Your role involves not only attracting and hiring top talents but also understanding why people leave your organization. Conducting exit interviews is an essential part of this process.
Especially if an employee's resignation comes as a surprise, an exit interview allows you to gain insights into their reasons for leaving, their experiences within the company, and areas where the company can improve.
According to a 2023 survey by Mercer, the average turnover rate among US businesses between 2022 and 2023 was 17.3%, indicating that more employees are exploring new job opportunities.
This means conducting effective exit interviews is more crucial than ever to understand and address the factors contributing to employee attrition.
As the People Operations Lead here at FlexOS, I've conducted countless exit interviews with outgoing team members. It's always a learning experience to hear about their journey within our organization and their decision to move on.
However, to make the most of these exit interviews, I am really strategic and continually refine my approach to exit interviews, which includes developing the right questions and templates to ensure a constructive conversation.
Below, I share how I conduct exit interviews, curated from a range of expert sources and adapted to our people-centric, hybrid remote work environment. Let's dive in!
What is an Exit Interview?
So what is an exit interview? An exit interview is "a final meeting between a manager and an employee who is leaving his or her job, especially to find out why the employee is leaving," according to the Cambridge Dictionary.
Essentially, it's a conversation between an employer and an employee who has decided to resign or has been asked to.
Exit interviews help organizations identify patterns, improve employee retention, and enhance the overall work environment.
By understanding why employees leave, companies can make informed decisions to foster a more engaged and satisfied workforce.
Benefits of an Exit Interview
For managers, HR professionals, and people operators in people-centric companies, conducting exit interviews can be particularly beneficial, especially in hybrid or remote work settings.
Here are three key benefits of having exit interviews:
Enhancing Engagement and Retention
Exit interviews provide an opportunity to understand why team members are leaving and identify any underlying issues that may negatively impact retention.
By addressing these concerns, you can take proactive steps to improve employee experience management and increase engagement, creating more reasons for team members to do their best work and stay with you.
Additionally, according to an article by Harvard Business Review, exit interviews can promote engagement by signaling to employees that their views matter, making them feel valued even after they leave the company.
Improving Organizational Culture
Exit interviews offer a deeper look into workplace culture and day-to-day processes.
They provide valuable insights into management solutions, employee morale, and overall satisfaction.
By understanding the factors that contribute to turnover, you can make informed decisions to enhance your culture and create a more positive work environment.
Guiding Future Practices
Exit interviews help you collect feedback that can guide future practices in recruiting and retention.
The insights gained from these interviews can inform changes in policies, procedures, and leadership approaches.
By utilizing the feedback received, you can make data-driven decisions to address weaknesses and improve employee satisfaction.
According to expert team builder Kelly Knight, "Exit interviews help leaders dial into their company's current direction. Plus, they generate questions that recruiters can use in the hiring process to discern whether a candidate is a good fit."
What To Ask In An Exit Interview?
Now that we've covered the benefits of exit interviews, let's dive into the questions you should ask in order to gain valuable insights from people who are leaving.
Good exit interview questions are designed to elicit honest, constructive feedback. They should encourage the departing team members to share experiences and insights that can help your team and the company improve.
These questions should be open-ended to allow for detailed responses, and they should cover a range of topics, from the employee's overall experience to specific aspects of their role and the company culture.
Best Practices for Exit Interview Questions
When crafting exit interview questions, consider these best practices:
- Use Open-Ended Questions: Open-ended questions encourage detailed responses, allowing the employee to express their thoughts and feelings fully.
- Choose Neutral, Unbiased Questions: Avoid leading or loaded questions. The goal is to gather genuine feedback, not to confirm preconceived notions.
- Ensure Confidentiality: Assure the departing team members that their responses will be kept confidential to make them comfortable with sharing their true feelings.
- Be Respectful and Professional: Keep the tone professional and respectful, even if the feedback is negative.
- Do Not Ask About the Employee's New Job: Respect their privacy and avoid asking too many details about their new role or company.
