How to Conduct Exit Interviews

Posted in : HR Updates on 26 May 2016
Helen O'Brien
Personnel and Training Services
Issues covered:

Carrying out well structured and well conducted exit interviews with every employee who leaves may well help you to increase the effectiveness of your organisation.

Before you carry out exit interviews, you need to think about who is best suited to conduct them. The line manager knows the outgoing employee probably better than anyone, but the employee may not be prepared to criticise the manager who, in turn, is unlikely to record comments about him or herself. A personnel officer should be able to do the job well, as he or she will be relatively objective and should have the ability to tease the truth out from vague phrases. However, what is important is that the person carrying out the interview is trained in interviewing techniques and is respected.

The interview should be conducted in a private room. Again, an office in the HR department would be ideal as an outgoing employee might have several reasons for being there. Give the employee plenty of notice of the meeting, make its purpose clear, and suggest that he or she makes a few notes beforehand so that the meeting might have some structure and so that information the employee feels relevant is not overlooked. Make clear that the employee’s name will not be shown on the notes you make and that the information you record will be kept confidential and will be used as part of a collection of general comments that will help to identify problem areas in the organisation so that necessary improvements might be made.

Before going into the interview, consider what you would like the employee to tell you about the organisation. For example, ask how well they feel you and your colleagues manage your employees. How well they felt they were treated during the recruitment process. Were they welcomed?

As far as possible, make your questions open-ended so that they invite comment rather than single-word answers. Prepare a few general questions such as “If you could make one improvement to the workplace or to the team, what would that be?” Ideally, make notes as you go along but, if you need to record more than a few words, ask the employee to pause while you write. Keep good eye contact and nod regularly to show that you are truly listening.

When you feel that the interview has come to an end, summarise what the employee has said. This ensures that you have fully understood what he or she has said — even if you disagree with it — and also indicates clearly that you have been truly listening. Finally, thank the employee for his or her contribution. You may feel it unwise to promise to do anything, but do assure the employee that you will give his or her comments careful thought with a view to improving the organisation and particularly how employees will be treated.

Take great care with your use of the results of the interview. You may pick up some points that require immediate attention, if not action, but the greatest value of exit interviews is to throw up a pattern of problem areas. If you have enough exit interview notes you may circulate a summary to management to make them think, but the greatest value really comes from tabling ideas at management meetings “based to some extent on the comments made by leavers” designed to improve performance and people management.

Exit interviews, well structured, conducted and analysed, can, with little time and effort, provide you with valuable information about employees’ views that will enable you to fine tune your organisation for better performance and the better use of your workforce.

This article is correct at 26/05/2016

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Helen O'Brien
Personnel and Training Services

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