Constructing exit interviews for optimal improvement?

When constructing exit interviews, our goal should be to collect reliable data and identify actionable items that can help improve employee satisfaction and retention.  Here are some ideas on what to consider when designing exit interviews; this is a non-inclusive list and I am not pretending they will apply to all organizations. This is more of a brainstorming item and hopefully will be used as a conversation starter.

Start by identifying the main factors that can impact employee’s satisfaction and retention.  These factors vary between industries and even between different departments, but here are some common ones:

  • Hiring process: Not hiring the right people with the right skills, over promising on job conditions, hiring the best just to do repetitive work, do their values match company values?
  • Leadership: Are leaders removing obstacles and inspiring people or are associates achieving goals despite leadership.
  • Work conditions: Do employees have the right tools, training and support? Is there flexibility on their work? Is the on call rotation too frequent? Do they feel appreciated?
  • Is the job interesting and challenging? Do we have the best people in the industry to have them perform the simplest activities? Do employees feel challenged? Do they feel they are making a difference? Is it important to them to be challenged?
  • Lack of opportunities and recognition: Are employees feeling “stuck” and believe the only growing opportunities are outside the organization? Do they feel their leaders appreciate what they do?
  • Is company compensation really competitive? It’s not only about the salary but bonus, benefits, training, flexibility and other compensation factors need to be considered.

Once main potential factors have been identified, one needs to decide what to ask, how to ask it, and how to record the data in order to make it possible to analyze.

Face to face exit interviews are a great resource since HR associates add the ‘human’ factor to the conversation.  As a complement to the face to face interview, offering a digital option where individuals can rate their leaders, tools, culture, etc. might provide additional insight; some people feel more comfortable and can be more sincere when adding data to a computer than talking to a person.

How to collect the data? By having ‘scores’ as well as comments. One can have a more complete story.  From a score of X to Y how would you rate…?  While these questions are normally focused on feelings, they need to be expressed as concretely as possible.

Questions need to be direct and clear: Was compensation a strong factor on looking for different opportunities? The answer options can be a score from strongly agree to strongly disagree or can be more direct multiple options like: ”The Only Factor,” A Major Factor”, “Kind of important”,  “Minor” or “Not A Factor At All”.

One more aspect to consider is to have a series of sub questions depending on a specific question.  For example to a question like: “were you satisfied with leadership?” if the score is below a specific value, a more direct question could pop up;  “Was  your direct leader a major factor on leaving the organization?”; If the answer is “yes”, maybe add a space for comments, if it is “no” maybe ask something like “what leader or leadership level influence your decision the most and what actions impacted you the most?“

Confidentiality has to be addressed and reassured. Does your company an exit interview process set up that allows for maximum transparency? Do you think exit interviews help for the leaving employee and the company?  The more we share, the more we all benefit.






Quote Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.

James Belasco and Ralph Stayer

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