What Advice Can Improve the Productivity of Exit Interviews for a Human Resources Manager?

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    HR Interviews

    What Advice Can Improve the Productivity of Exit Interviews for a Human Resources Manager?

    Gleaning valuable insights from exit interviews is an art that HR professionals and company leaders take seriously. From probing beyond career opportunities to tailoring interviews to employment stages, we've gathered eleven pieces of advice from seasoned HR Managers and CEOs. These insights are designed to help you conduct exit interviews that are not only productive but also lead to actionable outcomes.

    • Probe Beyond Career Opportunity
    • Frame as Constructive Conversation
    • Be Transparent and Empathetic
    • Avoid Leading Questions
    • Maintain Standardized Interview Process
    • Create Comfortable, Open Environment
    • Reflect on Entire Employee Lifecycle
    • Ensure Safe, Confidential Discussions
    • Adopt a Holistic, Continuous Feedback Approach
    • Balance Structured and Open-Ended Questions
    • Tailor Interviews to Employment Stages

    Probe Beyond Career Opportunity

    At my company, 'career opportunity' tops the list of reasons for giving notice. This isn't surprising. New joiners tell us they come for the opportunity for growth, and for most people, that means career progression and promotion. Since we're a maturing company, there will be people who don't get promoted in their desired time frame, which is typically 2-3 years. But 'career opportunity' is often a red herring, a decoy for something that's more personal and riskier to talk about.

    My advice is to probe. Don't treat the exit interview as a check-the-box exercise when it's actually a golden opportunity to improve employee experience and retention. When an exiting employee tells me their reason for leaving, I take a coaching approach with open-ended questions, such as 'Tell me more about that'; 'What else?'; 'What, if anything, would have changed your decision?'. I also ask about the organization they are joining, to learn about our talent competition.

    Marca Clark
    Marca ClarkSenior Director, Talent & Organizational Development, New Relic

    Frame as Constructive Conversation

    A piece of advice that has proven invaluable for us at Spectup is to ensure that the exit interview is framed as a constructive conversation rather than a formality. This begins with setting the right tone: it should be empathetic and professional, creating a safe space for honest and open feedback.

    For instance, we once revised our approach to exit interviews by incorporating more open-ended questions, such as "What changes would have influenced your decision to stay?" This allowed departing employees to share more nuanced insights about their experiences, rather than confining them to yes/no answers. By genuinely listening and showing that we valued their input, we gathered detailed feedback on areas needing improvement, such as management practices and career development opportunities.

    The key takeaway from our experience is to approach exit interviews with a mindset of learning and appreciation. Assure participants that their feedback will be used constructively and that their honesty is crucial for making real changes.

    Niclas Schlopsna
    Niclas SchlopsnaManaging Consultant and CEO, spectup

    Be Transparent and Empathetic

    Be transparent about what your goal is in conducting an interview, and what you intend to do with the information. People leaving a company have little to no stake in said company, so being transparent and empathetic will garner you more meaningful answers. Make sure the employee knows that you want to have an accurate idea of their experience, and a genuine concern for how to improve what's not working, and how to strengthen what is working.

    Don't be afraid to dig deeper into their answers—if you're taking time to conduct an exit interview, then you should want to get the most accurate and thorough answers possible. And remember to acknowledge that the impact of their experience is valid; perception IS reality to them. You can honor that and show interest in understanding their POV, even if you feel it may be inaccurate or may not reflect others' experiences. Such direct feedback is a blessing we are not always afforded in our field!

    Ali Aguilar
    Ali AguilarHR Manager, Envisionit

    Avoid Leading Questions

    No leading questions. Seriously, get a survey-design expert to look through the entire process, or even get someone from legal if you don't have a survey expert. Leading questions and bias on behalf of the interviewer will be one of the biggest reasons why your exit interviews aren't doing much for you when it comes to process improvement or actionable insights. Your questions should be largely general and open-ended, allowing the employee to guide the conversation as much as possible while still staying within your general interview framework. That is how you're going to get actually good information rather than having your employee deliver the same lines based on how the question is asked.

    Dragos Badea
    Dragos BadeaCEO, Yarooms

    Maintain Standardized Interview Process

    Have a standardized exit interview process and actually stick to it. You need both a qualitative and quantitative aspect to exit interviews that you can apply across all of your leavers if you want to actually get actionable insights out of it without the risk of jumping the gun because one particular leaver was so passionate about an issue. You need data, and to get data, you need consistency. I'm not saying that you need to throw a Scantron form at them and hope for the best, but generally speaking, you need to be able to compare interview to interview, so an online form followed by an interview is a reasonable place to start.

    Kate Kandefer
    Kate KandeferCEO, SEOwind

    Create Comfortable, Open Environment

    One piece of advice I'd give for conducting productive exit interviews is to create a comfortable, open environment for the departing employee. This helps ensure candid feedback.

