Nothing makes your heart sink like seeing a white envelope on your desk or hearing one of your employees say, “Can we talk for a minute? I have some news.” Resignations can be hard to face, with many owners feeling personally gutted that an employee has chosen to leave (as well as being happy for them, that they have a new opportunity to look forward to). With the NZ talent market being as tight as it is and good people being hard to find, you want to do what you can to hold on to your team. It’s usually better to retain your best people than it is to find another one that can fill their shoes. So if you do find that little envelope on your desk, use it as an opportunity to learn about how you can improve your business to keep your good employees.
If you don’t already do exit interviews, I suggest you start. Exit interviews offer us the chance to do a reality check against our employment policies, company culture and perception. You might view your workplace in a certain way but is that the truth for your employees? Use exit interviews wisely and they’re a tool for positive change.
Here’s my advice on how to hold an exit interview for the best insights:
Let the employee speak without any judgment or qualification. This is their chance to speak their mind and it should act as a point of positive closure for them and you. You don’t want people leaving an exit interview (still) disgruntled. It needs to be a real person-to-person conversation and not merely a formality or ceremony performed simply for the sake of protocol. If you think off-site over a coffee will put them more at ease than having it in the office, go for it.
It can be beneficial to have two people (beyond the person leaving) at the interview. That might be the owner, an HR person, the employee’s manager’s manager or a mentor you use. You want them to be more senior and independent. You definitely don’t want their direct manager included — this is the employee’s chance to talk openly and honestly about their experience and they’re more likely to temper it if their direct manager is there, especially if that’s a main driver for them leaving.
Avoid defensiveness and refrain from offering possible fixes or excuses for any issues the employee raises. Instead, let the employee vent and share, and push them gently to suggest possible solutions. Ask them, “How do you think we could do that better?” or “How do you think we could improve or avoid that situation?” or “What do you think would make a difference here?”
Time-wise, exit interviews are best carried out a week or so before their last day, or about a month after they have left. Don’t do it in their last few days as they will naturally be disengaged and already checking out. If you check in with the leaving employee a few months after they leave, you’ll get even more valuable feedback from them and they’ll speak more honestly and from the heart, which is a good thing — just make sure they know before they leave that you’ll do this, otherwise they might feel like an after-thought and not give you a thoughtful response.
Best practice: do two exit interviews, with the second one a few months after the first. Especially for an employee who you saw potential in or who was in a senior position. You can vary your method here, doing one in person and one by phone or online survey. People differ in how they prefer to share feedback — some will email through screeds of information while others prefer to do it vocally, face to face.
Treat departing employees with respect and gratitude. This isn’t an “out to get you” moment — it’s a chance for you to learn more about your business and where you can possibly improve. You want a departing employee to leave as an ambassador and customer. It goes without saying that they’ll be happier to share insights if they feel like you value their opinion, rather than feeling like they need to be on the defensive.
Go beyond just “listening” to them — try to “hear” what they are saying, reading between the lines. Often people don’t like giving bad feedback, especially if they like you, their colleagues and the business, so it might take some insight from you to really figure out what the key issues were. An exit interview should be measured by the positive change it generates so make sure you follow up and act on the feedback you get.
Just like a good coaching session, the best exit interviews are planned out. Put the time into crafting the best questions for each specific person. We trust some of the selection of questions below will be helpful for you.
- Why did you come and work for us in the first place?
- Did your job and career with us work out as you had expected when you joined us?
- What caused you to want to look for a new job?
- What is (are) your main reason(s) for leaving?
- What does your new position offer that influenced your decision to leave?
- What are you excited about with your new job? And where do you think your new job will be better than your current job? What does your new job offer that we have been unable to?
- What were the best parts about your job here?
- What were your greatest accomplishments in your job here? Things you are most proud of?
- Did your job duties turn out to be as you expected?
- What was least satisfying parts about your job?
- What were your greatest challenges in your job here?
- What would you change about your job?
- Is there anything that would have changed your mind about leaving? Including anything that we could have done to help you stay?
- Do you have any ideas or solutions around the reasons that led to you leaving your job?
- Did you feel equipped to do your job here?
- Do you feel you were recognised for your job achievements?
- Was our workload about right or not enough or too much?
- Did you feel you could have honest and open conversations with your manager?
- What things could your manager have done better?
- Did you feel a valuable part of our company?
- Any thoughts on what skills and qualities you think we should look for in your replacement?
- What advice would you give to someone who is stepping into the role you’re leaving here?
- In your opinion, what would need to change for someone else with your skills and talents to be happier in this work and team?
- How do you think your fellow team members find working here?
- What were your biggest learnings in your job and working for and with us?
- How did you find our company’s commitment to (whatever underpins your company’s success ie quality and customer service)?
- What were the good parts of our culture that you will miss?
- What were the not so good parts of our culture that you will not miss?
- How would you describe our company culture to your best friends?
- Did you share any of your concerns we discussed today with the company before deciding to leave?
- I’m looking for any feedback on literally any part of our company so please complete the sentence: “I don’t know why the company doesn’t just __.”
- Anything else you’d like to add that would be good for us to know?
- So in summary, what made you want to leave our team and be part of a different team was… (This where you’d reiterate what you think they’ve shared around why they’re leaving.)
- Would you ever consider returning to work for us in the future?
- Would you recommend our company to a friend looking for a job? Why / why not…
We wish you the best with your exit interviews and wish you well in getting value out of having proactive conversations with leaving team members.