Exit Interviews: How to Leverage Employee Turnover

Employee turnover is a guarantee in any organization. It’s not always a bad thing — just as employees will seek new opportunities for learning and advancement at different stages in their careers, quickly growing companies need different types of people — different skillsets, collaboration and leadership styles — at the various stages of their growth.

That said, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, turnover can cost an organization 33% of an employee’s total compensation including both salary and benefits. The impact is not only financial — it also can affect company morale. It’s important that employee turnover be handled with care.

Eventually, every company loses employees, but successful organizations leverage these departures as an opportunity for growth. Meaningful exit interviews allow companies to understand why employees are leaving so that they can make optimizations that will help them to retain their best people.

An employee exit interview is never an attempt to reverse an individual’s resignation. An appropriate exit interview is undertaken to reduce future turnover by learning what might be causing good people to resign.

Follow these 5 tips to conduct an effective exit interview

  1. Focus on your great employees: When you hire for your company, you focus on recruiting people who have the qualities that will help your business and culture to thrive. You should apply this same focus when conducting exit interviews. Of course you should hear every perspective, but pay special attention to the reasons why your most valued employees have chosen to resign, and focus optimizations around these reasons when possible.
  2. Have someone other than the employee’s direct manager conduct the interview: Management may be a part of the reason why an employee chooses to resign. In the absence of a human resources department, find a senior team member who did not directly supervise the departing employee to conduct the exit interview. This may allow for a more candid conversation.
  3. Establish trust: This should be a private, one-on-one conversation. Assure the employee that their comments will remain anonymous.
  4. Set clear expectations: Explain the purpose of the exit interview to focus the conversation around that individual’s personal experiences (it should not involve their perceptions of coworkers’ experiences).
  5. Listen for verbal cues: Employees who are leaving for a better opportunity will usually provide clear, straight answers. Vague responses such as “personal reasons” often imply that they’re reluctant to reveal the true reason and are afraid of repercussions (loss of a reference, etc.)

The questions you ask in your exit interview should focus on that person and their ground-level experience within the company.

Note: If the interviewee starts to stray from their own experience — making judgements on business strategy or other employees’ experiences — the interview is no longer constructive. At this point, you need to encourage this person to refocus the conversation on themselves and their own experiences.

Ask these exit interview questions to draw insights about the departing employee’s personal experience:

  1. Why did you begin looking for a new job?
  2. What made you accept the position?
  3. What could we have done to keep you?
  4. Did you have the tools and resources here that you needed to be effective?
  5. Did you feel like your supervisor supported your success in this role?
  6. If you could have changed anything about your job or our company, what would it be?
  7. How would you describe the culture of our company?
  8. On a scale of 1-10, how likely would you be to recommend a job at our company to a friend of yours?

Exploring the insights of your departing employees is an important part of understanding your company from the point of view of the people who work for you. If not handled properly, exit interviews can quickly become unproductive. Maintain the focus of the conversation in order to ensure its value.

Content Marketing Manager

Christine Zimmermann is the content marketing manager at Startup Institute. Startup Institute trains innovative and passionate people in the skills they need to be high-impact employees at startup and scaleup companies. Follow Startup Institute on Twitter @StartupInst.
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