Exit interviews

The exit interview offers an opportunity to receive transparent feedback about your company from a departing employee. It also provides a chance to gain valuable insights into what employees really think about their time in your workplace – information that could be used in the future to improve staff retention and the quality of the organisation.

While exit interviews should allow for candour, comments or complaints, employees who were fired may be clouded by emotions or negativity, and not accurately reflect the overall pulse of your business. In fact, because this type of departure from a company is upsetting, these individuals may not wish to take part in an exit interview at all. Generally speaking, the most helpful exit conversations take place with people who leave voluntarily.

Learn how you can handle an exit interview so that departing staff leave on positive terms with minimal impact on your company’s brand or reputation, while allowing you to gain a better understanding of how employees regard your workplace.

How to conduct an exit interview

Even with the best laid plans for an exit interview, departing employees don’t always have positive things to say; so the first thing to remember is to be prepared for negative comments.

Don’t take anything personally, and resist the urge to make any negative comments of your own (even if the existing employee may express their negative impressions). While a staff member may use the exit interview to vent, the responsibility falls upon you to remain professional and composed, and uphold your company’s good reputation.

Exit interview questions

As the exit interview is likely to be your final chance to speak candidly with a soon-to-be-ex employee, it pays to plan your questions ahead of time to help the meeting stay on track.

Consider what sort of information is most useful to you from a departing employee. Some potential exit interview questions may include:

How would you describe your working relationship with your colleagues? This can potentially highlight any tensions between employees that you are unaware of, and offer insights into how you can develop a more cohesive and productive team going forward.

What company processes do you think could be improved? The responses here can help you understand what your company can do to improve company operations, employee happiness and staff engagement.

How could the company workplace be improved? If one employee is unhappy about a particular aspect of the organisation, chances are others could feel the same way. Actively asking for areas of improvement can offer a fresh perspective on your workplace and provide inspiration on the steps that need to be taken to improve.

Do you think management adequately recognised employee contributions? If not, how do you think recognition could be improved? The answer to this question can provide insight into what employee recognition methods are effective and areas where employees may feel underappreciated.

Did you feel you had the tools, resources and working conditions to be successful in your role? If not, which areas could be improved and how? Answers to this question will shed light on inadequacies you may have overlooked in the workplace environment.

What was the best part of your job here? Over time, you’re likely to hear some common answers emerging, the more exit interviews you conduct. Identify areas where you can encourage more of the positive aspects named by departing staff.

Focus on what’s being said

The exit interview is a time to focus on the employee’s comments and keep your own input to a minimum.

The benefit of having pre-prepared questions is that you have discussion points to focus on. Allow the leaving employee do the bulk of the talking, to help you understand any weakness in your workplace practices.

End the interview by thanking the employee for their contribution to the company. Maintaining a positive outlook is important as it never pays to burn bridges with a former employee. Not only could they return to your workplace further down the track, but they could also have secured a role with a competitor, supplier or other stakeholder, where any public negative views could be damaging to your business.

What to weigh up after the exit interview

Once the exit interview is completed, go back over your interview notes and consider how you can put the information you’ve gathered to good use.

Outgoing employees can give you an in-depth understanding of your workplace, and whether there are weaknesses in your recruitment process or company structure that may have led to this outcome. It’s important to look at exit interviews as a learning process above all – one that can provide you with vital pieces of information that can lead to improved retention rates and help your company attract high-calibre professionals in the future.