1. Inform your people
As with exit surveys, employee exit interviews shouldn’t catch your people (especially those leaving) by surprise. Communicate to them that you’re setting up the process to improve the company and employee experience, preferably during an all-hands meeting or standup.
We recommend also including exit interviews in your employee handbook, which all of your colleagues — including new joiners — should have access to. The idea of handing information on leaving the company to people who are just joining may seem strange, but it’s actually a display of transparency and a people-centric culture.
If your organization values transparency, all offboarding steps should be part of your onboarding documentation. Also, you’ll be communicating that you care about their thoughts and continuously improving as an employer.
2. Define the interview’s questions
A structured interview is a must, but choosing exit interview questions can be challenging.
Things to consider when choosing questions:
- Standardize questions and don’t change them unless you have a good reason to. Otherwise, you won’t benefit from the insights gained from aggregate data.
- Always keep your organization in mind. What’s the style of your organization? What kind of communication do you have with your people? The questions you choose should reflect your company’s voice.
- What are your company’s core values, and can you build questions around them? If, for instance, your company values teamwork above all else, give special consideration to teamwork-related questions.
3. Define the interviewer(s)
There’s not a single right way for all companies — the decision of who should conduct an exit interview can be pretty individual.
A survey with respondents from 210 organizations in 35 countries revealed that, among the companies that had an exit interview program (75%), 70.9% had interviews conducted by HR/People Ops. 19% chose the former employee’s direct supervisor for the talk, 8.9% had the immediate supervisor’s manager run an exit interview, and 1% worked with external consultants as interviewers. The researchers found that “interviews conducted by second- or third-line managers are most likely to lead to action.” As it can be challenging to gain honest insights in interviews run by direct managers, many companies choose more neutral parties.
However, you may still conclude that an interview conducted by the person’s direct manager would be more in tune with your company culture. Whichever your decision is, be mindful of your employee’s privacy and don’t put them in an uncomfortable situation.
4. Define a timeline
To create the ideal timeline for your company, consider the following:
- Will you conduct exit surveys? Ideally, people should have enough time to decompress between answering their exit survey and having their exit interviews. Even for voluntary turnover, these processes can cause some anxiety.
- It’s not a good idea to conduct an exit interview right after someone quits — after all, this can be an emotionally charged time.
Some experts say that “the most productive moment to conduct the initial EI [exit interview] is halfway between the announcement of an intention to leave and the actual departure.” This way, emotions can cool down, but wouldn’t be so late that the employee may be fully disengaged.
Others advocate for exit interviews after the person has already left the company (e.g., one month later). The arguments are that the person may be more relaxed and more open to being candid, especially if they have already requested and received reference letters from your company.
5. Schedule and conduct the exit interview
As with exit surveys, respecting people’s privacy is fundamental. Let them know that their results will only be shared with the company as anonymized, aggregated data — and, of course, honor that.
If using a people enablement platform like Leapsome, you’ll be able to easily schedule the interview while keeping the agenda and notes in the same place.
Interviewers should be prepared to listen, above all. This is not the time to persuade someone to stay or to present arguments against someone’s opinions.
It’s helpful to ask additional questions for clarification. You should try to get to the core of topics, but don’t make it an interrogation, don’t invalidate the soon-to-be former employee’s experience and reasons behind their decision to leave.
Follow-up best practices for conducting an employee exit interview
(Continuously) dig into the data
As you conduct exit surveys with more people, you’ll have more consolidated data that might help you spot trends that weren’t so clear before. Working with exit interview data to improve the employee experience and increase employee retention is not a one-time thing.
Conducting exit interviews without committing to change is just lip service and not a good employer branding idea. Consider scheduling recurring meetings with other stakeholders — these can be C-level executives, founders, people ops colleagues, or other people interested in supporting these initiatives. Have a clear agenda, share positives and negatives from exit interview data, and brainstorm solutions and changes.
And don’t try to focus on multiple topics at once. Work on a few areas for improvement at a time, starting with the most critical. Usually, those will be issues pertaining to the lowest scores or most negative sentiment analysis.
As an example, you might find out that many people left because of a lack of career opportunities and progression. Here, focus on creating development frameworks for your company’s various departments, with transparent information and average timelines to achieve the next level.
Keep your people in the loop
Transparent communication drives engagement, and that includes sharing the good and the bad. Although sharing the results of every meeting and discussion on exit interview analysis would likely be tiring for all, consider sharing a roundup with trends and, most importantly, initiatives and results of these actions. You can do this in an all-hands meeting, or you can share a simple presentation with simple graphs and key points with your people, making it clear that you’re happy to answer questions that may arise.
— Exit interviews shouldn’t be your only structured meetings. Whether you’re fully remote, hybrid, or in the office, scheduling focused meetings can help you improve alignment and engagement across your organization. We’ll tell you all you need to know about conducting 1:1s and how to run OKR check-ins. 😉