Road to self-discovery: Exit interviews

by 13 Feb 2012

Understanding the actual motivations behind resignations from an organisation is a vital first step in addressing staff turnover issues, yet this process is regularly overlooked according to a recent study.

Exit interview surveys are conducted to gather information from departing employees to help the company improve working conditions, retain existing employees and identify problem areas within the organisation. According to the findings of an Australian Institute of Management (AIM) report, conducting exit interviews is the key business process used to help alleviate staff turnover and failure to effectively identify the reasons behind staff resignations means that remedial action cannot be undertaken to increase staff retention, leading to the avoidable loss of staff.

It must be asked as to 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.

The exit interview process

Many companies are turning towards a centralised online exit interview process. This system involves HR being notified once an employee leaves the organisation (or in the final weeks of their tenure). Then HR e-mails the departing employee a link to a structured online exit interview survey, and asks that he or she complete it at a time that suits them over the next one to two weeks maximum.

The survey form is pre-coded with the employee’s name, their division, their manager’s name, and their location so that HR can easily report and filter results by this information.

As soon as the survey has been completed, HR is notified by e-mail, and, the survey results are automatically entered into an online database where reports can be run and charts produced.

According to Quinn, this type of centralised approach alleviates problems such as interviewer bias, interpretation errors, data entry and reporting access.

“A well-constructed exit interview process can provide invaluable insight, improve employee retention levels, and should be a mandatory consideration for any employer serious about improving employee satisfaction levels,” Quinn said.

As staff may be reluctant to provide information about their motivations for resigning directly back to the organisation they are leaving, it is important for companies to be able to produce a report that amalgamates feedback into an overall report that help ensure anonymity, Drinan added.


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