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Employee Surveys, Survey Questions

How To Conduct Employee Exit Interviews and Questions To Ask

Employees come, employees go. Of course, it’s not that simple. The cost of replacing an individual employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary. This really adds up, especially with millennials’ tendency to move freely from company to company – more so than any other generation. Today, the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) puts the average turnover rate for employees at around 20%. So how can organizations reduce that number and the amount they spend on hiring replacements? One answer is to conduct employee exit interviews.

What Are Exit Interviews?

An exit interview is typically a face-to-face meeting or an online survey between a departing employee and an HR employee. The interview or survey collects frank and honest feedback from the employee who is leaving. It is administered to an employee whether they’re resigning or are being terminated. 

The importance of exit interviews cannot be stressed enough. Feedback gained from conducting them can inform organizational improvement and development initiatives. It also provides insight into the overall employee experience. This includes workplace culture, day-to-day processes, management solutions, concerns about misconduct, and employee morale. Depending on the result of the interview, organizations can identify opportunities to improve retention and employee engagement.

Exit Interview Best Practices

Ready to start conducting successful exit interviews or exit surveys? Here are some things you can do to make employee exit interview data collection matter.

Ask Questions – But Pay Close Attention to Answers

What is the employee saying – or not saying? It’s easy to assume you’re understanding their responses, but sometimes words don’t convey true feelings. So, try to stay attuned to subtle differences in meaning as well as body language. Be sure to check out these scientific ways to tell if someone is telling the truth or not. Showing interest by writing down statements from the employee may lead them to be more open with information sharing.

If you’re conducting an exit interview via an online survey, of course, writing down responses won’t be necessary. Be sure to read our blog 7 Ways to Get the Truth on Surveys if you conduct your exit interview online.

Pro-Tip: For employees leaving of their own volition, be sure to ask the most important question: What caused the employee to start looking for a new job in the first place. Generally, happy employees don’t look for another job. There’s often a catalyst that causes them to start searching, such as feeling underpaid, undervalued, or overworked. They may also just be looking to escape a toxic workplace environment.

Create a Comfortable Exit Interview Environment

If an exiting employee feels uncomfortable or pressured during an exit interview, they’re more likely to hold back. So, it’s important to create an environment in which the soon-to-be ex-employee feels comfortable being honest with their answers. Encourage them to criticize processes and methods. Assure them there’s no punishment for sharing thoughts (e.g., smaller severance package, negative references, leaking their responses to others, etc.). 

Despite your encouragement, departing employees may still worry about burning bridges due to their negative feedback. One way to get them to open up is to inform them that their feedback will be compiled with others. The compilation can then be presented to management in an aggregated format so their words can’t be attributed to them. For online exit interview surveys, keep them anonymous and highlight survey security.

Look for Positive Aspects of Your Company, Too

Not all exit interviews uncover negative aspects of your organization or dirt on other employees. Oftentimes, you’ll identify positive attributes of your organization. Highlight these attributes to increase the desirability of your workplace, increasing retention and attracting new talent. 

Almost nothing is off the table in an exit interview, So, be sure to ask about compensation and benefits at competing companies. You may learn that you’re at or near the top which is something to highlight to new hires! You can also ask the exiting employee directly for any positive feedback they want to share. Perhaps they have good things to say about managers, culture, company vision, etc.

12 Benefits of Exit Interviews

There are a few drawbacks to exit interviews, which we’ll cover next. But for the most part, exit interviews are very useful. They allow you to:

  1. Gain insight into employee turnover, taking action to reduce it by eliminating negative workplace experiences.
  2. Understand positive aspects of the company, and highlighting them to increase retention and attract new talent.
  3. Gain insight into organizational problems that were not obvious to leadership. This could even uncover major problems, such as harassment or discrimination, which will require investigation.
  4. Collect company-owned equipment and provide final paperwork/paycheck.
  5. Inform the employee about benefit continuation.
  6. Review continuing obligations such as non-competes, intellectual property agreements, etc.
  7. Gain intel about the employee’s new job. What made the deal so sweet? Did it offer a better title, salary, or benefits? This may inform your policies and pay moving forward.
  8. Ask any last-minute questions related to their job or role. This may provide a smoother transition for the person taking over their position.
  9. Open up a conversation about what could convince the employee to stay or to return at a later time. Some employers do this if the company finds the employee extremely valuable.
  10. Get honest feedback (departing employees tend to be more forthcoming than those still in their jobs).
  11. Let disgruntled employees go on a positive note. This may dissuade them from bad-mouthing the company or leaving negative online feedback on job sites such as Glassdoor.
  12. Gain insight in a very easy and cost-effective manner, especially when conducted through an online survey. An online exit interview takes very little time out of the HR staff’s day.

Exit Interviews Drawbacks

There are a few possible cons to exit interviews, as mentioned. However, none of these should deter you from conducting them. For example, an exit interview could be:

  • Wasteful. The employee may hold back for fear of burning bridges, providing no actionable insights for the HR team.
  • Difficult. Is the reason for the employees’ departure tense? The exit interview may then be uncomfortable and result in a spread of tension without a clear benefit.
  • Unproductive. If actionable information is uncovered but there’s no following up and making changes, the exit interview wasn’t worthwhile.
  • “Too little, too late.” Disgruntled employees realizing they needed to quit for the company to care about their concerns may become more upset.

Using Data From Exit Interviews

The Harvard Business Review reports that more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies conduct exit interviews. However, only about 40% of them view the practice as successful. Of course, exit interviews are only as valuable as the actions they inspire. So, an essential next step is analyzing and interpreting employee answers. 