21 Good Exit Interview Questions To Ask
When crafting your exit interview questions, consider what you want to learn from employees and use a mix of open-ended and close-ended questions.
I personally like to use one or two questions from each category to create a well-rounded interview experience.
Company culture is one of the most critical factors in employees' decision to stay or leave a company. A 2022 survey by FlexJobs reveals that “toxic company culture” is the number one reason people quit their jobs.
Here are some questions so that you can understand how your ex-team members perceive your company culture:
- What did you like most about the company culture?
- Is there anything about the company culture that you would change?
- What made you feel motivated to come to work every day?
- Did the company culture align with your expectations when you joined?
Role satisfaction refers to an employee's contentment with their job and how it aligns with their personal goals.
By understanding this, you can identify improvements in job design, role clarity, and career advancement opportunities, leading to higher productivity and retention.
- Did your role meet the initial expectations set during the recruitment process?
- Were you given the resources and support needed to perform your role effectively?
- What did you enjoy most about your role?
- Were there any aspects of your role that you found challenging or frustrating?
Feedback on management practices can help identify areas of strength and growth opportunities.
Our recent research, “What Hybrid and Remote Employees Really Want,” shows that hybrid and remote team members want more from their managers, especially in communication, task Management, and team bonding.
If someone is leaving because of issues with management, there's a high chance that this problem will continue and affect the rest and the newcomers.
Some questions to ask your departing team members about management include:
- How would you rate your relationship with your direct manager?
- What did your manager do well, and what could they have done better?
- Did you feel recognized and valued by your manager?
- Were there any issues with communication or feedback from your manager?
Keeping your employees engaged is key to retaining top talent. Unfortunately, according to 2023 Gallup research, only 23% of employees feel engaged in their roles.
These employee engagement survey providers can help you analyze employee engagement levels within your teams, and you can also do it in the exit interviews with these questions:
- Did you feel connected and valued by your team?
- Were there any opportunities for growth or development provided by the company?
- Did you have a clear understanding of your role and responsibilities?
- How did you feel about the level of recognition and appreciation given for your work?
- What could the company have done to engage you in your role better?
Reason for Leaving
Understanding why an employee is leaving can provide insights into potential issues that need addressing.
- What prompted your decision to leave?
- Is there anything the company could have done to prevent you from leaving?
- Do you have any suggestions for how the company could improve retention?
- How do you feel about your overall experience at the company?
How to Conduct Your Exit Interview? 3 Methods
Exit interviews are an important tool in understanding the employee experience and improving workplace culture. There are a few different methods you can use to conduct these interviews.
1. In-person Conversations:
This is the traditional method where the HR representative or a neutral party sits down face-to-face with the departing employee.
It allows for more personal interaction and gives the interviewer the opportunity to probe further into responses, clarify doubts, and gauge non-verbal cues.
However, it requires careful planning and execution to ensure a positive atmosphere and unbiased feedback.
2. Phone Interviews:
Phone (or Zoom) interviews are convenient and often more comfortable for the employee, especially if they're remote or prefer not to meet in person.
It still allows for some level of personal interaction.
However, it may be harder for you to read emotions over a phone call.
3. Surveys and Questionnaires:
This method is highly flexible and scalable, allowing people to provide feedback at their own convenience.
It automates workstreams, reduces workload, and helps gather quantitative data and identify trends.
The downside is that it's impersonal, doesn't allow for follow-up questions, and may have fewer people responding.
Bonus Tip: Choosing the right method depends on your organization's needs, resources, and culture.
Consider a combination of methods for a comprehensive view.
For example, you could follow up an online survey with an in-person conversation for those who wish to discuss further.
Exit Interview Template to Get Started
An exit interview template can serve as a structured guideline for conducting exit interviews, ensuring consistency and completeness in the process.
If you're unable to have an in-person conversation or phone interview, finding the survey apps can be a great way to gather feedback through a survey or questionnaire.
Typeform is a form-builder that is ideal for customizing survey experiences to gain better insights into data.
