The focus of this article is not primarily designed to demonstrate the value of an exit interview for an exiting employee. The benefits for exit interviews, in most cases, are clearly recognizable for several reasons. Obviously, a good portion of the exit interview is based on wrapping up HR details such as completing final paperwork for payroll and insurance, collecting keys, and turning in computers and other company equipment. Beyond that, the input from exiting employees may provide tangible considerations for management as well as an opportunity to look at a bigger picture of retention trends, as it relates both to the company and the industry in general. The exit interview is also an occasion to provide closure for the exiting employee. Whatever the primary purpose of the exit interview, it is important for the exiting employee, whether leaving due to voluntary or involuntary termination, to be heard and to be respected.
It’s understandable that there are some employees where exit interviews will be more valuable than others. If someone quits on the spot, it may not be possible to conduct an interview. When an employee has only been at the company a short time or has multiple infractions and a bad work ethic, the company may forego the time and effort to have the exit interview. However, for most employees, exit interviews are recommended.
Understanding the value and potential return of investing time and effort in exit interviews, the focus of this article is to consider whether exit interviews are better led by a company employee, either the direct supervisor or HR staff, or through an outsourced agency.
Company-Led or Outsourced Agency-Led Interviews
At first thought, it may seem callous to outsource an exit interview. After all, doesn’t the exiting employee deserve a few minutes of management’s time? Especially if the employee is leaving on good terms, doesn’t that bit of time demonstrate care and respect?
There are many reasons why direct supervisors prefer to remove themselves from the exit interview process. Most don’t have the specific understanding and knowledge for the benefits and payroll forms that need to be completed. Interviewing may not be their strength. Many supervisors travel so the interviews have to be delegated to HR staff or other management. Also, if there is tension from a disgruntled employee, the supervisor may feel a wariness in being involved. Practically speaking, the supervisor is in the process of “moving on”. They have hired a new person and are concerned, and rightly so, about the future.
If an employee has been celebrated, listened to and respected throughout his/her tenure at that company, then that care and respect will carry through to the final day, whether or not company staff conduct the exit interview. If the employee hasn’t been celebrated, listened to and respected during his employment at the company, then that final interview won’t change the perception of lack of care, even if the exit interview is personally conducted by the direct supervisor.
Components of an Exit Interview
In determining the person best suited to lead an exit interview, it’s necessary to look at the fundamental components of the exit interview and the intended usage of information gleaned through the interview. As mentioned earlier, the most obvious benefit to this dedicated time is wrapping up details and paperwork. However, there is valuable information to be gained through an intentional strategy for exit interviews.
Careful well-planned questions, people who are truly listening, and a non-confrontational setting all set the stage to gain the most value in an exit interview. For the majority of exiting employees, there is a nugget that may be gleaned for future use in the company. Questions such as whether the employee had adequate training for the job, whether the expectations were clear, whether the employee’s skills, talents and personality were a good match for the job description all may provide clues for management in both hiring strategies and performance management strategies. Internal culture questions on topics such as communication realities, employee morale, recognition of performance, the health of the team, the fairness of compensation and job security are all also important. Giving the exiting employee an opportunity to make suggestions and express concerns with the preface of making the company an even better place for employees will show respect and honor to that person.
Benefits of Outsourcing the Exit Interview
Any meeting, interview or not, is set by the tone of the person leading that meeting. If that person stages the interview with a careful positive framework, the interview will provide the best atmosphere to respect and value the employee and provide a safe place for transparency, even while setting subtle boundaries on the negatives that may need to be shared.
Outsourcing doesn’t demonstrate that care and respect aren’t given to the exiting employee. Outsourcing recognizes the expertise and value-added contribution of the outsourced agency. Supervisors and even company HR staff have many varied tasks on their schedules and perhaps haven’t had the experience or time to study critical nuances in interviewing. The outsourced agency knows what questions to ask and what questions to avoid, such as asking the exiting employee where they are going to work. They also know how to frame the questions to get the most informative responses.
Outsourcing provides several other benefits in an exit interview. There is no “history” and therefore there should be less tension in the room. The outsourced agency doesn’t know the company culture or internal issues so they will be able to remain neutral throughout the meeting. The exiting employee may feel more comfortable expressing concerns to a third party rather than to a direct supervisor, or HR staff. Finally, the outsourced agency is able to provide an unbiased view of the employee’s departure to management.
Outsourcing at it’s Best
When reflecting on the optimal exit interview strategy, consider the recommendations below:
- Some employees leave quickly so it may not be possible, but it is recommended that the exit interview questions be given to the employee at least 24 hours before the actual meeting. This will provide a transparency to this meeting so the employee is less likely to walk in defensively. This will also allow time for the employee to mentally and emotionally process the questions, bring additional insight to the exit interview and allow the employee to have more clearly articulated thoughts.
- It is recommended that the direct supervisor provides the outsourced agency with a little information prior to the interview. Answers to questions, such as the ones below, will help the outsourced agency shape the interview and tailor it to that particular exiting employee.
- Does the supervisor know why the employee is leaving?
- Is the employee leaving on good terms or bad?
- Has the supervisor met with the exiting employee?
- Are there concerns that the outsourced agency should be aware of, before stepping into the meeting?
- Have other employees left for similar reasons?
- Define what will happen to the exit interview material gathered. If it’s from an outsourced agency, a report will be sent to management. Does this material sit in an employee’s file, never to be seen again? Is the material read and suggestions considered for positive changes within the company? Is the material combined with other exit interview reports to look at trends within the company and within the industry?
Exit interviews may be an extremely beneficial strategy for the employer, if handled with thought and purpose and if the material is proactively used. Interviews may also be a positive closure method for the exiting employee, providing a chance to process their thoughts and emotions before they walk out the company door a final time. It is recommended that management considers the best method of exit interviews for their company culture as well as the recognizable benefits of utilizing experts in the exit interview process.
For additional information on the topic of exit interviews, please contact New Focus HR at www.newfocushr.com.
Written by: Kathi A. Walker