maybe a week or two later, by phone or mail.  The thinking is that the passing of time will result in more credible feedback, based on the employee having more time to contemplate things.  But the same bridges are still there to be burned.

A recent Forbes magazine article by Kerry Hannon provides guidance on how to approach the process from the exiting employee’s perspective.  What I find interesting in that article is the author’s insistence that you need to prepare for and conduct yourself in the exit interview in the right way, much like you would for the front-end interview (as a job seeker). For instance, she suggests venting (if you need to) through another avenue, not to the HR or management representative, but to a third party with no stake in the matter; and remaining positive, providing constructive feedback versus piling on the company. Of course, the employee can always choose to not participate, in which case the post-employment method noted above may be the recourse.

By far the most important aspect of an effective exit interview process is management’s commitment to making changes based on the feedback collected, or you and they are wasting everyone’s time.  Word has a way of getting around that the suggestions for improvement made by departing employees are falling on deaf ears, which then leads to lack of valid feedback from subsequent departing employees, not to mention the negative impact on employee morale.  It is not unlike encouraging employees to make suggestions for workplace improvement and then failing to implement the suggestions without providing reasons why or following through on the submissions.

Published by Dave the HR Compliance Guy

Human Resource and legal professional specializing in HR compliance advisory services

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