Conduct an exit interview or remain in the dark

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Before your employees move on to greener pastures, are you using the exit interview process to gain the invaluable information departing employees possess?

Exit interviews are typically scheduled on the employee’s last day on the job and often don’t elicit the real reason for the departure. The standard forms are completed, the resignation is signed and everyone moves on. But just what has been accomplished by rubber stamping the procedure?

Understanding the actual motivations behind resignations from an organisation is a vital first step in addressing staff turnover issues, yet figures show the process is regularly overlooked.

Considering the purpose is to help HR improve working conditions, retain existing employees and identify problem areas within the organisation, it is surprising that an Australian Institute of Management (AIM) report found exit interviews routinely fail to effectively identify the reasons behind staff resignations. The result is that remedial action cannot be undertaken to increase staff retention, leading to the avoidable loss of staff.

It must be asked what differentiates those organisations that are experiencing above average levels of staff turnover against those that that are experiencing below average levels of staff turnover, in terms of the specific HR policies and practices employed by organisations within these comparator groups, Matt Drinan, manager, AIM Research & HR Consulting said.

One of the key factors of exit interviews is that the departing employee often feels less concerned about the ramifications of “treading on toes” and is typically willing to provide candid and honest feedback about their reasons for leaving and their thoughts about what the company could do to improve.

However, while exit interviews clearly have their place and are a vital tactic for any organisation serious about retaining their staff, there are many pitfalls to avoid, Paul Quinn, managing director, PeoplePulse Online Surveys added.

According to Quinn some of the key challenges that face HR in conducting exit interviews include:

Interviewer bias
The person charged with asking the questions may not be 100% impartial or may have negative preconceived notions about the departing employee.

Often, the departing employee says “X”, yet the interviewer writes down “Y”. He or she may hear what they want to hear and record what they want to record.

Data entry
Often the person responsible for interviewing the departing employee is at management level and places a low priority on data entering the results of the exit interview into a centralised system that authorised managers can access.

As notes are typically hand-written, there is not one central place where all exit interview data is stored. The data also needs to be held on secured servers (because the information is often sensitive) and results accessible to only those with appropriate privileges.

Without a standard exit interview questionnaire, the questions asked and information collected can vary wildly.

The departing employee can sometimes feel as if it’s too confronting to provide open and honest feedback face-to-face, especially if the interviewer is personally known to the employee or if the interviewer has a good working relationship with the departing employee’s manager.

If the departing employee leaves the organisation suddenly, the task of conducting the exit interview is often overlooked. However, employees departing in this manner still have valuable information and feedback to contribute.

  • HR Observer on 10/01/2013 4:26:09 PM

    On the flipside of those departing employees unconcerned with treading on toes, there are those who leave an organisation still needing a good reference, and to maintain their professional integrity in an industry, and are therefore still reluctant to speak the "honest truth". In addition, other departing employees may well have fought the system for their entire tenure at the organisation and are simply to exhausted to care any more to give detailed feedback on what went wrong. Perhaps, then, HR might be better off reading between the lines and considering what's NOT said (i.e. if they didn't praise, or were lukewarm about, the culture, pay, conditions, recognition, etc. etc.) at the exit interview rather than what IS.

  • Michael Minns on 10/01/2013 6:21:52 PM

    Most exit interviews fall short on there counts
    A The interview is conducted by the wrong person
    B the timing is wrong
    C the wrong question is asked

    This is in addition to the flawed interview techniques outlined in the article

  • Marcel R Parker on 14/01/2013 5:51:10 PM

    Exit interviews are as dead as the dodo and are akin to a post-mortem on a corpse!
    Would urge HR practitioners to adopt STAY INTERVIEWS instead-Why does John stay with me?Build on these positives and all the negatives get automatically addressed over a period of time.There is a need to train operating managers and HR managers how to conduct these and manage the fall-out too.Using Gallup Q 12 Surveys also pinpoint pain areas particularly in the recognition areas

  • HC on 15/01/2013 10:27:53 AM

    Have to agree with Marcel - its too late to ask why are you leaving the horse has already bolted!! "Why stay?" questionnaires are a more positive approach - it shows that the employer cares, wants to know how to improve production/work place and workers can see the change opinions and work place suggestions can make. This method will engage the staff at all levels and the work place adopts a positive attitude to continual improvement and changes in a demanding climate!

  • Lenore Lambert on 15/01/2013 4:01:22 PM

    Both views are correct. Exit and stay interviews are both valuable but for different reasons.

    To suggest there is no value in feedback from those leaving is like studying a strain of flu and deciding not to include anyone who's infected in your research sample. Those who are actually leaving are the most accurate source of information about real turnover drivers - not why they 'might' leave, but why they 'are' leaving. Address these issues and your turnover will go down.

    However as others have said, the data collection methodology is crucial and as is often done poorly. We did a research project on the current state of exit, stay and onboarding interviews in Australia and New Zealand and found that while 92% of organisations conduct exit interviews, only 15% believe they are gaining full value from them.

    Stay interviews (and on-boarding interviews) are both excellent sources of information but they suffer from the inability to rigorously sort turnover drivers from dissatisfiers.

    Unfortunately online surveys are also a flawed way to collect exit data. They're great for many other things but with exit interviews the response rates are lower, the data on turnover drivers is inaccurate and the amount of data you can collect is inadequate. (We have a free white paper with the supporting data and tips on best practice methodology if you want to know more. Either email or go to

    Stay interviews are an incredibly valuable and proactive way to do a deep dive into individual engagement - productivity, commitment to the organisation and the extent to which they are a flight risk (to the extent that you can ascertain this from a non-departing employee). They allow you to address issues before the person becomes a turnover statistic. However if you relied on these alone you would need to 'stay interview' every employee regularly to prevent turnover (unlikely to happen) and as mentioned above, the data on turnover drivers is less accurate than in an exit interview. They are more effectively used to hone in on 'hot spots' of turnover, either high potential or high performing employees, or those who are really difficult to replace.

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