Employee is talking to an HR manager going through the exit interview process.
Sep 20, 2022   |   By TeamSense

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

No matter the circumstances, losing a team member from your company is never a good feeling. The silver lining? Their departure can give you insight as to how your company can grow and improve for current employees and future hires.

It’s no secret that employee exit interviews can be awkward—both for the HR manager and for the employee leaving the company. But with such a key opportunity to learn, it’s important that HR managers don’t let this moment pass them by or shove the responsibility onto someone else. Exit interviews are a “once an employee” type of moment that shouldn’t be thrown away.

Exit interviews can impact the existing employee experience and boost employee retention with learning that can impact company policies, benefits, and management.

What Is an Employee Exit Interview?

The classic exit interview happens when an employee has decided to quit and has given notice. A meeting between the exiting employee and an HR manager or leader is scheduled. 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 about why they are leaving. Exit interviews can help to understand what went wrong with the employment relationship and provide valuable insight for the company.

Exit interviews are famous for being awkward, impersonal, and a time for disgruntled employees to vent. But when done the right way, exit interviews can be incredibly insightful in understanding what needs to change in your organization.

When Should You Have an Employee Exit Interview?

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

That said, you don’t have to have an employee exit interview before a team member heads out the door for good. Some companies even wait a few months post-employment to have the exit interview in a much more relaxed atmosphere. By this time, the employee has moved on and can answer the questions a little more objectively (and honestly).

Why Are Employee 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, let's say the competitor down the street is offering better childcare benefits—your company might never know if it weren’t for the questions asked in employee exit interviews. The exit interview is a time to find out how big the gap is between what employees want and where you are offering.

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Who Does an Employee Exit Interview?

While HR is typically responsible for conducting exit interviews, sometimes it may be someone else in a leadership role or management position. But, no matter who it is, the information still needs to be relayed to company leadership. This is essential so that they are clued in on the main causes of employee retention and turnover in their organization.

How to Conduct an Exit Interview

How to conduct the exit interview is up to you and your company's protocol. You might want to have every employee exit interview face to face to make it more personal. Or you might want to send a survey to the former team member once all the dust of their departure has settled. The choice is yours. Here are some of your options for how to conduct an exit interview. 

In-Person Meeting

Ah yes, the standard in-person exit interview with HR on an employee’s last day. This is probably what most people picture in their minds when they think about employee exit interviews, but this style is actually becoming less common nowadays.

In-person exit interviews are great for creating that personal touch and leaving things on a positive note with your soon-to-be former employee. But if things are ending on not-so-good terms, an in-person interview might pour salt into the wound.

Phone Call

Although this option is less personal than sitting knee cap to knee cap, a phone call can be a good option for how to conduct an exit interview. If you’re relying on a phone call, it likely means that some time has passed (which can be good if the parting wasn’t on good terms). Having an employee exit interview over the phone can give the former employee time to collect their thoughts and express them freely.

Online Survey

If you manage a large workforce, an online survey that can be done without hassle is ideal for employees. This is your best bet if you want to do the exit interview after an employee has already left the company. The easier they can access the interview and the less time it takes out of their lives, the better. Having an exit interview take place through a survey means that you could get more honest answers too.

An image of a sheet of paper with the words employee exit interview written in bold at the the top with some questions showing.

Employee Exit Interview Questions: What Should Managers Ask?

Even 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. The way employees act when they leave a company says a lot about them. But how the company acts toward a departing employee also says a lot about the company. It’s your final chance to leave them with a good impression of the company. Let these questions help guide the conversation.

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

  • Are pay and benefits here up to industry standards? If the employee is leaving because they felt underpaid, they might just answer your question with a big “NO.” But this is still an important question to ask. This person has just been through the job hunt process—which means they’ve seen what other companies are paying for their position and experience. This is a great way to find out what competitors are offering and if your company is falling behind.

  • Is there anything that could have swayed you to stay? What kind of changes would have kept you? 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.

  • Would you ever consider returning to the company? Under what circumstances? Some employees who leave a company on good terms end up returning in the coming years. These are called “boomerang employees” because—you guessed it—they end up coming back to you. Boomerang employees can be a huge asset to a company. We’ve all heard the saying, “it’s hard to find good people,” and that’s especially true when it comes to finding a good culture fit. Re-hiring someone who left on happy terms and did excellent work for your company can be a very good thing. So take the time to dig deeper and learn if this employee would ever leave the door open to returning.

  • What did you like best/least about your position? What did you like best/least about your team? Your responsibilities? And your management? These questions will give you a chance to hear good things the employee enjoyed during their time with you while also learning about the negatives.

  • 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 uncover possible organizational flaws, whether a workflow issue, an unhelpful manager or something else.

  • Did you feel like management recognized your contributions to the company? Again, another awkward question on the list, but one with the potential to learn a lot. The answer to this question will give you insight into whether your company is succeeding in the employee recognition department. You can ask the employee to give you examples of the ways they felt appreciated and the ways they didn’t.

  • Did you have the tools, training, and resources to succeed in your role here? With this question, you may find out that your company is lacking continued growth tracks or certificates and training. You want to be able to provide ways employees can grow in their role and move the company forward. Asking this question can locate holes in that process.

  • How would you describe this company to a new employee? Another question to learn weaknesses, but maybe 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 where you will get your most valuable data. This question feels like they have a place to share what’s on their rminds.

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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 the leadership.

How to Summarize Exit Interview Results

After conducting an employee exit interview, you’ll have a lot of useful information on your hands. And after all those exit interview questions have been asked of the exiting employee, you have one question left to ask yourself—What do I do with all this information? Too many times, companies file it away and do nothing with the insights they just learned. In fact, 37% of HR managers say they rarely use exit interview data.# Don’t let that happen to you. Here’s how to summarize exit interview results.

  1. Track data points.

  2. Look for common themes that pop up.

  3. Schedule a quarterly meeting to share exit interview data with decision-makers.

For retention purposes, it’s essential that HR managers reveal this information to those in leadership who need to know. If you’ve had 50 mention working conditions and benefits as the reason they’re leaving your company—you need to look into that to reduce your turnover rate.

How Can Exit Interviews Impact Employee Retention?

Employee engagement is a leading factor in employee retention. But exit interviews will only impact employee retention when the learnings are taken to heart and used in ways that positively impact the rest of your employees.

It's estimated that 85% of employees aren't engaged at work.1 Even though that number can be hard to take in, there are still things you can do to turn the tide. Here are three factors that 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.

Use Employee Exit Surveys To Your Advantage

Exit interviews can tell you a lot. Don’t blow your shot to learn by not using employee exit surveys. You can use employee surveys anytime—not just when an employee is leaving—but they are even more essential when someone is on their way out the door. Listening to feedback matters—71% of employees say they are more effective at their job when they feel heard.2 And when an employee is exiting your company, it’s one of the final times you can get their take on things. Don’t miss your chance to learn from them and use that healthy feedback to improve the work environment for your team.

Remember, the main goal for exit interviews is to take action with the information you’ve learned to build a better workplace culture for your existing and future team. Use every employee departure as a chance to make your company 1% better.

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