Employee Exit Interviews: What to Ask & The Impact on Employee Retention

Understanding when to conduct exit interviews and why they’re important for the hourly workforce

When an employee leaves a company, an exit interview is typically conducted to understand what went wrong with the employment relationship.

Exit interviews can be used to impact the existing employee experience and employee retention when the learnings positively impact company policies, benefits, or management (to name a few).

What Is an Exit Interview?

The classic exit interview occurs when an employee has decided to quit. It’s a chance for HR to explain the separation agreement, go over any severance pay and unused sick time, and a time to ask questions as to why they are leaving.

Commonly, the exit interview is looked down on as an awkward, impersonal requirement, and a time for disgruntled employees to vent. When executed properly, exit interviews can be incredibly insightful in understanding what needs to change in your organization.

When Should You Conduct an Exit Interview?

An exit interview should be conducted every time there is a separation between an employee and employer. The trick is to conduct the interview after the heat of emotions leave and before the employee becomes disengaged.

Some employers even wait a few months post-employment to conduct the exit interview in a much more relaxed manner.

How you conduct the exit interview is up to you.

  • Traditional face-to-face interviews are less common nowadays.

  • If you manage a large workforce, a web survey or a phone interview that can be completed without hassle is ideal for employees.

  • The easier they can access the interview and the less time it takes out of their lives, the better.

Why Are Exit Interviews Important?

The exit interview is a goldmine of information that can unveil what your company culture is really like from your employee’s perspective.

They can provide insight like where your company is missing the bar with employees or shed light on any managerial or team personnel issues that influence the employee experience.

When there is a problem between an employee and a manager that stems from the manager’s poor leadership or lack of empathy, upper management may never know until the exit interview. Or if the competitor down the street is offering better childcare benefits, the exit interview is a time to find out how big the gap is between what employees want and where you are missing the bar.

While HR is typically responsible for conducting exit interviews, it’s important for the information to be relayed to company leadership so they are clued in on the main causes of employee retention in their organization.

Should Exit Interviews Be Confidential?

Exit interviews should be kept confidential, but sharing high-level learnings with your leadership team is important. During the interview let the employee know how you will share the exit interview results with leadership.

What Questions Should Managers Ask in an Exit Interview?

Though exit interviews can feel a bit cold, when the right questions are asked, you can learn some valuable information and end the employee’s experience on a positive note.

  • What caused you to begin looking for another job? Did you voice your concerns with anyone before you gave notice? Here you can identify possible communication breakdowns with particular managers or lack of a viable reporting system.

  • Is there anything that could have swayed you to stay? The answer to this question will be very telling. If the answer is no from multiple departing employees, or if the answer is consistent, such as wages, or inflexible hours, it’s time to take a hard look at that.

  • What did you like best/least about your position? What did you like best/least about your team? Your responsibilities? And your management?

  • What was your biggest obstacle to success? What could be improved about this company and the way we support employees? This question can help you suss out possible organizational flaws, whether it be a workflow issue, an unhelpful manager, or something else.

  • How would you describe this company to a new employee? Another way to glean insight into weaknesses, but perhaps also strengths. Knowing what an employee likes about your company is just as important as knowing what they dislike.

  • Is there anything you’d like us to know that we haven’t asked? An open-ended question is possibly where you will get your most valuable data. This question feels like they have a place to share what’s on their minds.

How Can Exit Interviews Impact Employee Retention?

Employee engagement is a leading factor in employee retention, so exit interviews will only impact employee retention when the learnings positively impact the rest of your employees.

It's estimated that 85% of employees aren't engaged at work and three factors have a strong influence on employee engagement:

  • an employee's relationship with their supervisor

  • an employee's trust in the company's leadership

  • an employee's pride in being part of the team

When preparing for the exit interview, keep these areas in mind and ask questions with the intent to learn how you can improve relationships, trust, and pride in your organization.

Remember, the main goal for exit interviews is to take action with the information so you can build a better workplace culture for your existing and future team.

Leigh Reason is a seasoned content specialist with decades of experience writing on diverse subjects ranging from food to auto parts to human resources for companies such as Target, Citysearch, Healthline and Evite. She has also done numerous television appearances, including a regular segment on Los Angeles' ABC 7 News’ “Top 7” feature. When she’s not writing, she can be found baking pies for her dessert catering company.

See LinkedIn Profile