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In defense of exit interviews: Why it still deserves to be a part of your plan?

Like Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven, you may say to them, “Deserve’s got nothing’ to do with it”, as a parting remark.

But can you fathom the mental state of ‘exiting’ employees, when they’re moving out of their cabins, handing over the keys, returning office equipment, putting their desk’s contents in a cardboard box, amidst uttering grateful and humble so longs?

Regardless of it being a voluntary exit, retirement or sacking, more than pacification; being comprehended correctly, can be a comforting factor for both–the employer and the employee. This is where exit interviews come in.

For employees, exit interview can be a chance to understand what went wrong or to explain what didn’t go down well with them; but for employers it offers a much larger scope of improvement. Let’s explore some aspects attached to the drill.

Truce building, exchange of views, opinions and chit chat

A quote from, SHRM’s 1995 whitepaper ‘Exit Interviews’ by Nina Drake and Ian Robb says,

exit interviews represent a prime opportunity to gain candid information on employment conditions.”

No matter how long an employee has been in your organization, it’s imperative to understand why the association is ending. How did the organization turn against someone they had zeroed upon at one point of time or why someone who was doubtless about staying on board is looking for a change now. Here’s what exit interviews can typically help you with:

  • Making peace with a miffed employee — These situations can be real eye openers. The exiting workers’ perspective on the organizations functioning, facilities, perks, management and the work culture can tell you things you were oblivious to till now. On the other hand disgruntlement can be utterly unreasonable or the employee might be making a mountain out of a molehill. You have to know the difference, and figure out the fixtures for future discrepancies.
  • Give employees a voice, empower them — It’s one of the few ways to empower your employees. Holding exit interviews sends out positive vibes to your existing employees. Instead of brushing aside employees’ opinions as noise, exit interviews offer them an opportunity to share what’s really on their mind. It shows that organizations are willing to lend an ear (giving them a tacit edge on compassionate grounds), making it a win-win situation for both.
  • Immense help to HR — If your firm’s current policies and culture is your Bible, then exiting employees’ suggestions can offer you some fresh views on the age old sermons. You can review the suggestion as many times as you want, then include, not include, modify, strike off or do nothing. The point is, it’s always better to have diverse views. You can use the suggestions to make enhancements in training, development, recruitment, culture and company clauses. Note: The same employee may not offer a wholehearted advice till the time he or she is in the service.
  • Convey your appreciation/discontent — Even if you’ve praised their performance time and again, one last token of appreciation would make the retreat more memorable. If someone has been terminated, then a good humored, lighthearted conversation can ease off the situation. However, if the termination has been due to something really drastic like inappropriate behaviour or leaking classified information, etc., you have full right to withhold the Interview altogether. It would send out a message that you want to burn your bridges, but so be it.

As an employer, you define your goals

Save sacking/retiring employees, every leaving employee has a reason. Your best efforts should be to unravel that. The causes of why employees choose to leave are numerous. While the most prominent one is ‘a better opportunity’, it can even be lack of facilities, work-pressure, unjust behavior, etc. In a retail environment, improper delegation of work can lead to issues. While duties can be streamlined through a staff scheduling software, having exit interviews can actually help you eradicate issues from the root.

Also, exit interviews should be more about listening rather than talking. It’s largely a feedback session.

If they’re unwilling, don’t compel!

It’s alright to gently coerce, but these Interviews shouldn’t be an imposition. There’s no need to revisit the wounds of a disgruntled employee. In fact, try to comfort them as much as you can. If they choose to say no, then let them be.

You may try and offer them questionnaires or exit interview forms too.

Compelling for an exit interview is especially futile when someone has resigned for a better ‘opportunity’. Let alone doing any drop of good, it would only bring insult to injury, as nothing would influence their decision.

Hire a third party to conduct interviews!

It may not be a great idea to employ an immediate supervisor for the task. For all you know they might be the reason behind the exit. Sending in someone from the HR may not help either, as they might look like an ally.

Exit interviews must be conducted not just skillfully, but with empathy. Rope in a third party professional if you can. There are dedicated agencies for the job, who’ll send over professionals to take care of the business. Dissatisfied employees may feel more comfortable blurting it out in the company of someone they don’t know.

Another option is to hold the interview outside the organization’s premises. This will definitely egg on the employees to speak out.

Final thoughts

The HR community has forever been divided into two warring factions on the question of exit interviews.

The ones’ against exit interviews feel they do nothing more than killing your time and resources.

While it might be so for one particular industry or nature of work, it’s certainly not true for every industry. In cases of high attrition, companies can take a constructive advice, formulate a plan of action on the whole feedback, not on individual reactions.

In entirety, if an exit interview concludes on an amicable- ‘that’s the way the cookie crumbles’ note, it would mean the matter was ostensibly, handled well.

And who knows a leaf or two from a few exit interviews turns out to be a manna from heaven!

Bimal Parmar
Celayix Workforce Management Solutions

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One thought on “In defense of exit interviews: Why it still deserves to be a part of your plan?
  • Good article and I particularly endorse 2 points: don’t compel anyone to participate and hire someone external to do the interviews.

    Let me add one other thought. If we are going to invest time and some money in doing exit interviews to gain some insights into the why of employee resignations, should we not also invest some time in doing “stay” interviews with employees who are not resigning. These can be combined with employee satisfaction surveys or org evaluation/reviews.

    It strikes me that those who are choosing to remain employed also have insights to offer and perhaps we should consider their opinions to have equal weight with those who are leaving.

    There is some interesting information on this in “From Hiring to Firing – A No-Nonsense Guide to Managing Employee Performance” at