Exit interviews can be a valuable source of information about what’s working well and what could be improved within an organization or department. While you’re hopefully touching base regularly with staff members for their feedback throughout their employment, departing employees often have a particularly useful (and candid) perspective—and this may be your last chance to hear it!
We advise that organizational leaders set up systems for exit interviews that include at least two components:
- A practice of conducting exit interviews with every departing employee.
- A person or committee that regularly reviews exit interview data and recommends changes to improve staff experience and retention.
Here are four tips for effective exit interviews:
1. Create a comfortable physical and psychological environment.
Exit interviews are most effective when the staff person can speak candidly.
- If meeting in person, consider taking the person out to coffee, rather than meeting in the office.
- We strongly recommend having someone aside from the departing employee’s manager conduct the exit interview, for two reasons: 1) The manager should theoretically already be familiar with the staff person’s perspective, and someone else might be able to elicit different or new information; 2) It’s often easier for staff to share concerns (especially if their manager is part of the reason why they’re leaving). We suggest having the person be someone in HR or someone with a role related to organizational culture.
- To kick off the interview, the interviewer should share their appreciation for the staff person and their work and frame the purpose of the interview before diving into questions.
2. Be transparent about who will see what.
At the top of the interview, tell the staff person who will have access to the raw data (their answers) and who will have access to aggregated data or trends (a summary, headlines, or synthesis of interview answers, including theirs). Note that while people are more likely to be honest if they can remain anonymous, anonymity isn’t a requirement (and may not be possible in some contexts, such as in small organizations or places with less turnover).
3. Treat each person as one data point.
While there is a lot to be gleaned from an individual person’s answers, exit interviews are especially valuable when they are taken as a set. Taken as a whole, the data helps leaders identify trends, patterns, and outliers around equity, culture, and retention. For some organizations, this may mean waiting until you’ve collected a certain number of exit interviews to check for and share trends. It could also mean doing it yearly as part of an end-of-the-year stepback.
4. Use the data.
The information you collect should ultimately help you decide what—if anything—needs to change about organizational culture, manager training or behavior, or any systems or processes that would result in better staff retention. For example, if you learn something in the exit interview about a manager’s growth area, figure out what you can share with the manager to help them with their development.
Check out our exit interview template below for suggested interview questions and a tool for capturing answers!