Creating an Effective Offboarding Program with Exit Interviews

Posted on Scientific Staffing. 5 October, 2017

Most companies understand the importance of effectively interviewing job candidates and creating a successful onboarding program, as no company can be successful without attracting and retaining quality employees. Unfortunately, few companies have the same awareness regarding the value of their offboarding program, the foundation of which is the exit interview.

Companies often provide unsuccessful job candidates with feedback about how they could improve their skill set and/or interview skills, yet neglect to collect feedback from departing employees as to why they are leaving. This is a significant missed opportunity, as employees who are leaving often have valuable insights for the company that could be used to initiate significant operational improvements.

Discovering why employees leave should be an essential part of an organization’s strategic planning. A successful offboarding program can, in fact, generate a number of important benefits for your company:

  • Reveal critical information about what is and what is not working within your organization
  • Highlight hidden challenges and opportunities
  • Uncover Human Resource (HR) issues
  • Generate intelligence on the competition
  • Confirm the skill sets, experience, and attributes needed for the job in question
  • Improve your recruitment process
  • Enhance employee retention, performance and morale
  • Gain insight into manager leadership styles and effectiveness
  • Reduce litigation issues
  • Turn departing employees into corporate ambassadors

Let’s examine how to create a strategic offboarding program that generates ongoing, long-term benefits for your organization.

Components of a Successful Offboarding Program

A successful offboarding program will have a number of key components:

Management Buy-In: The most important component of an effective offboarding program is a leadership team that is open to the feedback and options for change that the program will elicit. Without buy-in from the management team, the information gathered from exit interviews will end up facilitating nothing more than wasted time and energy. In order to capture the above-mentioned benefits, companies should organize an executive committee to oversee their program’s design, execution, and results.

Willingness to Change: Management buy-in signals both a respect for employee feedback and a willingness to change. When employees see multiple coworkers leave for similar reasons and nothing changes, they get discouraged and begin to feel like exit interviews are pointless. Employees are generally more excited about working with instead of for someone. When a management team respects and acts on employee feedback, it creates a positive environment that fosters collaboration and leads to enhanced employee retention, morale and performance.

The Right People Conducting Exit Interviews: Exit interviews should not be conducted by the direct manager of the employee who is leaving, as many employees leave a company because of their relationship with their direct supervisor. As a result, exit interviews conducted by direct supervisors can be awkward and are not likely to gather the kind of useful information that is necessary to facilitate meaningful change. Instead, have someone from your HR department, a second-line manager (direct supervisors’ manager), or a manager from another department conduct the exit interview. Whoever does the interview, they must be a good listener and be able to gently probe the person being interviewed for the full truth.

Share the Feedback from Exit Interviews: It is important to have a consistent process in place to share the feedback from exit interviews. The HR department should compile and analyze all the information they gather from exit interviews, and then present this information, along with any recommendations for change, in a meeting with appropriate stakeholders on a regular basis. The frequency with which this meeting is held can vary depending on the amount of exit interviews conducted during any given period. During periods of high turnover, a weekly or monthly feedback meeting can be appropriate. Otherwise, quarterly meetings may suffice.

Act on the Information: The information garnered from exit interviews should be treated like gold and incorporated into as many aspects of the company’s operations as possible. The best companies incorporate feedback from exit interviews into their annual reviews, recruiting strategies and methods, management development program, employee training and professional development programs, strategic planning, etc.

How to Perform an Exit Interview

Exit interviews deserve as much preparation as regular interviews. The departing employee’s direct supervisor should be consulted and information in their employee file should be reviewed carefully.

Exit interviews can be conducted over the phone, in the form of a written survey, as a computer-based survey (e.g., SurveyMonkey), or face-to-face. Of these, only face-to-face and telephone exit interviews give you the option for a back and forth conversation that can reveal additional insights. While face-to-face exit interviews offer the opportunity to gather the most information, some departing employees may actually feel more comfortable expressing themselves in writing, especially if they have a lot of negative feedback to give. It may therefore be wise to encourage face-to-face exit interviews, but also offer employees other options in order to maximize participation.

Whatever form the interview takes, all departing employees should be encouraged to do an exit interview. Due to at will employment laws, however, exit interviews need to be entirely voluntary – you cannot make them mandatory. While you are primarily interested in the feedback of employees who voluntarily terminate their employment, you can also obtain useful feedback from those fired for attendance or performance issues. As in-person exit interviews with terminated employees can be somewhat uncomfortable, it may be best to set up computer-based surveys for these cases.

The utility of an exit interview depends entirely on the ability of the departing employee to give honest and forthright feedback. As such, it is important to create an environment where the departing employee feels comfortable being candid. Always start by explaining that the purpose of the exit interview is to help the company retain current employees and improve the company. Additionally, let them know that information conveyed in exit interviews will be kept strictly confidential – their name will never be associated with their responses. Explain that all feedback from exit interviews is anonymized and presented to management in an aggregated format. The one exception to this is if the employee communicates any criminal behavior (e.g., sexual harassment, discrimination, etc.). In such cases, the company is obligated to take action.

