Rob Smith of Hays Montrose explains how exit interviews can help you keep your staff.

What’s the purpose of an exit interview?

Are you worried that your staff turnover is higher than it should be? If good quality staff are resigning in large numbers, it could be that something has gone wrong in your organisation, and it is vital to find out exactly what. We all know what an arduous task it is looking and finding a new job, so if staff are content in their work and feel motivated, they tend not to do it.

Exit interviews provide an excellent way of exploring the reasons why an employee is moving to another firm. Often it is simply a case of an individual getting a better offer elsewhere. But if, for example, a senior manager unexpectedly hands in his notice, the exit interview can unearth any hidden agendas. It could be that the leaver is desperate for more responsibility or to broaden his or her skills. The exit interview is a forum to chat about other opportunities in the firm if the present position is unsatisfactory.

Who should conduct the exit interview?

An impartial staff manager who has had some contact with that person, possibly from human resources. It is possible that you may encounter some resistance from managers who fear that individuals will be trying to get their own back.

When should it take place?

An exit interview should be carried out as soon as the employee has handed in their resignation, because as time progresses it is less likely that the decision can be reversed.

Once the employee tenders their resignation, you should confirm the details, such as when they are leaving and where they are going. Taking part in the interview is not compulsory for the employee, but most will accept. Ideally, interviews should be carried out face-to-face, but they can be done over the phone or even by post if necessary.

What should be discussed?

Ideally, everyone who leaves a company should have an exit interview, but it is the key employees and those whose resignation has come as a complete surprise who should be targeted. The aim is to find out just what has gone wrong.

Suggested topics for discussion in an exit interview include:

  •  the job role

    If staff are content in their work and feel motivated, they tend not to look for other jobs

  •  training and development

  • management

  • working environment and culture

  •  company benefits

  •  reasons why they are leaving the company

  •  their overall opinion of the company

  •  why they are joining the new company.

What happens after the exit interview?

Feedback should be analysed and used to guide the company in its strategic planning.

There is no point changing company policy because of what a few people say in their interview, but if the same points keep cropping up again and again, they should be given serious consideration. For example, if female members of staff are leaving in large numbers, it is worth finding out why.Exit interviews can also highlight good practice within the business. Not all people leave a company because they have had bad experiences. These interviews can show that employees have been given good support and training.

The information discussed in an exit interview should remain confidential. It should be given to a director or senior manager in the company, not placed in personnel files, and a report should also be written outlining what is driving out good staff.