By analyzing responses, you’re likely to find patterns that can inform solutions. Do a number of employees say they feel overwhelmed? You may need to offer better job training or a mentoring program. Are most employees leaving in search of a bigger paycheck? Perhaps your salaries are well below the national average. Is a particular manager consistently being singled out in exit interviews as a problem? It may be time to have a conversation with him or her. 

Collecting information in exit interviews and doing nothing with it misses a valuable opportunity for change. Taking action benefits the company and employees. So, be sure to share findings with decision-makers who are interested in improving the organization and retaining employees.

Top Exit Interview Questions to Ask 

Here are some general exit interview questions that you’ll want to ask. You’re likely to have many more questions based on your company, industry, and the employee’s position. Questions may also be tweaked depending on whether the employee is leaving voluntarily or being let go. However, these questions are a good place to start!

Management/Leadership 

Do you feel your manager/leadership gave you the tools you needed to succeed?

Oftentimes, employees feel overwhelmed and it can be due to a lack of attention from leadership. Some employees need regular training, one-on-one meetings, and access to resources. If these aren’t provided, they may feel left to fend for themselves.

Did you feel like your manager/leadership recognized your achievements?

Everyone likes to feel appreciated, and recognition is one way to accomplish this. If departing employees frequently state their contributions go unnoticed, it may be time to institute a program of recognition.

Did you express any of the concerns we discussed today with your manager/leadership before deciding to leave?

If the answer is “no,” you may need to encourage employees to speak up. You’ll also want to make sure they’re comfortable enough to do so. You could also send out regular employee satisfaction surveys. If the answer is “yes,” but nothing was done to address their concerns, it’s time to speak with leadership about listening and acting on employee concerns.

Job Position/Responsibilities

What did you like best and least about your job?

This exit interview question can help you determine what may get future candidates excited for the position. It can also provide the opportunity to make adjustments to aspects of the job that employees are unhappy with.

Would you say your job has changed since you were hired?

Was an employee enthusiastic about their job, but over time became more and more despondent? Job roles can change over time based on the needs of the company – for better or worse. Understanding this can inform job descriptions so new hires know what to expect.

How can we improve the company/your department?

Sometimes you just have to come out and ask the big question! You never know, a departing employee may have a lot of good ideas for how you can improve. If action is taken, this can deter others from leaving and boost employee morale.

Resignation Reasons

What prompted you to look for another job opportunity?

Is the employee relocating or going back to school, or are they unhappy or underpaid? The former lets you know your organization wasn’t necessarily to blame for their departure. The latter shows there are some internal issues to dive into.

Is there anything that would have changed your mind about leaving?

Exiting employees may be hesitant to say why they’re leaving. By rephrasing the question and asking what would have made them stay, you can still get to the crux of their resignation.

Would you recommend this company to a friend? Why or why not?

Although an employee has decided to leave, they may have really enjoyed their time with your company. If so, they may recommend it to others. This is important knowledge to have as former employees can be excellent referral sources.

Overall, how much did you like working here?

Employees may have one big beef that can seem all-consuming. However, they may have otherwise been very happy with the job. So, be sure not to overlook the positives by asking this question.

Additional Exit Interview Questions to Ask 

Here are 15 more multiple-choice questions you’ll find on Survey Legend’s Employee Exit Survey template. The template also includes open-ended questions for employees to get more specific about their experiences.

  1. How effectively were your skills put to use?
  2. Was your position here helpful for your professional growth?
  3. How well do you think you were paid for the work you did?
  4. Overall, how fairly were you treated?
  5. Were the expectations that were set for you made clear?
  6. How reasonable were the decisions made by your supervisor?
  7. Did you feel respected by your supervisor?
  8. How well did the members of your team work together?
  9. In a typical week, how often did you feel stressed at work?
  10. How difficult was it for you to balance your work life and personal life?
  11. Was your health insurance plan better, worse, or about the same as other employers?
  12. How safe did you feel at this workplace?
  13. Did you find your work environment comfortable overall?
  14. How well did you feel employees here prioritized tasks?
  15. Overall, how much did you like working here?

Conclusion

Unlike older generations, many of today’s employees don’t stick with the same job for decades or until retirement. In fact, a recent Gallup report shows that more than 20% of millennials say they’ve changed jobs within the past year. That’s more than three times the number of non-millennials who report the same! So, employee turnover is not going to go away. However, you can reduce turnover with exit interviews and surveys, uncovering challenges and opportunities. Acting upon them will create a more desirable workplace.

Does your company conduct exit interviews? How about employee exit surveys? Do you feel they’re beneficial for your company? Let us know in the comments!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is an exit interview?

An exit interview is an in-person meeting between a departing employee and company management or an online survey.

Are exit interviews held with employees who are being fired or who are resigning?

Conduct exit interviews with employees regardless of the reason for leaving. Results of both types of interviews are beneficial to management.

Why do exit interviews?

Feedback from employee exit interviews informs organizational improvement and development initiatives, reducing turnover and attracting new talent.

What is better, an employee exit interview or an employee exit survey?

Both means of gaining feedback have value. If the employee had a negative experience, it’s possible they may be more forthcoming in an online survey as they may be uncomfortable or intimidated when speaking poorly about the company in a face-to-face interview.

About the Author

Jasko Mahmutovic

Born entrepreneur, passionate leader, motivator, great love for UI & UX design, strong believer in "less is more”. Big advocate of bootstrapping. BS in Logistics Service Management. I don't create company environments, I create family and team environments.

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