DISCLAIMER: This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. If you have any questions about exit interviews with your departing employees, please consult with an employment attorney in the jurisdictions where they work.
Not all employers conduct exit interviews. This can be disappointing for employees who are looking for closure after leaving a job. However, by the time of the exit interview, all the cards should already be face up on the table. Ideally, both employer and employee will have a clear understanding of why the separation is occurring. They should have already exhausted reasonable attempts to make the relationship work and simply discovered they are no longer compatible based on what each of them needs now. People change. Businesses change. Needs change. It’s okay.
It might seem easier to leave a demon, but you don’t really need to demonize each other to make the split.
Why Do Employers Conduct Exit Interviews?
Many employers use the exit interview to identify potential legal issues, such as discrimination or sexual harassment. They might also try to get employees to sign severance agreements waiving their rights to file legal actions for such claims, but not all rights can be waived in this way. Employers might be wasting their time and money.
It’s best to use the exit interview to improve processes and resolve issues still polluting the workforce. This feedback can be used to improve the workplace, retain employees, and attract new talent. Here are a few of the most important questions employers can ask in exit interviews:
- Why are you leaving? Don’t assume it’s just for higher pay. Even if it is, this information can tell you more than to increase salaries or expect to lose key employees to higher-paying competitors. Employees needs vary. Some will take a pay cut for a shorter commute, remote work opportunities, or other things they value.
- What did you enjoy most about working with us? This will help you identify your strengths, from an employee perspective. We recommend you engage employees in similar discussions before they leave, but the exit interview is a good place to start and it’s easy to incorporate.
- What was the worst part about working here? It might be hard to hear what outgoing employees have to say, but your willingness to consider your weaknesses and take action to improve could turn an outgoing employee to client or employee referral source.
- Would you recommend a friend or family member work here? Why or why not? Although this is similar to other questions, it often causes a response that can be observed, if it is not verbalized. That hesitation or look of confusion that you asked this question can be very telling.
Don’t be surprised if your departing employee declines the exit interview. Two weeks have probably passed since notice was given. There has been no change of heart. All that is truly left to discuss are the four questions above and procedural issues, such as when the last paycheck will be sent, when benefits and access to systems will end, and how to return all equipment and supplies.
How to Conduct Exit Interviews
Departing employees often want employers to explain their policies, procedures, or decisions. We advise our employer clients not to give detail beyond what has been discussed up to the employee’s departure decision. We know employees sometimes try to get a manager’s emotions high, so they say things they regret.
If an employee is being terminated, there has probably been a series of conversations and attempts to correct the behavior. Similarly, if the employee resigned, there were usually complaints that were left unresolved.
The exit interview is not the place to discuss issues you still expect to resolve with this employee. By now, both of you have decided the employment relationship is no longer effective to meet your goals. You are no longer aligned for that purpose, but you can explore how to support each other on your new paths. Here’s how to do that well:
- Be prepared. Before the interview, consider why the employee was originally hired, how the relationship changed, and what the employee contributed to the workplace. Know why you’re no longer compatible and what discussions led to the decision to part. Review the employee’s file and consider how it might feel to be in that person’s shoes.
- Be compassionate. Don’t judge the person based solely on the reason for leaving. Be respectful of the decisions that led to the separation and listen with your third ear to any feedback volunteered.
- Reinforce confidentiality, except to the extent necessary to address concerns. Explain how the information you collect will be used and who it might be shared with. After the interview, take some time to review the feedback and make a plan to address any concerns. Follow up with the former employee, if only to express gratitude for the feedback and the inspiration to make a specific change.
Time and again, we see that when employers exhibit humility and compassion in the employee separation process, they avoid lawsuits. They also gain fans, referral partners, and future collaborators. An extra 30 to 60 minutes can make all the difference.
What to Do If Your Employer Doesn’t Conduct an Exit Interview
If your employer doesn’t conduct an exit interview, there are still ways to get closure. Here are a few tips:
- Request a meeting with your supervisor. Your supervisor might be willing to meet with you one-on-one to discuss your real reasons for leaving. If so, be prepared to share what could have been done to change the situation with you and what could help the employer keep good employees. Avoid rehashing old disputes or trying to solicit information that can be used against them in a legal action. They’ll be watching for this.
- Write a letter to someone with authority to make changes. Some people communicate better in writing. It gives them an opportunity to look objectively at the facts and circumstances, have someone else review it, and focus the communication on the most important issues. If you aren’t sure what those issues are and what you want done, you might first try journaling about your work experience or talking to an employment attorney.
- Consult a career coach.Whether you left willingly or were forced out, the end of an employment relationship can be a lot like breaking up with a friend or partner. A career coach can help you work through the emotional aspects of the change and redirect that energy toward a more successful future.
Don’t forget that you are leaving for a reason. Trust yourself.