Why should you conduct exit interviews?

By Anthony Wolny | 23rd October 2018 | 12 min read

With various sources stating that humans are now predicted to spend as much as a third of their lives at work, and the retirement age continuing to rise ever higher, it is no wonder that UK employees expect more from the workplace than ever before.

The average person is believed to change their job between 10 to 15 times over the course of their career, and spend an average of five years or less in each position – meaning that far more time and attention is now devoted to transitioning from one job to another.

With this in mind, exit interviews; in whatever shape or form a company may wish to conduct them; have therefore never been more important. A Forbes survey found that in 2015, 2.8 million people in the UK voluntarily quit their jobs, and despite suffering a somewhat more precarious and unstable economy in more recent years, employees are still moving jobs and workplaces at a rate that has never been seen before.

What is an exit interview?

Essentially, an exit interview is the reverse of the interview that you would conduct at the start of the recruitment process to fill a role. Usually involving a senior manager and/or representative from your HR team, it is used to provide an outlet for the departing employee to reflect on their working experience, and for HR teams to gain a valuable insight into employee experiences within their business.

Why do businesses use them?

Exit interviews are primarily conducted to understand and improve upon the wider employee experience of working within a business.

By taking the time to fully understand a departing employee’s reasons for leaving an organisation, especially if the employee is a highly-valued member of staff, a business may well be able to gain helpful insights into talent attraction and retention.

They also serve as a chance to gain a more honest staff perspective on the wider structure of your business, team dynamics, and a general sense of staff morale and positivity levels.

What do HR gain from exit interviews?

Exit interviews can provide invaluable opportunities to assess staff retention, and to identify reoccurring problems that might be leading to high levels of staff resignation. With many businesses in the current climate facing a problematic skills shortage, firms are increasingly looking to upskill current employees in order to the bridge the gap.

Equally, recruiting and training new employees can be expensive, and identifying key reasons for high staff turnover levels is key way to try and reduce any unnecessary business costs, as well as improving general staff morale and productivity. Exit interviews are a great way to try and do this, and whilst it may be too late to try and retain the employee in question, it can HR to put together an effective strategy to eliminate reoccurring issues, and to avoid unnecessary resignations going forward.

Increasingly, HR teams are also being expected to provide supporting data and metrics for any number of business scenarios, as well existing as a key standard of measurement by which HR business performance can be measured. Exit interviews are just one area that can tap into this trend, and utilising and harnessing information from departing employees can be a great way to provide high-quality, measurable data.

Additionally, exit interviews can be used to uncover any major discrepancies between employees’ expectations and the reality of their job roles. For example, if departing employees in similar job roles raise the issue that the role was too analytical compared to their skillset, the issue may not necessarily be with your business. It may be something as simple as rewording the job description for this particular role in order to provide those applying with a more accurate impression of what the job entails.

What do employees gain from exit interviews?

On the side of the employee, exit interviews can provide an excellent way to gain a sense of closure, and the chance to leave a working relationship on cordial terms. It can be difficult for an employee to remain pleasant and professional if they have serious problems or concerns that have led them to decide to leave your business, but in general, the exit interview can provide a formal space in which to provide constructive feedback.

Employees leaving your business are also more likely to be frank and honest about areas for improvement, providing honest feedback that might not be gained from other members of staff. They may also wish to provide insights into problems that their old team or manager may be experiencing, and suggest ways in which these issues could be effectively resolved.

When should interviews be conducted?

Exit interviews are typically conducted towards the end of an employee’s formal notice period. They can normally be scheduled in advance in the case of an amicable resignation, but the majority of HR teams will use their discretion in cases of dismissal for gross misconduct, where an employee has resigned due to unresolved issues relating to grievances, harassment or bullying, or even when the employee in question has already communicated strong dissatisfaction levels with the company.

In some cases, it may well not be appropriate to conduct an exit interview, but if the departing employee is still open to a fair discussion, despite noted ill-feeling towards your business, it could still be a good opportunity to gain valuable insight into problems or issues that your HR team may not already be aware of.

Who should conduct them?

Exit interviews can be conducted by any senior member of staff or HR personnel, but it is advisable to ensure that the departing employee’s direct line manager is not present. This is primarily because they could be part of the reason for their departure, and their presence could hinder providing honest feedback.

It is standard practice for HR staff to conduct exit interviews, as they are often seen as a more impartial presence in a situation that can often be fraught or difficult on both sides. Many employees can be hesitant to provide truly honest feedback in case it affects a reference going forward, so you must ensure that you communicate clearly, and reassure staff that all feedback provided will be recorded and dealt with anonymously.

What questions should be asked during the interview?

There is no set procedure or process that an exit interview can follow, and many businesses can often take a two-tier approach to this for departing employees. This can include sending them an online survey to fill out, rating their experience of various aspects of the company and their role, and then a follow up face to face interview, where the results of the survey and any further concerns or issues have space for discussion. Companies are increasingly taking the two-tier approach as these methods can provide them with both qualitative and quantitative data.

Exit interviews can often reveal patterns within the reasons that staff provide for their resignation, but many small businesses can be unsure as to what questions to ask to glean the right information. Some key guidance for exploratory questions to ask could include asking things such as:

  • Are there any key reasons behind your decision to leave?
  • Were there any main areas that you were unhappy with? (E.g. pay, manager, role)
  • Is there anything the business could do/could have done to make you stay?
  • Is there anything you would have changed about your job?
  • What does your new job offer that is lacking here?
  • Would you consider returning to the company in the future?
  • Are there any major business issues or improvements that you have identified during your time here?

Are there any legal requirements that I should know about?

Exit interviews are not a legal requirement within the UK, and are instead usually designated as essential by individual company policy.

If you do decide to conduct exit interviews for the majority of departing employees, you may well decide to inform all new employees of this by way of the inclusion of a provision within your standard contract of employment.

Alternatively, you should ensure that you include this information within your company handbook so as to assure awareness of the process.

Five tips on conducting exit interviews for SMEs:

  1. Check facts and research ahead of time
  2. Plan and prepare properly for the session
  3. Accept positive and negative feedback equally and with good grace
  4. Try and stick to practical fact-finding during the interview
  5. Utilise qualitative data, and learn from reoccurring answers