    Establish that the aim of the exit interview isn't punitive but to gain honest feedback to improve the organization and the work environment. The departing employee should feel comfortable sharing both positive and negative experiences.

    This translates into high-quality, honest feedback about your organization, culture, management, and more. Such insights can indeed identify areas for improvement and provide actionable strategies to improve employee satisfaction and reduce turnover in the future.

    Remember, your departing employees are a wealth of knowledge about what works and what doesn't in your organization. The more comfortable they feel in sharing, the more you'll learn.

    Craig Bird
    Craig BirdManaging Director, CloudTech24

    Reflect on Entire Employee Lifecycle

    One key piece of advice I'd offer for conducting productive exit interviews is to focus on the entire employee lifecycle, not just the ending. At my business, we once noticed recurring issues around role clarity during exit interviews. Realizing the importance of these insights, we began to ask departing employees to reflect on their entire journey with us—from onboarding to their last day. This approach helped us identify patterns and pinpoint stages where support was lacking. By implementing changes based on these insights, we greatly improved role satisfaction and reduced turnover. This holistic view ensures the feedback you gather is comprehensive and actionable.

    Jay Barton
    Jay BartonCEO & Founder, ASRV

    Ensure Safe, Confidential Discussions

    One crucial point when organizing exit interviews is to provide a safe and confidential setting where workers will feel genuine and free to express their true opinions. Guarantee them that their feedback will be accurately considered and their identities will be kept confidential. Probe specific points of their experience that would involve giving specific reasons for leaving the job, how to improve, and whether to make changes. Let them speak freely without judging, and listen to them actively, enabling them to communicate their thoughts well. Moreover, this feedback must be followed up by evaluating trends, noting the patterns, and taking necessary steps based on the insights. By seeing exit interviews as an outstanding place to conduct interviews, they can uncover valuable information that they can use to make meaningful changes to increase employee satisfaction and retention.

    Adrian Pereira
    Adrian PereiraCo-Founder, Eco Pea Co.

    Adopt a Holistic, Continuous Feedback Approach

    The exit interview process should be holistic in its approach in order to derive tangible pieces of information that lead to actionable insights. This requires a multi-faceted approach, and the process should actually start when an employee first joins the organization. Getting feedback from employees on how they were onboarded, the quality of training they are receiving, what their perception of the company culture is, whether their work is being recognized, etc., are all important metrics that should be rated by employees and acquired periodically from them by the organization. But gathering data on its own is not enough. Managers and HR professionals should also be engaging with employees throughout the course of their employment. This can be done through supervision meetings, check-ins, and/or an open-door policy, in order to not only get quantitative insight but also qualitative insight. Thus, when it comes time for the exit interview process, the organization is well aware of the employment journey an employee has undergone throughout their time with the organization. At that time, the organization should ask the employee to rate the same items they've been rating throughout their course of employment (training, company culture, work recognition, etc.) in order to see what has remained the same and what has changed. A one-on-one meeting should also be had with the departing employee to get final feedback as to what ultimately led to their decision to leave. Using this process, the employer will be able to gather not only insights from specific individuals but also gather and detect patterns across positions, tenures, and/or whatever data points they choose to reference, in order to identify which areas at the organization need to be addressed.

    Mayank Singh
    Mayank SinghDirector of Human Resources, Coordinated Family Care

    Balance Structured and Open-Ended Questions

    For productive exit interviews that lead to actionable insights, it's crucial to balance structured and open-ended questions. Start with a consistent set of queries to ensure you cover key areas like job satisfaction and workplace culture. But also make sure to foster an environment where departing employees feel comfortable sharing honest feedback.

    Listen actively and encourage specifics—they might suggest practical changes that can make a big difference. Always follow up on the feedback by looking for patterns and implementing necessary changes, showing a genuine commitment to continuous improvement.

    Ana Alipat
    Ana AlipatRecruitment Team Lead, Dayjob Recruitment

    Tailor Interviews to Employment Stages

    Exit interviews are a critical step in the talent strategy. Depending on whether the employee leaves of their own choice or due to downsizing or a critical error, the interview structure and questions have to be adjusted accordingly. The leaving employee can have a mix of emotions, and to gain actionable insights, understanding the person's role and talking to their superiors and teammates before the exit interview gives you a good standing point on what the emotional tone of the interview might be and prepares you accordingly.

    A well-structured exit interview approaches the different stages of employment: why the person joined in the first place, how their role evolved, what made them stay, and what made them leave. A set of questions can also be prepared to understand how the soon-to-be former employee will describe your company to others and whether they would recommend you to their peers. Former employees are trustworthy referrers for future employees, so digging into their experience with your company is paramount for building a strong employer brand.

    Marie Evart
    Marie EvartCo-Founder & Community Manager, Teamdash