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Do You Need To Conduct Exit Interviews? 10 HR Pros Weigh In

When an employee — especially a top performer — quits their job, human resources often wants to know why, and what the company could have done to keep that person. That's why many organizations conduct exit interviews upon an employee's departure.

But these conversations aren't always productive. According to Harvard Business Review, exit interviews often fail to produce useful information because many employees don't want to be as candid as an employer expects. They may not want to burn bridges by speaking ill of their supervisor, or they're already emotionally checked out and aren't "motivated to explore their feelings."

This leaves HR departments with a lot of questions: Are exit interviews even necessary? Should they be held with all, none or only a select few — and if you do only conduct them for some employees or positions, how do you choose which ones?

To help you decide what's right for your company, 10 members of Forbes HR Council shared their opinion on the exit interview.

1. Conduct Stay Interviews, Not Exit Interviews

Exit interviews are too late in the process to truly make a difference in the employee life cycle. The more radical approach is to conduct STAY interviews. Conducting quick check-in interviews throughout the first 90 days of employment will allow HR to capture data earlier to adapt their recruiting, on-boarding and training processes to make a lasting impact, and address any managerial behavior issues.

2. Provide Feedback More Often

People want more feedback along the way in their careers, not just when they are leaving. The industry is working hard to eliminate annual reviews and exit interviews, and replace them with ongoing visibility and feedback.

3. Create Transparent Communication Via One-On-One Meetings

Let’s get rid of the annual performance reviews and replace with one-on-one meetings that are frequent. These meetings can be bi-weekly or weekly if performance is an issue. Meet with your team early and frequently to build clarity around expectations and show support. This will limit the need for exit surveys and should improve retention.

4. Interview All Positions, But With Varying Frequency

Exit interviews can be an invaluable tool for employers to gain important feedback from departing employees as to what’s working and what needs improvement. While all employers should conduct exit interviews, some entry-level or lower-paying positions will consistently have higher turnover, regardless of employee feedback or resulting changes, and therefore may be conducted with less frequency.

5. Take The Opportunity To Listen And Learn

Employers should take and make opportunities to listen and learn. An exit interview is a great, natural opportunity to do this. Don't stop there. Listen and learn from all levels of the organization on a regular basis and through all stages of the employee life cycle, including departure. The opportunities to gain insight, pivot wisely, coach and more are available if we listen and learn.

6. Conduct Exit Interviews For Salespeople

Exit interviews are necessary for both employers and employees, but especially for salespeople. If salespeople make up the majority of your staff, you need to find out what makes the best employee at your company. The best source is people you hired who were let go or quit. I like to know what we could have done better and what the candidate could have done better to succeed. Keep it simple.

7. Be Proactive, Not Reactive

Conducting exit interviews can be useful to the organization, only if leaders plan on actually acting upon what they have learned during an employees departure. I would recommend companies be proactive by providing stay interviews and randomly surveying employees. This will also help you gauge the temperature of your organization or a particular department.

8. Exit Interview Programs Should Be Strategic

Employers should conduct exit interviews for all employees but consider different delivery models depending on the criticality of the role to the company’s ability to achieve its mission, e.g., written surveys vs. in-person interviews. The exit interview program should be strategic and create a mechanism for the company to learn from its greatest resource.

9. Create Exit Interviews For All Or None

If your company decides to conduct exit interviews, do it for all departing employees of all levels. Choosing one department or level of staff may look like you only value their opinion. Although an entry-level employee may not know as much about the company, as an executive, you still want to make sure employees at all levels are heard. Different positions offer different perspectives.

10. Find Root Problems From Departing Employees With Generous Feedback

For many reasons, employees will hold back information and feedback that could be putting your org at risk. For example, it may take several employees leaving before management realizes that one supervisor is the cause. Departing employees feel they have less to lose and tend to be more open and generous with feedback. This feedback allows organizations to make corrections before bigger issues arise.

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