Bye Bye Bye BYE BYE! Conducting Exit Interviews In Your Organization

Posted on December 12, 2017

I posed this question on Twitter last week: I’m researching exit interviews and their impact on organizations. If you use them, how have they helped your organization? If you don’t use them, why?

Thanks to those of you who responded and shared your thoughts on the sometimes-contentious exit interview. Here is what I learned from you and some of my thoughts on the topic:

Most organizations offer some form of an exit interview as employees move on to other opportunities. We offer them at my organization, too. For us, an HR representative provides the exiting employee with a questionnaire.

Once they’ve completed the questionnaire they discuss their responses with the HR representative who takes notes and compiles a report that is generally shared with the division director and HR manager. Our questionnaire covers things like scheduling, salary, benefits, supervisors, etc. I assume many of your cities, counties, and special districts do the same.

Maintaining confidentiality is hard. I expect it is harder in public agencies where turnover is low. If only a handful of people leave each year it’s probably pretty easy to connect the dots and figure out who said what in their exit interview. This probably means some folks aren’t all that honest in their exit interview. I don’t blame them. Burning a bridge is a very real fear for many employees, especially those in the first stage of their career.

ELGL Board Member, Dan Weinheimer, brought up stay interviews as a way to address opportunities and ways to keep employees with the organization rather than waving goodbye. Stay interviews are a great way to find out what makes employees stay in an organization and what makes them leave.

Society for Human Resources Management has a nice overview and some sample questions to use if you’d like to conduct a stay interview of your own.

A common problem I heard, and am not immune from in my own organization, is data analysis. In order to affect real change, exit interview data needs to be analyzed and presented to give managers the information they need to make informed decisions.

In addition to searching for patterns in specific departments or patterns with specific managers, I suggest your HR department explore aggregating exit interview data and running different analysis for demographics based on race, gender, age, ability, and sexual orientation. I also suggest that data isn’t shared with managers immediately following the interview, but monthly, quarterly, or every six months instead. I’d also suggest pulling themes from your exit interviews each year and reporting on those themes to your entire workforce. If you notice a trend in employees leaving because they don’t value a benefits package or they didn’t feel empowered at work tell your staff how the management team plans to fix it.

Want to practice some real progressive HR? Offer the exit interview and then do a follow up exit interview six months after the employee has left. The data will be different and the former employee will likely be more honest now that they’ve settled in to their new role wherever they may be.

Exit interviews can be a powerful tool but they should be done in a manner that provides confidentiality to the exiting employee and keeps organizational improvement at the heart of the interview itself.

Kylie Bayer-Fertterer is an Equity Coordinator with the Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District and she tweets too much.

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