Exit interview sign

I was speaking on the phone to a family member yesterday evening. They have recently handed in their notice as they have decided to take early retirement from their role as a senior director within a large, global organisation.

We got onto the subject of exit interviews. They’d asked their HR team whether they were going to have one. Apparently exit interviews were carried out ‘at the discretion of line managers’, without intervention from HR. In any case, the individual in question was apparently unlikely to have one. After all, they were retiring. The reason they were leaving employment was obvious. Where would the value be in spending time undertaking an exit interview?

The most valuable feedback opportunity you get

I find this response staggering, because to me, an exit interview is one of the most valuable opportunities you have to collate genuine, open feedback from your employees. Now, I know that some organisations might argue that, by undertaking an exit interview, you’re speaking to an employee who is not going to be a part of the future of the business going forwards. They’ve already made their decision to move on. Dependent on the circumstances surrounding their exit, they may be actively disengaged. Can you still really get genuine value from the exit interview process as a result?

Full and frank feedback

I would argue yes, absolutely. While I don’t think for a moment that exit interviews are the only opportunity for you to obtain employee feedback, I do think that they are, by their nature, the point where you are likely to get the very frankest feedback. An employee who is exiting the business is unlikely to hold back in their response. This does need to be taken in context – an employee who is leaving the business because they felt it was unfair that they were taken to a disciplinary by their line manager will clearly have their views towards their line manager impacted as a result – but I still believe that, particularly when built up over a number of employees and across a period of time, this is likely to be some of the most important insight regarding how your people perceive their employee experience that you’re going to be able to get your hands on.

The exit interview process

Questions are often asked around when, and how, an exit interview should be carried out, in order to obtain maximum value from it. Here at Benefex, we schedule ours in two parts. The first part is carried out immediately after an employee hands in their resignation. At this point, you have an opportunity not only to capture their raw gut reaction behind their reasons for leaving, but also to understand any business critical tasks they are currently working on, and therefore put in place a transition plan for a handover during their notice period.

The second, longer, part takes place on their very final day of employment with us. The rationale behind this is that, at this point, they are likely to be the most open about their experience with us and the most receptive to providing feedback. We ask them questions around a number of areas, ensuring answers are given in quantitative format wherever possible to allow us to rank and score feedback. We also seek a degree of qualitative feedback to support this and to help us identify priority areas to address.

HR involvement

Both parts of the exit interview are carried out by a member of the HR team. We’ve all heard the old adage that the majority of people leave their roles as a result of their line manager. While this isn’t reflected in the feedback we’ve had from our exit interviews here at Benefex, I do believe it’s important that exiting employees have a chance to speak openly with someone who they are less likely to have a personal – and potentially emotive – relationship with. We also reassure employees that their comments won’t be fed directly back to their line managers. I think it’s extremely important that managers have an understanding of the reasons employees are giving for leaving their teams, but I also believe this is best delivered as an objective overview as opposed to through sharing the full detail of individual exit interviews.

The follow up process

Finally, and most critically, we look at how we then make use of that feedback. The exit interview process only really delivers business value when you follow up on the feedback you receive and look at how you intervene in the case of recurring themes to ensure they don’t continue to be factors behind employees leaving. For example, we were seeing a clear trend through our exit interview process whereby employees in entry level roles were citing salary as a primary reason for leaving. When combined with the feedback we also received through our employee survey, it was clear that entry level salaries were an area we needed to address.

Living Wage accreditation

We subsequently took steps to become accredited as a Living Wage Employer, and introduced a new transparent salary banding framework at the same time. Since receiving our accreditation in April this year, no entry level employees have cited salary as a reason for leaving, and we have seen our employee turnover rate drop by almost 5% from the start of 2016.

Going back then, to the family member who I referenced at the start of this post. While they are taking early retirement, they have chosen to retire early because of a number of elements within their working environment which are heavily impacting on their enjoyment of their job role. The vast majority of these will not be unique to them as an individual. Unfortunately for their HR team, they are now potentially going to miss out on the opportunity to understand these and be able to address them, in order to prevent others from experiencing similar and also leaving the business.

Delivering an engaging employee experience

We know that employee feedback is key to helping us to deliver an engaging employee experience. With this as a driver, the exit interview process becomes more important than ever. We therefore have a responsibility as HR professionals to ensure the value which is able to be extrapolated from that process is delivered, and that we never miss an opportunity to seek it out.