The exit interview – worth the trouble or a waste of time?

Most of us would have taken part in an exit interview at some stage of our careers. You know, it’s the “Claytons” interview – the one you have when you’re not applying for a job! A lot of HR people swear by them but I’m not so sure. I’ve put together a list of reasons why I don’t think they’re worth the investment.

  • Surely, if you only find out the reasons a person is leaving your company after they’ve left, then it’s too late!
  • Reasons for leaving tend to be very personal. It’s difficult to find common threads in the data gleaned from exit interviews
  • Exiting employees might be concerned about what’s going to happen to the information they give you
  • Who is the best person to conduct the interview?
  • Most companies who conduct exit interviews do them just after the person has left with no follow-up further down the track. People have said that they didn’t want to state their real reasons for leaving because it might negatively impact former work colleagues still working in the business
  • What to do with all that data anyway? Managers usually don’t want to know or at best think it’s HR’s problem to manage. In my experience, managers tend to take little responsibility for unwanted staff turnover
  • I did some work for a business that conducted exit interviews for a range of different clients. My boss used to get very concerned whenever a contentious issue was uncovered during the exit interview. It felt as though she only wanted to give her clients good news about their business otherwise they might stop using her to gather unwelcome data!

What to do instead

  • Closely examine your recruitment practices so that new hires have the best start to their time with you. The 1st 6 months are obviously vital – problems need to be addressed/poor fits need to be moved on
  • Revamp the way you recruit your people managers – focus more on soft skills rather than technical ability
  • Once hired or promoted, ensure managers do their job – ie manage their staff by having regular one-on-ones and team meetings. Link people management to managers’ bonus structure
  • Consider using a 360 degree feedback tool
  • Seek employee feedback on a range of issues and do it often. Make the results visible, talk about them and make changes to the way things get done
  • Survey ex-employees 3 months after they’ve left, rather than straightaway. Share the data with senior management and work on the top 3 reasons why people have left
  • Work harder to create an harassment-free workplace. Training to raise awareness and safeguards for whistle blowers are the keys here

Unwanted staff turnover is a huge problem for businesses. It’s been estimated that the cost of replacing a good employee with 18 months’ service can be as much as 2.5 times their salary package! Exit interviews have dubious value – your money might be better spent elsewhere.

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