When an employee decides to move on, you should be seriously curious about the reasons why. Understanding why employees leave is gold dust in your hand – uncover a problem in the workplace you weren’t aware of, and you gain the insight to do something about it.
It may be too late to save your impending leaver, but if you really listen and can avoid seeing employee exit feedback as criticism, then you have valuable information to prevent other employees following suit.
So, when an employee leaves, how do you make the exit interview count? Here, I’ll be looking at the purpose of an exit interview, why it is important, and how you can use the information to improve employee churn.
The purpose of an exit interview
The whole point of an exit interview is to find out the real reasons your employee has decided to leave, what the employee considers to be the company’s problem areas, and how the company can improve. It is the perfect opportunity to get some frank feedback about the day-to-day operations in your business.
While a resignation letter may give you some indication of the reason an employee is leaving, employees (particularly in businesses with a poor culture) often don’t feel comfortable telling the real truth about their departure.
Leaving for personal reasons is a common cover for dissatisfaction at work. If you think it doesn’t matter why your employees are leaving, think again. The cost to your business is huge and letting good people go is potentially damaging. An exit interview is a real opportunity for learning and employers would be wise to listen and act.
Why is an exit interview important?
In todays’ economy where skilled workers are hard to come by, replacing a valuable employee isn’t easy. According to Breathe HR, over a third of employees leave their jobs because they don’t like the company culture. An employee is unlikely to tell you all of the reasons they are actually leaving in a resignation letter, or even in an informal chat.
But, ask them to give you some honest feedback as you would like to understand why they are leaving and be able to learn from it, and you are much more likely to get them to open up and tell some truths.
The best procedure is to ask your employee to complete an exit interview form and to attend an exit interview with the HR manager. It’s not a good idea to have an exit interview set up with the person’s line manager. This just isn’t good protocol if you really want honest feedback. If an employee is leaving because of poor management, they are unlikely to reveal that if the person they are dissatisfied with is the person conducting the exit interview.
How to make an exit interview count
An exit interview with a departing employee is only useful if the information gleaned doesn’t just fall into a black hole. Candid opinions should be considered in confidence by leadership and not shared to bad-mouth an employee once they have gone – this will only add to poor culture, not fix it.
The whole point of an exit interview is to improve your staff retention rates. Here’s what you need to do to make an exit interview count.
Look for patterns
When people leave your business, are they all giving the same feedback in their exit interviews? If so, it is extremely costly to ignore them – according to Accounts and Legal, the average employee costs SMEs £12,000 to replace.
The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) estimate the cost of replacing an employee at a whopping £30,000, which they say includes £25,000 in lost productivity caused by the time it takes to get a new recruit up to speed.
If you don’t fix a problem, the likelihood is that more people will leave.
If more than one employee is telling you something is fundamentally wrong, then you need to do something about it. A small few changes in the workplace could make all the difference to the happiness of your existing employees.
Let your employee vent
An exit interview isn’t the time to argue against every point that is made and justify company actions. Let your employee have their say. Of course, there will be bitter employees along the way. Some of them will have genuine gripes, others will be disgruntled employees that can’t be pleased no matter how great your culture is. It’s up to you as a business leader to use your integrity to recognise when they have a point.
Understand psychological safety
How willing your departing employees are to share how they really feel will depend upon their personality, how psychologically secure they feel in your organisation, and whether they think you will actually be bothered to listen, take notice and act.
If your culture is toxic and an employee is leaving because they feel bullied, it is unlikely they will spill the beans. If lots of your people are leaving, yet they are keeping schtum, you may want to address any issues around psychological safety.
Employee engagement surveys
As most exit interviews happen when an employee has already disengaged (usually in the last week of their employment), it can be difficult to get a true picture of how most employees in the business are feeling. If you really want to understand your employees, why wait for them to give feedback when they leave?
Conducting regular employee engagement surveys serves the same purpose as an exit interview, but helps you to quickly pick up when employees are unhappy at work and take action to prevent people leaving. Let’s face it, exit interviews have a sense of ‘closing the door after the horse has bolted’.
Far too many companies follow good exit interview protocol but don’t utilise the information effectively. Feedback gets filed and not acted upon, or inappropriately shared to discredit an ex-employee, and then business leaders wonder why more people leave.
Making an exit interview count means acting on the information you glean from your leavers to improve your organisation and make it a better place to work. Don’t try and fight good feedback, especially if the same messages are being heard over and over again.
Be grateful for feedback that is difficult to hear. Interpret, reflect and understand the issues your leavers are sharing with you. See them as strategic improvement opportunities being handed to you on a plate. Remember, employees are your greatest asset. Learn from them, don’t lose them. Ask them to fill in the blank, “I don’t know why the company doesn’t just …..”
The effectiveness of an exit interview can be measured by the positive change it instigates.