Exit interviews, still front and centre?

by Rose Sneyd14 Nov 2012

Are outgoing employees advocates for your company, or bitter and twisted, spraying bad publicity to all who will listen? Even after an employment relationships end badly, exit interviews can go towards ending on a high note.

While conducting outplacement services, Bruce Anderson, managing director of Lee Hecht Harrison, has noticed that if the exit interview is handled well, those leaving a company may become advocates for their ex-employer. If it isn’t, ex-employees may leave with a poor perception of the company firmly entrenched – and pass it on to others.

Exit interviews remain a valuable source of gathering “very candid information” about a company, according to Anderson. During an exit interview, he advocates asking why the ex-employee joined in the first place and what the highlights of working for the company were. However, perhaps most importantly, it pays to discover the reason why the employee chose to leave and what could have motivated them to continue at the organisation, Anderson added. Exit interviews are an opportunity to reveal (and address) complaints which could stop others from leaving.

It’s also vital that information is gathered for a purpose. If it’s a ‘tick and flick’ exercise then interviewees are unlikely to engage, Anderson said, but conducting the process seriously can deliver priceless insight. Interviewees must be informed where their input is destined and what will be done with it, and the information they provide should be consolidated and trends reported on (and acted upon).

Anderson asserted that there are two correct ways of conducting an exit interview – either with someone from within the organisation, or by outsourcing it. He doesn’t believe in online questionnaires, which typically require you to provide explanations for your answers, because of the extra effort that they require. Another potential problem with an online tool is that it doesn’t allow for follow-up questions, and, the ‘gold nugget’ type information is usually only revealed on the  second or third question.

In a recent, widely-publicised case of mass redundancies, the relevant (and outraged) union acquired the template for the way in which the manager was to speak to departing employees and rang Anderson for his expert opinion.

His response? “My view is that the script was really important – it’s a highly emotional meeting, and the manager is on edge and nervous and so those meetings need to be well-organised, well-managed, and strongly supported.” 

Key points for conducting exit interviews:

  • Intend on using the information that you gather – otherwise, don’t bother!
  • Let the interviewee know where the information is going, and how it will be used.
  • Plan on conducting the interview within the organisation, or outsource it.  Don’t use an online questionnaire.
  • As the interviewee both what were the highlights of working for their ex-employer, and the lowlights.
  • Prepare for the interview thoroughly.


  • by Paul Quinn 14/11/2012 5:06:58 PM

    I have to take issue with the rather naive "Don’t use an online questionnaire" advice. Apparently Bruce Anderson believes that online exit surveys are too much ‘extra effort’ for departing employees, and that they don’t allow for follow up questions.

    As someone that owns a company that successfully runs exit surveys for over 150 Australian organisations, let me share some insight on what actually happens.

    Firstly, our experience shows that a well constructed and effectively communicated online exit interview process delivers excellent response rates from departing employees. Leavers typically welcome the opportunity to provide balanced and considered feedback on the organisation and their role in a non-confrontational setting and at a pace and time that suits them. Indeed many of our clients report far better participation rates in their online exit survey process when compared to the often seen ‘let’s do coffee’ ad hoc approach. Not to mention the challenges around not having exit data from all staff stored in a centralised, reportable format – the reality is most face to face exit processes are never recorded. Who has time for data entry?

    Secondly, ‘gold nugget’ information regarding an employee’s drivers for leaving can definitely be gleaned in a well constructed online exit survey system. A one question – ‘why are you leaving’ survey will not suffice. Indeed good online exit survey solutions will drill down on specific areas of weakness and further probe issues in these areas. In addition, many clients will elect to complement their online exit survey with a phone or face to face follow up meeting. Using this approach the company gets the best of both Worlds – centralised reportable data on all departing employee’s reasons for leaving, plus the ability to more effectively use the time for any face to face meeting to focus in on the main issues raised in the online survey. Any follow up points or further insight can easily be added to the initial online survey response – ensuring all data remains reportable and accessible from one location.

    In a business environment where HR are constantly having budgets squeezed and being challenged to demonstrate their value at board level, ensuring that accurate and truly representative statistics on the main reasons for staff departure is crucial for any well respected HR function. And like it or not online surveys play an important role in this quest for accurate and truly representative data.

    Paul Quinn
    Managing Director
    Quinntessential – owners of PeoplePulse Online Survey Software

  • by Sean 15/11/2012 8:14:48 AM

    I actually feel a combination of both would be the best option, utilise the online tool to gauge the main reasons for leaving the company, and then have HR review the answers, and follow up in a professionaly conducted meeting to dig deeper on any major issues and discover the "gold nugget" answers.

    That is if they are genuinely interested in understanding why people are moving on and reducing this turnover in future.

Most Read