Exit Interviews: The Unexpected Goldmine for Business Growth!
Exit Interviews are Essential
This might seem unlikely, but Exit Interviews are an essential part of recruitment.
An Exit Interview is a meeting between an employee who’s leaving (even if made redundant) and a representative of the business, such as someone from human resources or the employee’s manager. Its main purpose is to get feedback on the firm’s hiring and management and, if not made redundant, to find out what contributed to the employee’s departure. The insights gained can profoundly improve your recruitment and management, and your overall business.
When and where to hold an Exit Interview
It’s best to hold Exit Interviews offsite. Departing employees often feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts when they aren’t in the work environment, and you won’t need to worry about being interrupted.
There’s a school of thought that says that you should hold Exit Interviews a month after an employee has departed so that they don’t interfere with the obtaining of references. I don’t hold to this. There’s little incentive for former employees to attend, and they’ll likely have forgotten seemingly small but important details.
I recommend holding Exit Interviews on the last day of employment. By this time there’ll be less of a fear that an employer will make a departing employee’s life difficult, so they’ll feel able to be candid. Also, information is still fresh in their minds and they’ll offer more useful insights.
Who should hold an Exit Interview?
I recommend that only one person from the organisation holds the Exit Interview, otherwise it can feel like an inquest.
Ideally, the employee’s manager should host it because their knowledge will allow them to extract more information. However, if the employee’s manager was seen as the problem, this may not be forthcoming. If there’s friction between the two of them, the manager might filter out key findings or be less inclined to share them. If this is likely to be the case, then find someone else. Preferably, this would be someone more senior or someone from human resources. If you don’t have anyone suitable, consider using a non-executive director or HR consultant.
<div class="grey-callout"><p><span class="text-color-purple">Tip:</span> A common mistake I see is not being thorough and asking appropriate follow-up questions. This is usually because:</p><ul><li>You no longer trust the employee and since announcing their departure you can only see the ‘bad’ side of them, so you don’t value what they say.</li><li>You’re concerned that if you delve deeper, they may say something that reflects badly against you personally.</li></ul></p><p>If either of this points could be an issue, you probably aren’t the best person to host an Exit Interview.</p></div>
<span class="navy-callout">You can download an Exit Interview script from www.starget.co.uk/book.</span>
What to say in an Exit Interview
It’s very important that you set the right tone so that the departing employee feels comfortable:
- Provide reassurance that everything they say may be treated as confidential (using “may” gives you an opt-out).
- Say that you will happily provide a reference, but you don’t need to mention if the reference will be positive.
- Show compassion for their situation.
- Say how sorry you are to see them leave. The business wants to improve and prevent further employees from leaving. This is a great opportunity to create a positive lasting impression.
- For the conversation to be a success, you need honesty.
A typical conversation would start with: “Thanks for taking the time to meet me. I want to start off by saying that everything we discuss here may be treated confidentially and we will happily provide a future reference. Naturally, I’m really sorry to see you go, and I’d like to learn from this experience because what we discuss today could really help the business improve. Clearly, I need you to be really honest. Don’t worry about offending me – please tell me what I need to hear. Does this sound ok to you?”
Ask questions in a logical order
Before they joined your company:
- <span class="is-speech">“I’d like you to think back to when you accepted our job offer. With the benefit of hindsight, where perhaps did we not meet your expectations?”</span>
- <span class="is-speech">“What is it you particularly enjoyed about your job?”</span>
- <span class="is-speech">“What did you not enjoy or could have been improved?”</span>
- <span class="is-speech">“What was a source of frustration?”</span>
- <span class="is-speech">“What stopped you from getting your job done effectively?”</span>
- <span class="is-speech">Discuss anything else that may have changed in their role and hastened their departure.</span>
- <span class="is-speech">“Overall, how well do you think our staff are treated?”</span>
- <span class="is-speech">“What could we do to improve how staff feel about working here?”</span>
- <span class="is-speech">“How could you have been supported better?”</span>
- <span class="is-speech">“How do you think we could do a better job of helping our customers?”</span>
- <span class="is-speech">“What are our competitors doing better than us?”</span>
Reasons for leaving (don’t ask if you’re making them redundant):
- <span class="is-speech">“I know we’ve discussed this before, but just to make sure, what are your reasons for leaving us? Why else?”</span> (If necessary, suggest other reasons that may have influenced their decision.)
- <span class="is-speech">“What are you hoping your new job is going to offer you?”</span>
- <span class="is-speech">“If you were in my position, what’s the one thing you’d start working to fix? What would be next on your list?”</span>
Is there anything else?
- <span class="is-speech">“Is there anything going on in the organisation that you think I should know about but may not see?”</span>
- <span class="is-speech">“Is there anything else you’d like to discuss so that we can improve the company?”</span>
Finally, what about you?
- <span class="is-speech">“Obviously, no one is perfect, me included. Have there been times when I’ve said or done something that has frustrated you?”</span>
- <span class="is-speech">“What else would you recommend I improve on?”</span>
Remind the employee of restrictive covenants
At this point in the meeting, it may be worth reminding the employee of any restrictive covenants.
These are clauses in an employment contract that restrict an employee’s ability to compete with their former employer after their employment ends. They include requirements to not divulge the employer’s confidential information, trade secrets and customer relationships. Typical clauses include:
- Non-compete clauses, which prohibit an employee from working for a competitor for a certain period of time after their employment ends.
- Non-solicitation clauses, which prohibit an employee from soliciting their former employer’s customers for a certain period after their employment ends.
- Non-disclosure clauses, which prohibit an employee from disclosing confidential information after their employment ends, often with no time period specified.
It’s worth consulting an employment solicitor as restrictive covenants aren’t always enforceable. A judge may decide that a clause is unreasonable if it applies for too long, is too wide ranging or is overly restrictive. They’re more likely to be enforceable for restrictions on the sharing of trade secrets than for those that prevent someone from earning a living. For this reason, solicitors normally recommend that boilerplate restrictive covenants are reserved for senior leadership. I often find that reminding employees of these clauses in their contracts is sufficient to encourage the behaviour you want because it can be so time-consuming and expensive for them to contest it.
Outcome of an Exit Interview
The feedback you receive may leave you thinking that the employee is deluded and feeling glad that they left.. However, very often I’m amazed by how objective and balanced the feedback is. Sometimes I’m shocked by the insights – there are so many things I didn’t know. During one Exit Interview I hosted, an employee effectively turned whistle-blower and informed me of an accountant had taken over £400,000 out of the business! (The accountant eventually ended up in jail for two years for fraud).
Where appropriate, take time to prioritise any action points.
When staff see a colleague leave, they may lose confidence in the organisation, be made aware of other job opportunities and become more susceptible to being poached. To reduce this kind of contagion, I recommend prioritising any points raised in the Exit Interview about how staff are treated, how they feel and how they can be supported better.
Diarise a call with the departing employee
Losing a Great Performer can be extremely costly to a business, but there may still be a chance to rescue the situation.
Within the first month, a new starter is vulnerable. The excitement of a new team, role and challenge may have worn off. They may be experiencing buyer’s regret. Reality may not have lived up to initial expectations.
Therefore, put a reminder in your diary to call them unexpectedly one month after they’ve left. There’s little point asking how their new job is going because it’s human nature not to admit a mistake. Instead, approach the conversation in the following way: <span class="is-speech">“Hi Joe, I was just thinking about you and how much we miss you on the team. So I thought I’d call and ask if there’s anything we could do to welcome you back?”</span>