This engaging exit interview template consists of questions to help you collect:
- Details of your team members
- Reasons for their departure
- Score-based evaluation of their experience working at your company
- Feedback regarding their experience with managers and coworkers
- Level of satisfaction with their salary and benefits
- Whether they would like to act as an ambassador for your company.
Jotform is an intuitive survey platform that allows you to design and publish forms online to gather responses.
This simple exit interview template allows you to:
- Capture basic details such as name, designation, department, and dates of joining and exiting
- Explore primary factors behind the candidate's decision to leave and their perspective on the company's professional environment
- Investigate professional hurdles faced during their tenure
You can change or add more questions in different aspects that I suggested above to make this exit interview questionnaire more well-rounded and relevant.
SurveyPlanet is an easy-to-use form builder software that offers unlimited survey questions and responses on its free plan. Hence, you can copy and expand your exit interview survey with ease.
This exit interview form includes a full range of questions on many aspects, combining open-ended and score-based questions about the employee's experience of their role, at the company, and with their managers and colleagues.
SurveySparrow is a survey app that can turn your employee exit interviews into engaging dialogues.
This conversational set of questions in this template allows you to gather information about:
- The motivations behind the employee's decision to leave
- Management and company culture evaluation
- Work environment and employee well-being during their working period
- The likelihood of recommending the company to others and possible strategies or changes that could have influenced their decision to stay.
>> Check out my comparison guide on the survey apps to explore the most suitable options for conducting your employee exit interviews.
More Tips to Conduct Your Exit Interview Effectively
Conducting an effective exit interview can be a crucial process for you to understand the reasons for employee turnover and gain insights for improvement.
Here are some more tips and expert recommendations on how you can conduct your exit interviews more effectively:
Let Second or Third-Line Managers Conduct The Interview
According to Everett Spain - the head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point, and Boris Groysberg - professor of business administration in the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School, in their HBR article, second or third-line managers should conduct exit interviews instead of the direct supervisor or manager of the departing team member.
This helps maintain objectivity and encourages the interviewee to speak openly without fear of repercussions.
Schedule The Interview
Exit interviews should ideally be scheduled 4-5 days before the employee is set to end their role.
This gives employees enough time to reflect on their experiences and provide valuable feedback.
However, not all cases may require an exit interview.
It can depend on factors such as the reason for leaving, the length of service, or the role within the organization.
Focus On The Quality, Not The Quantity Of Questions
The number of questions in an exit interview can vary, but the focus should be on quality rather than quantity.
It's important not to ask targeted questions about specific people or issues, as it could lead to office gossip.
Instead, opt for open-ended questions that allow the interviewee to express their thoughts freely.
A mix of standardized and unstructured questions can help gather comprehensive feedback.
How to Make the Most Out of Exit Interview Results
Reading the results is as important as collecting them. Making the most out of exit interview results involves a systematic approach.
Consider these steps to analyze and utilize the feedback gathered from exit interviews:
- Begin by arranging the data in a coherent manner, categorizing feedback into themes like communication, management style, or work environment.
- Analyze your data to identify trends and patterns. Are there recurring issues that led to employee departures?
- Next, prioritize these findings based on their impact on employee satisfaction and retention. Formulate actionable strategies to address these issues and get to the core of what your employees really want; this could be implementing new policies or improving existing ones.
- Lastly, ensure regular follow-ups to assess the effectiveness of these changes. Remember, the goal is a continuous improvement towards a more conducive work environment.
The Bottom Line
In wrapping up, I'd say conducting exit interviews can feel a bit like a breakup conversation - it may be uncomfortable, sure, but it's a valuable opportunity to reflect, learn, and grow.
Remember that every piece of feedback, however tough to hear, is a stepping stone towards creating a better workplace.
So, my fellow managers, let's embrace this process with open minds and a readiness for change. If I can do it, you can do it too!
Let's not just stop at exit interviews. Let's channel this feedback into action and transform our organizations into spaces our team members truly appreciate.