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How to ask exit interview questions that provide insightful responses

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Many companies conduct exit interviews when employees leave, and for good reason. This smart practice can help your company manage employee turnover and satisfaction. However, it’s only effective when it includes the right exit interview questions.

The Value of Exit Interviews

When an employee turns in a resignation letter, it may be too late to do anything to keep them. They have likely already made up their minds and may have already accepted a position with a different company. However, this doesn’t mean there’s no point in learning more about their decision to leave. In fact, talking to an employee who’s already decided to quit is a unique opportunity to learn what your workers think about your company.

Current employees may be reluctant to share their honest opinions. Even when the feedback is anonymous, employees may worry that their managers will be able to figure out who said what and use it against them. However, employees who have already decided to leave likely do not have this concern, meaning they may be more willing to share their thoughts. This makes the exit interview process a potential source of valuable information.

One Resignation May Be the Tip of the Iceberg

There’s another reason to conduct exit interviews: doing so could help you keep ahead of a staffing disaster.

Employee turnover is expensive. The actual cost depends on many factors, including the details of the company’s recruitment process, the amount of on-the-job training required and the employee’s compensation. However, according to Gallup, the cost of replacing an employee could easily be half to two times the employee’s annual salary – perhaps even more. Employees quitting unexpectedly may have a massive impact on a company’s bottom line.

Turnover is also disruptive. When you lose an employee, you lose that person’s skills and experience. Other workers may have to take on higher workloads until you’re able to hire and train a replacement, which may impact employee morale. Plus, projects may be delayed and there may be an impact on the customer experience and client relationships.

The situation could go from bad to worse if multiple employees quit within a short time span. Unfortunately, this may happen if one employee’s resignation causes a domino effect. If other employees have already been thinking about quitting, the resignation of one team member may convince them that leaving is a smart idea, or they may quit due to the impact on workloads and employee morale.

An exit interview could help you determine why an employee quit and if more resignations are likely to follow. The exit interview responses could also help you identify problems in your company, enabling you to proactively address these issues before more employees decide to jump ship.

How to Encourage Honest Feedback

Although employees who are quitting may be more willing to provide honest feedback than those who want to keep their jobs, they may still be hesitant to tell the truth. For example, they may worry that their employers will retaliate with negative references. In small industries, employees may worry about being blacklisted. Some employees may simply feel uncomfortable saying negative things. Plus, since they’ve already decided to leave the company, they may not feel there’s much point in doing so.

The following tips can help you encourage honest feedback:

  • If possible, conduct the exit interview in person. Sometimes, people might have a tendency to rush through filling out forms.
  • Thank employees for their time. The exit interview could benefit the company, not the worker who’s already quit. People may be more willing to spend time sharing information if you express gratitude.
  • The information that is provided should be confidential.
  • Explain why your company is interested in constructive feedback – to fix issues that might cause current and future employees to quit, to create a better work environment and to improve employee morale.
  • Create a non-threatening environment that could help individuals being interviewed feel comfortable.
  • Give individuals plenty of opportunity to provide their thoughts. Closed-ended questions may be helpful for metrics, but they might not provide the same insights as open-ended questions.
  • Ask follow-up questions. When individuals provide short answers, express your interest and ask for more details and examples.
  • Avoid arguing. You may disagree with the employees’ responses, but the exit interview is their chance to speak. If you challenge what they say, they may stop providing insights.

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Exit Interview Questions to Ask

Having a list of exit interview questions can help you obtain the information you need without leaving an important topic or question out.

You may need to add or modify questions according to the specifics of the situation, such as what is happening in the company and the employee’s position. For example, if your company is undergoing a merger, you’ll probably want to ask questions about how the transition has impacted workers and whether that contributed to the employee’s decision to quit.

To help you get started, here’s a list of potential exit interview questions:

  • What are your reasons for leaving? This question gets to the heart of the issue. Some employees might have personal reasons for leaving, such as a spouse in the military who’s being relocated to a foreign base or early retirement after inheriting or winning a large amount of money. Reasons like this don’t say anything about your company and don’t indicate that more resignations are on the horizon. However, if an employee quits due to burnout, toxic company culture or low compensation, it’s possible that other employees are thinking about quitting for the same reason. Since this is an important question, it may require some follow-up questions. For example, if the departing employee has found a new job, ask if they were actively looking for another job. If so, why did the individual begin seeking alternative employment? If an employee cites one issue as their main reason for leaving, follow up by asking about secondary reasons.
  • How would you describe the company culture? A toxic company culture could drive away your best talent. The exit interview can be a good opportunity to find out if the culture your workers experience on a daily basis matches your company’s value statements. In addition to asking a broad question about culture, you may like to ask the individual how successful they think the company has been in fostering the culture it strives for.
  • How was your work-life balance while working for our company? Worker burnout has the potential to become a major problem, which could lead employees to look for new jobs with greater flexibility. The exit interview can be a good time to find out if your company might be missing the mark on work-life balance.
  • How would you describe your relationship with your supervisor? People often quit bosses, not jobs. If your workers are leaving in high numbers, management may be the reason. Follow-up questions should ask if employees have the tools they need to succeed and whether they feel appreciated.
  • What did you like most about working for the company? An exit interview shouldn’t focus only on the negatives. Finding out what employees like about your company can help you lean into those strengths.
  • What were your biggest frustrations about working for the company? This question may help you identify the biggest problems at your company.
  • If you could change one thing about the company, what would it be? This could be another way to focus on your company’s biggest problems, since this question can give employees a chance to offer suggestions. They may have great ideas that you can implement.
  • Do you have any other feedback for us? Ending with an open-ended question can be a good way to find out if you’ve missed anything. It may prompt employees who have been holding back an opinion to share it.

Asking insightful exit interview questions is just one of the many tasks human resources teams need to juggle. If your HR department needs some extra support, Higginbotham’s HR services can help.

Not sure where to start? Talk to someone who wants to listen.

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