Outsourcing exit interviews to a third party is a great way to help departing employees feel comfortable being open and honest. This option also likely ensures that your exit interviews will be conducted by an experienced interviewer who is trained in gathering systematic data. The only downside to this option is the cost involved in outsourcing.

What to Ask in Exit Interviews

The most important question you need to ask in an exit interview is: What caused you to start looking for another job? Yes, fantastic opportunities do sometimes fall in a person’s lap. Sometimes an employee’s spouse lands a new job in another state, and the family decides it’s worth moving for. More often than not, however, an employee leaves because they are not happy with their current job. An exit interviewer’s job is to find out exactly what the issues were that lead the employee to start looking for work elsewhere.

The short list of questions below provides helpful starting points when trying to determine what lead to an employee’s departure and needed improvements. Remember though that standardized interview questions will rarely provide unexpected insights. The interviewer will often have to dig to get to the root issues involved. The person conducting the exit interview should be prepared to ask follow up questions after each response in order to obtain clarification and a complete understanding.

Exit Interview Questions:

  • What caused you to start looking for a new job? Were there specific issues/events, or was it a gradual change?
  • What is your main reason for leaving?
  • Any other reasons for leaving?
  • Have you shared these issues with anyone else in the company? What was the response?
  • What has been the best part of your job with our company?
  • What do you like about our company?
  • If you could change anything about this company, what would it be?
  • How was your relationship with your manager? Is there anything your manager could do to improve his/her management style or skill?
  • Do you have any messages that you would like to give to management about how the company could be improved?
  • Did you have any conflicts with other team members that contributed to you leaving? If so, how can we improve our team dynamics?
  • How do your colleagues feel about their jobs?
  • How do your colleagues feel about the company?
  • What was your experience of employee morale and motivation levels in the company?
  • What is the number one thing we could do to improve company morale?
  • What would you recommend to help us create a better workplace?
  • Do you have any recommendations for how we could improve the products/services we offer?
  • How did you feel about the benefits package and compensation we offered you here? Any suggestions for how we could/should improve in this area?
  • Did we give you the resources, support and training you needed to be successful in your job? If not, what was missing?
  • What aspects of your new job/company caused you to accept the offer?
  • What key qualities and skills should we be seeking in your replacement?

Make sure to always end your exit interview on a positive note. Thank the departing employee for their time and let them know that their feedback will be utilized to improve the company. Wish them well in their new endeavor.

Retention Interviews

If you are learning about how your company can improve during an exit interview, it is usually too late to take action that will help to retain the departing employee. The best time for an employee to be discussing concerns, dissatisfaction and suggestions for improvement with his/her employer is while they are still a committed employee. Make sure your organization provides multiple avenues to gather and learn from employee feedback – department meetings, employee satisfaction surveys, retention interviews, etc.

Exit interviews should be the final in a series of retention conversations with employees that are focused on building relationships, receiving feedback, and improving the organization. These retention interviews should revolve around the following basic questions:

  • Are we helping you be successful in your current position?
  • Are we helping you create a successful career?
  • Are we making a contribution towards you having a fulfilling life?

Successful companies create a company culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas and issues openly – good ideas and/or issues are acknowledged and acted upon. Such a company never punishes employees for sharing thoughts and ideas, but instead encourages open communication between team members and management. At the best companies, the retention process begins on the day of hiring and continues for the duration of employment.

Conclusion

No business wants to lose quality employees, as talented people are the foundation of organizational success. Companies need to learn from departing employees, and a thoughtful exit interview provides a good look in the mirror that is essential for your companies’ continued success.

The best organizations put as much effort into their offboarding program as they do their onboarding program, but the reality is that most companies don’t even bother to conduct exit interviews. The ones that do often don’t gather and analyze the data. Few companies gather and analyze data from exit interviews, and then share that data with the company leaders that can act on it to make critical improvements. The companies that gather, analyze and act on exit interview data are the ones that everyone wants to work for. These companies generally have their pick of the talent pool, and effectively retain this talent to become the leaders in their industry.

About The Author

Chris Beaty is the Managing Director for the Western Region of Astrix Technology Group’s Technical Staffing Division. He has more than nineteen years’ experience in staffing and recruitment, and has held sales, recruiting, and leadership roles with staffing industry leaders specializing in IT, Scientific, Clinical and Engineering. Prior to Astrix, Chris was responsible for developing and executing national sales strategies, which resulted in the development and growth of national accounts that became top tier clients of a large staffing provider. He has developed and served a variety of clients across nearly all industry verticals, driving growth and strategy with both large national clients and a number of mid-sized market leaders. 

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