During a busy time several years ago, my exit interviews went by the wayside. When things calmed, I never returned to the practice of religiously conducting exit conferences with every single person who left. After considering the net sum of new information gleaned from from exit conferences, I scaled back. Now I do an interview when we honestly don’t know why someone is leaving, or when we suspect the manager/employee relationship contributed. Otherwise, I’ve chosen to focus my efforts and energy elsewhere, i.e., in what is rather than what was. We have relatively low turnover, and often the decision to leave is mutual. Or we know why they’re leaving and what they think of their benefits and working conditions because we’ve been in conversation all along. In those cases, it may well be more productive to spend the time asking superstar employees why they stay.
While not suggesting everyone discard exit interviews, I caution against overreliance on the practice. In doing so, we miss valuable present-moment opportunities by giving credence to the departing employee’s thought myth: ”I’m leaving. So now I can say what I really think.”
That doesn’t sound alarming? Think of obvious corollaries: ”I can’t say what I really think while I still work here,” and “Employees can’t be honest until they sever the relationship.”
As HR professionals, let’s not condone that; let’s fight for the opposite. Let’s strive to communicate that we want to know now, not when someone leaves. Ask, “What’s working? What’s not? What do you need? Why do you stay? What would enhance your work experience?” Use surveys, meetings, focus groups, water cooler conversations, shared elevator rides, you name it. Find a multitude of ways to elicit employee input, then listen to and act on that information. If time is an issue, as it always is, focus on your best talent, the ones you most want to retain.
I’m not telling you to stop exit interviewing, just to take the information with a grain of salt* and supplement data with a healthy dose of feedback from current rock star talent.
Otherwise, we are scrambling to shut the gate after the horse has gone.
Image by eggman
*Are people honest in exit meetings? Some are. Others hold back out of fear of burning bridges. Then there are the mediocre employees or the disgruntled; how much time should we invest figuring out why they left?