The Exit (or Stay) Interview: Done Well, It’s a Critical Tool in the Business Toolbox

Published: New Hampshire Business Review
May 20, 2021

By: Charla Stevens

In a March 21, 2021 article the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) advised businesses to be prepared for a turnover “tsunami” once the pandemic ends.  Although turnover rates were high pre-pandemic, they stalled as employees settled in to whatever their personal situation might have been during the shutdown.  Research and consulting firm, The Work Institute, references a pent up turnover demand ready to be unleashed as companies ramp up hiring again. Recent surveys reveal that as much as 50% of the North American workforce is planning to quit their jobs or seek new employment in the coming year.

The pandemic brought about a significant number of retirements and resignations due to COVID-19 related responsibilities.  The other commonly cited reasons are familiar:  burnout, disengagement, and desire for promotions and better compensation, training and career development.

Given the anticipated shortage of skilled employees, businesses must focus on retention, and the literature is replete with advice on how to do so.  This article discusses one tool:  the exit interview. Indeed for Employers emphasizes that better understanding the driving factors behind an employee’s decision to leave is an important part of reducing turnover.  The right questions,  asked by the right people, and the results shared with the right people who will put the lessons learned into practice are key.  The issues raised should also be reviewed with current employees so they can be assured that changes will be made where legitimate issues are raised.  As important as the exit interview is the “stay interview” where an employer can explore with existing employees the things they enjoy the most and the things they feel could be improved about the company.

Who Should Conduct the Interviews?

 The choice of interviewer is critical.  Both exit and stay interviews should be conducted by someone in whom the interviewee will confide.  Years of research has shown that the majority of employees who have been bullied, sexually harassed and even sexually assaulted at work do not report the offenses.  They simply leave their jobs, hoping to close a painful chapter and move on with their lives.  This does nothing to help a company address systemic cultural and behavioral issues about which its leaders may know nothing.  Nor does it do anything to improve the plight of those left behind, who will probably be the next to leave.  Employees who are dissatisfied with their positions may or may not provide honest feedback about such things as poor relationships with supervisors, lack of adequate training, feeling underappreciated, and needing more job-related challenge especially when concerned about job references, still to paid bonuses and commissions, and possible retaliation.

Individuals in the direct chain of command should not conduct the interviews.  They are biased; and they may not share changes which should be made to their work group.  HR could be a very good or a very bad choice depending upon how the individuals in that role are viewed by the workforce.  HR professionals have long struggled with the image of being the voice of the company.  A good HR professional has the faith of both staff and management and is not seen as the alter ego of either.  If a business does not have someone who fits that role, options for an interviewer might include a manager from a different department or an outside consultant with no stake in the outcome of the interviews.  Exit interviews can also start with written questions or surveys, the responses to which can be explored in a verbal discussion.

What Questions Should You Ask?

 Indeed offers suggestions for the ten best exit interview questions to explore the motivation behind leaving a job:

1.      What prompted you to begin looking for another opportunity?

2.      Do you feel your manager gave you what you needed to succeed?

3.      What did you like best and least about your job?

4.      Do you think your job has changed since you were hired?

5.      Do you feel your achievements were recognized throughout your employment?

6.      What suggestions for improvement do you have for the company?

7.      Is there anything that would have changed your mind about leaving?

8.      Would you recommend this company to a friend?  Why or why not?

9.      Did you share any of the concerns you raised today with the company before deciding to leave?  If not, why not?

10.  Would you give me specific examples?

What Do You Do with the Information?

Once a business gathers feedback on why employees are leaving, they need to compare and track the information; then follow up.  No matter how powerful, no tool has value if it stays in the toolbox.  In order to use exit (and stay) interviews to increase employee satisfaction and retention, employers must look for themes in the concerns, investigate them and, if needed, make plans for correction.  Since not all issues can be addressed at once, involving employees in creating the plans and communicating them widely and with transparency can be very effective.