When people leave your organization, it’s good to know why.

But how do you find out?

Traditionally, employers have relied on exit interviews or exit surveys to gather information from departing employees about company culture, processes, procedures, and pay.

And just as traditionally, employers have let the information gather dust while continuing to collect more. Everyone involved recognizes the process isn’t terribly effective, but no one, it seems, knows what to do about it.

Still, exit interviews can be a valuable source of information, revealing (or confirming) problems in your workplace that need correcting.

So what should YOU do?

That depends.

Can you be dedicated to the process?

Collecting information from employees separating from your company isn’t always easy. For one thing, some employees will leave (or be asked to leave) with little or no notice, giving you little or no time to contact them.

For another, departing employees aren’t always exactly motivated to help the company. Why should they risk burning a bridge (by telling you something negative) or use their personal time to fill out and mail back a survey for your benefit? And, even when employees do participate, you’ll receive a good amount of incomplete and cryptic information.

All this means you’ll need to be committed to following up and following through if you want data you can use. Are you prepared to do that?

Can your leadership team be trusted?

If leadership has a reputation for being untrustworthy, employees won’t be willing to give you their honest opinions, and you’ll hesitate to pass on information that could help. In this case, it may be better not to collect the information in the first place.

Does your company respect data?

Truth be told, some organizations have a casual attitude toward data, preferring instead to make decisions on the basis of tradition, perception, or the agendas of a few key personnel. If your company has a pattern of not acting on data, then perhaps there’s no reason to collect more data.

That said, if you answered “yes,” to these questions, conducting exit interviews could be a great way for your company to get information about itself.

But assuming you answered “no,” then maybe you’re better off spending your time doing something a little different.

Exit interview alternatives

Provide opportunities for employees to be engaged with you before they’ve given notice of their intent to resign. Consider:

  • Open-door policies that allow employees to speak freely and safely about matters of importance.
  • Anonymous suggestion boxes.
  • Employee surveys and focus groups.

The point is, get in the habit of listening and responding to employee concerns on a regular basis.

When you do this, not only are you getting data in real time (when you can do something with it for the better), but you’re also setting a tone that makes it more likely employees will seek you out voluntarily when there’s an issue.

All that said, if you still want to give employee exit interviews a go (either to supplement or replace any of the above), here are some guidelines for getting the best information possible:

  • Create a pointed and brief questionnaire to complement in-person interviews. Long forms are intimidating and a pain to complete, and many employees simply won’t bother. Ditto for answering a bunch of questions that don’t interest the employee. Stick to the guts and soul of why employees really leave jobs—bad relationships, inadequate pay, and poor development opportunities.
  • Get data from employees who’ve both resigned AND been fired. Some employers take the position that an employee who’s been let go won’t have anything valuable to say about the organization, but that’s not necessarily true. If the individual is willing to give his opinion, let him.
  • Guarantee anonymity and let employees know the information will be used in the aggregate. The survey administrator may know who offered what information, but no one else should.
  • Consider an online survey and offer a small incentive. Free survey software like SurveyMonkey.com is a great way to create fun surveys that employees can access from anywhere and complete in the cloud at their leisure. If you want, offer a small incentive (say a $5 gift card from Starbucks or some other establishment) as an incentive.
  • Follow up.Don’t let the data sit! Particularly if you’ve used an online tool, there’s no reason to not report out the data and begin analyzing what it’s telling you about your company.

There are plenty of good reasons for and against the use of employee exit interviews. Whether your company can benefit from the exercise will depend on your company culture and your company goals.

 

Can’t seem to keep employees happy? If employee retention is a big issue for you, check out our pre-recorded webinar “Employee Retention Strategies for Keeping Top Talent”. It may be one less employee exit interview you have to do!

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Freelance Writer, Editor, and HR Consultant in Philly. You can find more of Crystal's work at: www.crystalspraggins.blogspot.com

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