Opportunity knocks during exit interviews

  • By -
I hit upon this very interesting article earlier today.
Sitting down with departing employees before they leave can provide managers with valuable insight.
Exit interviews are often – and perhaps unsurprisingly – referred to as the cockroaches of human resources practice. They can be viewed as unnecessary, invasive and irrelevant, particularly if a boss has waited for an employee to resign before bothering to ask how he or she rates their work environment.

AIM facilitator Stephen Abraham says exit interviews have “great potential to give valuable feedback about what’s really going on in the organisation and how it can be improved”, however, often they’re too little, too late for the departing employee.
“Organisations who invest in initiatives to keep their employees engaged will outperform their competitors through their motivated, productive and innovative people,” he says.
However, when carried out correctly, exit interviews can be useful, as a major US technology company found when trying to reduce its 51 per cent annual turnover among call centre staff. Exit interviews revealed that workers were leaving because of issues with flexibility, coaching, compensation and the nature of the job itself. Management fixed these problems, and in two years reduced staff turnover by 25 per cent, saving 3750 employees a year.
Tudor Marsden-Huggins, managing director of recruitment solutions firm Employment Office, says exit interviews are crucial for effective people management.
“In the same way you do an interview before someone starts working at your organisation, you should conduct one when they leave. It ascertains people’s motivations and experiences, and the strengths and weaknesses of both the individual and the organisation,” he says.
It’s not uncommon for employees to be guarded in exit interviews, fearing that honest comments may affect their chances of receiving a positive reference in the future.
Marsden-Huggins says asking a third party to conduct the interview can help eliminate such concerns. “You should have a reasonable and objective person, like the HR manager in larger organisations, conducting the interview rather than the person’s manager,” he says.
“Hopefully the HR manager takes the good, the bad and the ugly and turns it into data, leaving the person’s direct manager to write an objective reference later on.”
Marsden-Huggins recommends conducting exit interviews between one and two weeks after an employee has left the organisation. “You’re asking for objectivity. If he or she still has their final payout outstanding, they’re not going to be objective. Once the dust has settled, they’re less likely to be worried about entitlements. They would also have had a chance to calm down if they left the organisation on bad terms,” he says.
His preference is doing exit interviews by phone.
When it comes to conducting the interview, Marsden-Huggins recommends beginning by stating the purpose of the call. “Let the person know that you’re keen to use the feedback to improve the organisation and to benefit future staff,” he says.
Once the interview is over, Marsden-Huggins says it is important to remember to use the data.
“Don’t just leave it in the employee’s file and never look at it again. It’s one thing to do exit interviews, but if you don’t do anything with the data then it’s a waste.”
Key Questions:
  • Why did you decide to leave?
  • What could have prevented you leaving?
  • How do you feel about the organisation?
  • How would you describe the culture?
  • What were some positive and negative aspects of working at the organisation?
  • What could you have done better if we had given you the opportunity?
  • Did you receive adequate training/ support/induction for your role?
Getting off on right foot can help avoid missteps.
Staff inductions provide the perfect opportunity to cement a healthy culture.
For many new employees, a staff induction means following a bored manager around the office as he or she points out the fridge, evacuation points and bathrooms. If you’re lucky, you’ll have access to the computer system by lunchtime on your first day. If you’re unlucky, you won’t have a desk for the first week. Brian Briscoe, managing director at Briscoe Search and Consulting, says inductions are one of the most important – and most frequently overlooked – parts of the recruitment process.
“People think of inductions as a health and safety overview or as an orientation exercise that lasts for the first two or three days,” he says. “Few people think ‘how are we getting this person to settle in to our community?’”
“Whether you’re a multi-national blue-chip organisation or a five-person company, you are still dealing with humans who have insecurities about being the newest person on the block,” he says. “You look at hour one, day one, week one, month one. There are things you should do at each of those stages to help people settle in. You want to meet with the new employee within the first hour if you’re an employer. Everything is new and volatile, and a friendly face and a welcoming process can take that apprehension away.”
On the first day, non-negotiables include making sure the employee has a desk, a computer, spare pens and required logins and passwords. A welcoming morning tea is also a friendly gesture.
“I know one company that used to take a photo of a new employee on their first day, with their whole team around them. At the end of the day they received a framed photograph to keep,” Briscoe says. “It takes almost no effort, but goes a long way towards making people feel included.”
Line managers should schedule regular check-ins (particularly after the first week and the first month) to make sure new workers are settling in well. People make decisions about the long-term viability of a new job within the first 90 days, so poor inductions can have a crippling impact on staff retention and productivity.
For this reason, Briscoe says even small organisations should consider implementing formalised induction processes.
Amy Birchall is a staff writer at ‘Management Today’, AIM’s national magazine for members.