Biggest Mistake in HR – Exit Interview: It’s Too Late…. …And What Organisations Can Do About It

Interviews as such are an important component of the HR function. Most candidates and interviewers look forward in anticipation towards recruitment interviews. For the former, it is an opportunity that will get them closer to their dream job. And for interviewers (HR managers), it is about choosing the right person for the right job. After all, filling the vacancy appropriately is one of HR’s prime responsibilities.

However, there is yet another type of interview that perhaps does not receive as much attention as the recruitment interview. I am talking about the exit interview.

In fact, some experts are calling the exit interview as one of the biggest mistakes in HR. Could this be correct? Are exit interviews really worthless and absolutely unnecessary? And are they being conducted too late to make any impact?

Let’s explore in detail and find out.

The Exit Interview Defined

The exit interview is an interaction with the employee who is about to leave (or exit) the organisation. The rationale behind the exit interview is to find out the reason behind this decision of the employee. The management wants to find out ‘why’ and possibly look at what steps could have been taken to prevent this exit?

Why Organisations Want to Conduct Exit Interviews

The simple reason is to retain people.

When employees are consistently quitting, it affects the organisation at several levels. Firstly, productivity suffers, as work remains undone. Morale goes down as there is additional burden on existing employees. And most importantly, organisations have to bear the cost of recruiting and training new employees.

Obviously employees who are leaving won’t stay back (at least most of them won’t). So the management wants to understand the reasons why they are leaving and try and eliminate those reasons to prevent further exodus of employees.

What Organisations Hope to Learn in the Exit Interviews

In the course of an exit interview, organisations basically want to know whether they are any organisation-specific reasons why someone is quitting. Often certain policies of the company may be perceived by employees as not friendly to their career growth or prospects for advancement. Or employees may feel that they do not have enough opportunities to grow in the organisation. (This by itself should serve as a wake-up call for the management to reevaluate the direction in which the company is moving).

Several times, people leave because of poor relationship with their immediate bosses. An overbearing, dominant leader with an autocratic leadership style prompts large scale exodus of team members working with him/her. Surprisingly, bosses who are not capable leaders, who fail to motivate their team and lead them in the right direction are equally responsible for employees quitting and moving on to better opportunities.

Rampant office politics, nepotism and several other even darker reasons are also responsible for people putting in their papers.

Ideally the purpose of the exit interview is to unearth these reasons. Once management knows the reasons, they can work on steps to eliminate those reasons and retain valuable employees.

But Does it Work?

That’s the million dollar question. Whatever the noble objectives behind conducting an exit interview, does it really reveal the information management is looking for?

Most employees are wary of giving out the true reasons why they are leaving the job. They usually give vague, general answers that are neither useful nor valuable. Let’s try and understand this from the employee’s point of view.

Why Quitting Employees are Cautious During the Exit Interview
  1. No one wants to be seen as a disgruntled complainer. Employees fear that it will create a wrong perception about themselves and negatively impact their performance so far if they focus only on the ‘negative’ aspects of their time in the company.
  2. People know that though exit interviews are supposed to be ‘confidential’, they are usually not and this makes them cautious about telling the ‘truth’.
  3. There is lot of networking amongst peers in any industry and across industries today. Social media has made this very easy indeed. Employees who quit know that HR managers do exchange notes and they don’t want to create an opportunity, which might tarnish their reputation in the industry by telling truth about the reasons why they are quitting.
  4. No one wants burn bridges forever. Say, someone is quitting for a job at another company. There is no guarantee that the new job will be better than the current one (though that is the expectation). Often people want to have the option to come back to their old jobs. And this cannot be done if they have been candid and brutally honest in elaborating the flaws of their colleagues and extra meticulous in pointing out why their boss is a jerk.
  5. Employees want to quit on pleasant terms. Firstly, they may need references from former employers. And on a more philosophical note, they feel since they are getting well out of it, there is not point souring the relationship when it can be left pleasant.
How to Make Exit Interviews Valuable – Tips for Employers

1. Inculcate a Culture of Employee Feedback And Objective Analysis
Encourage employee views and suggestions on various aspects related to their work and demonstrate an ability to objectively analyse their views. This assures employees that their feedback is evaluated on merit and is not taken personally. Such a practice might encourage them to be more forthcoming in the exit interview.

2. Schedule the Exit Interview at the Right Time
Experts suggest scheduling the exit interview after the employee has wrapped up all work, preferably before his/her last day at work. Scheduling it too early might be detrimental as the employee still has to spend time with colleagues and boss and might not be comfortable talking about them.

3. Set the Right Tone
Nothing beats getting started off on the right note. Appreciate the employee’s contribution and mean it when you say that the organisation is sorry to see him/her go. With your guided questions, send across the message that you are interested only in the reasons behind the decision to quit, which you will interpret in an objective manner.

4. Assure Confidentiality
Assure that all information the soon-to-be-ex-employee shares will be confidential. And don’t go back on that assurance.

All said and done, the exit interview is a valuable tool for organisations. Rightly used, it reveals insightful information the company can use to implement beneficial changes organisation wide. These changes will arrest the rapid exodus of valuable employees, increase morale and motivation within the company.

Besides, without the constant focus on recruiting and training new employees, the organisation can focus on strategy and growth and achieve success in business.

Do you conduct exit interviews for your exiting employees? And are they effective? We would love to know.

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