Conduct Effective Exit Interviews

An exit interview is typically completed when an employee leaves voluntarily or is part of a company lay off.  However, the interview can be done with employees that have been terminated if completed correctly.  It is important to remember that the employee will mostly likely be angry or hurt, so the manager must tread lightly and ensure they have another manager or human resource representative present at the time of the interview.

When, How and Who

The exit interview is seldom conducted by the manager that is terminating the employee; but in the majority of cases is completed by a member of human resources.  This allows the meeting to remain fair and unbiased for the employee.

For terminated employees, this interview should be conducted right away.  Some managers will perform this exit interview shortly after informing the employee of their termination.  Others may allow the employee to gather their belongings from their desk before bringing them back to their office to finish the process.

Every company is different as to how they conduct their exit interview.  Smaller companies may be willing to conduct one-on-one personal exit interviews with the employee and gain the information they want first hand.  One-on-one exit interviews are typically used for shorter exit interviews that do not have a large number of questions to ask.  Other companies, such as larger corporations, are more likely to use some form of printed survey or questionnaire for the employee to complete and return to human resources.  The printed forms allow the company to ask a number of questions and leave spaces for the employee to write any comments or remarks, if desired.

Objective of the Process

One of the main purposes of an exit interview is for the manager to gain information about the company and its working conditions.  The interview should serve as an opportunity to obtain information about what your organization is doing well – and what isn’t working so well.  For the most part, exit interviews allow the employee to speak freely without a fear of consequence, so they are more likely to be frank and will not sugar-coat their opinions.  While some of these opinions may have hints of distaste or anger, there is truth beneath their emotions.

Before scheduling the exit interview with the employee, the manager should work with the human resources representative regarding what questions should be asked of the employee.  Keep in mind the employee may only be open to answer a limited number of questions, so focus on what aspects of the job or position you are wanting answers about the most.  Also include alternate questions to the employee if they do not offer much information on one topic, or if they simply decline to answer.

Company Readiness for Exit Interviews

In many companies, employees are unaware that they may be asked to participate in an exit interview if they decide to leave, or if they are terminated.  Because of this, the task may catch them by surprise when it is suddenly presented to them.  One method of preparing the company culture for a process such as this is to introduce it in the company policies, such as policies regarding hiring, firing and resignations.  This introduces the topic to current employees and gives them a chance to ask questions or seek clarification early on.  It is important for managers to inform employees of the purpose of the exit interview, should they ever need one, and explain to the employee that what he shares, is viewed as helpful information. Managers should work with human resources to establish a guideline or template for exit interviews for the company to use and share with employees.  Employees should be aware that the information they share in an exit interview is helpful, but does not guarantee what they say or suggest will be implemented or create some radical form of change.

Execute the Feedback Results

After an exit interview is completed, the manager and human resources representative should come away with a sufficient amount of feedback from the departing employee in many different areas.  From here, the manager should sort and organize the different advice and feedback given by the employee and determine what areas can be improved.  Sometimes the employee offers feedback on ineffective ways of communication in the office or advice about ways to improve productivity during the day.  The manager must choose the best way to execute these new suggestions, and should begin by consulting with current employees and teams as to what improvements are needed.  Sometimes, the answer is right under their nose – but the employee is too afraid to speak up.

Managers should be weary when accepting feedback and advice from departing employees.  While some can offer insight about the position, others may only offer their thoughts to serve as insults or general negativity about co-workers, managers or even the company itself.  Managers should never encourage this type of talk from the employee and should not indulge them into sharing such negativity.

Case Study

Angela has just finished speaking with Jose and has let him know that he is terminated from the company due to his recent poor performance in his department.  Jose was visibly upset, but Angela asked if he would be willing to take a few minutes and answer some of her questions (and complete the exit interview outlined in the company policy), Jose agreed.

Angela noticed that his department had many employees who were not performing well, so she asked Jose why he thought that was.  Jose told her that communication with management was very difficult in the department, and many of the employees had daily questions that they could not get answered.  He also told Angela that, in his opinion, the training was not very effective for new employees and should be extended in some way.

After speaking with Jose for a while longer, Angela was able to gather a lot of helpful information that she could take back to the teams and review with team leaders.  Angela thanked Jose for his time and his feedback and wished him good luck before he left the building.