Making the Most out of Exit Interviews

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Although your company may have an outstanding culture and your compensation packages may also be highly competitive, it is generally inevitable that some of your valuable employees will resign. Exit interviews are an ideal opportunity to evaluate or confirm workplace culture, employee engagement and level of perceived opportunity. You will also gain important insight into the overall employee experience. Asking the right questions and listening carefully can provide you with an opportunity to learn and improve the employee experience. One of the most important goals for any organization is to retain its best employees.  If you are experiencing unplanned turnover, then you likely have low levels of productivity and motivation or a mismatch between management or leadership perception and the employee reality.

The exit interview may help you gain insight as to why an employee decided to re-enter the job market.  Did they actively decide to leave or were they approached by a head-hunter that offered a more attractive role and higher compensation package?  Your HR department will want to understand the reasons for their decision as these play a contextual role in the hiring and retention of employees.  Exit interviews are important because they offer a deeper look at your workplace culture, day-to-day processes, management solutions, and employee morale.

High turnover is extremely costly and new hires may command higher wages than what the departing employee was earning.  It takes time and investment to train and onboard your hires, especially if there are unique products, different tools, and systems to learn and the natural time required when settling into a new workplace culture and team.  There may be a few instances where a high potential is leaving because of a higher salary offer and the organization may decide to counter-offer. But trends detected during the exit interview process may indicate it is time to conduct a market salary analysis for your other high performers and key roles in the event your organization is no longer competitive in the talent marketplace.

HR typically conducts exit interviews and should develop tactics to ask the best series of questions to maximize the information gained.  Some companies may decide to only interview high potentials, but best practice to gain the most insight is to interview everyone.

Employees may not be comfortable of being called to an exit interview and may be concerned about what they can or cannot say.  They’ve already made up their mind they are leaving so it’s hard to gauge if they will provide sincere and honest answers, especially if they are leaving because they are unhappy.  Leaders should be made aware of the issues or concerns being raised. Even if you are aware that an employee has left for a higher wage, you can still gain valuable information about issues that may be important to another employee.

It’s important that you stay positive and show gratitude for the information they are providing and avoid being defensive or argumentative. Remain neutral as you ask follow-up questions to collect the most information and the best understanding possible.  Don’t filter during the interview itself. Afterwards, in consultation with your leadership colleagues you can decide what information is most valuable and how best to use the feedback to make improvements.

Questions should cover a range of topics including organizational culture, training and development, job design, salary and benefits, overall working conditions, and team/leader relationship. It’s important to gain insight into leadership styles of your managers and to identify toxic behaviour and styles if these are perceived as experienced by the departing employee.

Continue with the following best practices:

  • Explain to the employee the reason you need to conduct an exit interview.
  • Ask the employee’s permission to participate in the exit interview, even if it’s online.
  • Prepare beforehand and customize questions for various roles and information that may have come to light previously or is considered a risk.
  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Let them know the feedback is confidential and will only be shared with the appropriate person and at the right time.
  • Encourage honest feedback.
  • Be courteous and thank them for their contribution.

Avoid the following bad habits:

  • Don’t leave the exit interview until the last minute as the employee may have already checked out mentally.
  • Don’t use leading questions that will cause the employee to answer in a specific way.
  • Don’t conduct exit interviews for layoffs or terminations.
  • Keep an open mind as there may be things you just don’t have inside information for.
  • Avoid expressive facial and body language such as acting surprised or showing you are not in agreement.
  • Asking everyone similar or consistent questions as everyone may have different experiences and variances will also be informative.

Examples of exit interview questions:

  • How did you feel your job met with your expectations of the role?
  • How would you compare your job responsibilities with your job description?
  • What did you think about your training and onboarding for your role, and did it set you up for success?
  • What tools or resources would you like to have received in your job to help you?
  • What opportunities were you presented with to keep up to date with your skills and knowledge?
  • What type of discussions did you have with your manager when it came to career development?
  • How would you describe your job satisfaction level?
  • How would you describe your performance discussions with your manager?
  • What made you decide to look for other job opportunities?
  • Are you willing to share what benefits and compensation package you will be getting in your new role?
  • How would you describe your relationship with your team members and colleagues?
  • How would you describe your relationship with your manager?
  • How would you describe the recognition you received for your efforts and contribution?
  • How would you describe the motivation levels of your team members?
  • What suggestions do you have to improve diversity and inclusion within the company?
  • How would you describe your experience with the company culture, and do you have any suggestions for improvement?
  • What motivates you to come to work every day?
  • What if anything would you have liked to have changed in your role?
  • Is there anything you can think of that would help us improve as an organization?
  • How would you describe your overall experience working for the company?
  • Is there anything we could have done to have encouraged you to stay?
  • How do you think we can improve your role for the next person replacing you?

Conducting exit interviews may appear to be a tedious, challenging, or unimportant task.  However, if planned well, exit interviews can provide you with extremely valuable information to identify opportunities to improve retention and engagement levels. There will be occasions where the feedback provides previously undetected insight and triggers discussion and improvements which benefit retention, engagement, and therefore overall organizational performance.

If you need help preparing your exit interview questions or advice on employee engagement and retention, please don’t hesitate to contact Bridge Legal and HR Solutions – (647) 794-5442 or at 

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