Exit interviews – A benefit or liability?

by 01 Aug 2012

Many organisations are totally committed to conducting exit interviews – they have established detailed checklists and questions they hope will provide insightful reasons why people leave, but are they of any real value?

It’s all too easy to list the obvious reasons for leaving as:


  • The new job is closer to home
  • I am returning to study and looking for a role with less hours
  • The job is more aligned to what I want to do in the future
  • I want to work for an organisation that gives something back to the community


When people give those kinds of reasons we are happy to write it off as nothing we could do as an organisation to prevent the resignation. On some occasions people might tend to be more honest and raise the issue of the lack of development or even the more sensitive ground of they were not happy with the leadership. When the leadership issue is raised and put back to the line Manager, how often do they take it on board and think about their impact on people? The more common response is likely to be – “they never really fitted with the team”; “I tried to develop them but they were not interested”, or even the more extreme defensive reaction – “I should have performance managed them out years ago”. We look for the comfortable outcome rather than what really needs to be addressed.

Rather than spending hours of time gathering data and summarising responses that are palatable to the organisation, we should be more focussed on looking at what will make people stay with us – let’s turn our attention away from why people leave and focus on what makes them stay.

What makes people stay?

Get some of the basics right and people will find it harder to make the decision to leave. Many organisations put enormous effort into hiring the right people but then little attention is given to keeping them. As a general rule, you need to put three times the effort into retention as recruitment. So what are some of the key things that make people stay?


  • Provide challenging work - make sure the role continues to have new challenges through project work, learning new tasks or skills, customer exposure, work in other divisions, or just some regular updates of goals and objectives that provide the right challenge
  • Focus on development – keep watching for opportunities to provide development. This can involve training but more often relates to project work, being part of strategic planning or other activities that provide learning about the organisation
  • Give regular and relevant feedback – forget about the annual performance review and work out the best way to provide feedback that means something to each of your team. For some this may be more formal but for others it could be regular meetings and updates. Make sure the feedback leads to development and continual improvement
  • Get reward and recognition right – make sure recognition is included. Remuneration needs to be competitive but this is not the key. People want recognition for what they do. Look at how this is provided and make sure it aligns with the culture of the organisation.


Focus on getting alignment with these four things – this will mean you are aware of the drivers for each of your team and how they want to work with you.

Focus on retention

Senior management should also be more proactive about retention. They should spend time on a regular basis reviewing the key people that must be retained. This needs to be a shared commitment by the leaders and they also need to agree what must happen to retain those people. Don’t wait for the inevitable resignation letter from high performers – be active in ensuring all the drivers are aligned that will make them stay.

So, let’s invest time turning management attention to keeping people rather than the all too predictable results of exit interviews. It is time to focus on the future not the past.


About the author

Richard Altman is strategic HR director, Morton Philips. For further information visit www.mortonphilips.com.au