Conduct an exit interview or remain in the dark

by Stephanie Zillman10 Jan 2013

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.


  • by HR Observer 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.

  • by Michael Minns 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

  • by Marcel R Parker 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

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