The longer an employee’s tenure, the more they learn about how the company really works. This means, strange as it might seem, they’ll never be able to offer more valuable insights than on the day they leave. That’s why it’s good practice to conduct exit interviews—departing employees offer a unique perspective and may well be more candid than during their employment. Employers have a great chance to learn about their own organization—but only if they ask the right questions.
Why to Conduct an Employee Exit Interview
When an employee leaves your company, it can be tempting to get them out the door and move on as quickly as possible. However, every departure is a learning opportunity—no matter the reason they are leaving—and the most valuable takeaways can often come from the employee themselves.
Conducting exit interviews gives you a chance to collect insights at the only time when an employee has no reason to hold back, unlike an ordinary check-in. If you’re losing top talent, this is a chance to find out why and potentially uncover a toxic culture before it’s too late. Even if the employee wasn’t a key member of the team, they’ll likely still have useful experiences to share.
How to Conduct an Exit interview
Conducting an exit interview effectively takes skill and practice. You want to create an environment where the departing employee feels comfortable offering their honest opinions—for this reason, it’s better that the interviewer is from your HR team, rather than an employee’s direct supervisor. Hold the interview somewhere private, and as close as possible to the last hour of the employee’s last day.
Reassure the employee that their answers will be confidential and that the purpose of the interview is to inform and improve company policy going forward. Take notes, and make sure that the conclusions are acted upon—without follow through, conducting an exit interview is a waste of time.
Most importantly of all, an interviewer shouldn’t be tempted to express their own opinion. This isn’t one last chance to convince an employee to stay, and it definitely isn’t the time to argue with an employee’s answers. If the departure is on unhappy terms and you’re concerned about it becoming an argument (or if you simply can’t find time to schedule an in-person interview), offer the alternative of a written questionnaire which the employee can fill out in their own time.
Questions to Ask in an Exit Interview
The challenge of an exit interview is focusing in on the most relevant topics and gleaning actionable insights from a chat that is likely to last an hour or less. You probably won’t have time to discuss an employee’s entire history with the company, so targeted questions are key.
Some key areas to discuss are:
- The Reasons for their Departure
Discussions over the reasons why the employee is leaving will obviously vary depending on the exact cause. If they found a better opportunity, you can ask what made the decision for them. What could your company have done better? Were there factors pushing them away? If the employee was terminated, you can ask why they think their time with your company didn’t work out, and what they think could’ve happened differently.
- Their Work
Rather than spend the entire exit interview discussing what went wrong, you shouldn’t ignore the employee’s day-to-day experience. How did they enjoy their work? Were they engaged with their work? How could their position be improved?
- Their Supervisor
The biggest variable for an employee’s engagement at work is their relationship with their manager. So, while exit interviews shouldn’t just be an opportunity for employees to air all the grievances they’ve accumulated over their tenure, it’s a topic that can’t be ignored. Did they have a good working relationship? What are their areas for improvement?
- The Company as a Whole
A departing employee cannot be expected to have fully positive feelings about the organization they are leaving, but an exit interview does offer a unique chance to hear what employees really think. It’s best to be specific: how effective was their onboarding, their on-the-job training, and did they feel supported? How could the organization improve?
Download Employee Exit Interview Guide
Exit interviews provide great learning opportunities—but only if you ask the right questions. To help businesses, Paycor is providing a checklist of employee exit interview questions.