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Should I conduct Exit Interviews with my employees? 

The Pros and Cons...

Exit Interviews are standard practice in many organisations, and involve a discussion with an employee when they are leaving an organisation.  They can be a valuable opportunity to gather feedback about the employee’s experiences during their time there, as in theory as the employee is leaving, they may be less guarded about what they say.  By understanding this feedback and the reason(s) that the employee is leaving, this can provide the employer with an opportunity to improve and an insight into what works.   

Exit Interviews can also be helpful when an employee is leaving in difficult circumstances, to seek to understand if there is a risk of legal action.  They can also send a message to the outgoing employee that their views are valued, and can provide an opportunity to “get things off their chest” if there are things that have been bothering them. 

It is for these reasons and others that for many years now Exit Interviews have been considered good practice by HR practitioners.  But are they appropriate in all circumstances? 

The answer to this in part depends on what the employer intends to do with the information gathered from Exit Interviews.  If a number of people tell you that they are leaving due to a tyrannical manager, or because the pay is not high enough, and this information is ignored, then it may be that there was little point in conducting the Exit Interview.  In some cases, it could even create a record that proves unhelpful at a later date – for example, if you are trying to defend a case at an Employment Tribunal, and records that show that somebody reporting discrimination months ago but nothing was done about it, this could be unfavourable to your case. 

However, this is not an argument for not undertaking Exit Interviews – rather, it demonstrates the need to view Exit Interviews as a process which includes follow-up actions (or investigations, if appropriate), rather than just the interview itself. 

It can also depend on who is undertaking the Exit Interview.  If the employee is confronted with their tyrannical manager for this purpose, then they re unlikely to open up (particularly if they are still working their notice, and/or want to maintain professional networks).  An independent manager or an HR person (either somebody internally, or an HR Consultant) is therefore much more likely to be suitable.  HR practitioners will also be experienced in feeding back the information in such a way as to focus on key HR issues and organisation learning.   

The circumstances of the employment ending will be a factor in how helpful the information gained is – somebody who has just been dismissed for gross misconduct may not have the most balanced points to make! 

However, regardless of the above, there remains a fundamental problem with Exit Interviews – the horse has already bolted.  The employee has given (or been given) their notice and is planning a future outside of the organisation.  Sometimes they may be tempted to stay with a counteroffer, but research shows that in the majority of cases, they will still leave within twelve months anyway1 (research on the exact percentage varies, but many articles cite 80% of people leaving within twelve months of a counteroffer2). 

As such, it is important that employers do not just rely on Exit Interviews to gather feedback from employees – after all, prevention is better than cure.  Other approaches including employees forums, surveys and opportunities during the appraisal process can be valuable.  Salary benchmarking can play an important role in ensuring salaries remain competitive.  We have also seen a recent growing interest in “Stay” (or “Retention”) Interviews, which cover many of the key themes of Exit Interviews, but take place regularly with employees during their employment. 

If you are an employer and would like advice and support on how to gather meaningful employee feedback and implement the learning from this, ViewHR are here to help.  Please contact us today for an initial discussion.