Employee exit interviews are an important part of HR management and monitoring employee retention and satisfaction. Just as it is important to hold a sales interview to find out why you did not get an account, it is equally important (if not, more important!) to understand why an employee leaves an organization and how, if possible, that information can be used to avoid future employee separations.

Avoidable employment separations can result from employee job dissatisfaction, poor management practices, lack of advancement opportunity, personal conflict, and even harassment by a co-worker or manager. A recent employee retention survey suggests that nearly 70% of employees leave their jobs because they do not feel valued.

Failing environments with low levels of employee retention reflect low levels of job satisfaction and come at a great cost to the organization. Not only is it expensive to hire and then train new employees, but it can have a negative impact on productivity and morale—all great reasons why getting the right information in an exit interview is important to improving employee retention.

Employee exit interviews can be conducted face-to-face, in the form of a written questionnaire, or over the phone. However, only face-to-face and telephone interviews allow you to explore responses and gain insight.

These exit interviews should focus on retention by identifying the reason the employee is leaving and also determine if the company’s level of performance or the employees’ unfulfilled expectations are at issue. Just as consumer retention views fulfillment from products or services as “delightful” or as a “failure,” employment environments similarly delight or fail. But in order to get the proper feedback, be sure you are asking the right questions.

Formulating Your Exit Interview Questions

The questions you ask during this interview are key to obtaining actionable information. Start your interview with light discussion to help your departing employee feel comfortable answering your questions truthfully. Assure the employee that no negative consequences will result from honest discussion and explain that you will use the information provided during the exit interview to help your organization improve and retain valued employees. Freely explore each response further for clarification and complete understanding.

To get a broad range of information, choose questions from several categories, or formulate your questions based on the categories that are most important to your department or organization. Below are some of the most common categories and questions:

Job History and Overall Evaluation

  • What factors led you to accept a job with our company?

  • How has your perception of those factors changed during the time you’ve been here?

  • What is your primary reason for leaving?

  • What triggered your decision to leave?

  • Did your job duties turn out to be as you expected?

  • What was most satisfying about your job?

  • What was least satisfying about your job?

  • What would you change about your job?

Job Feedback, Training, Reviews, Support, and Career Goals

  • Was the training you received sufficient to enable you to meet performance expectations?

  • What additional training should have been provided to you?

  • Did you receive adequate support to do your job?

  • Did you receive sufficient feedback about your performance between evaluation reviews?

  • Were you satisfied with this company’s merit review process?

  • Did this company help you to fulfill your career goals?

Job Improvements, Feedback, and Suggestions

  • How do you feel about the way our company is run?

  • How would you rate the morale in your department? Why?

  • Were you happy with your pay, benefits and other incentives?

  • What part did pay or benefits play in your decision to leave?

  • How did you view your chances for advancement?

  • What would you improve to make your workplace better?

  • How would you evaluate the quality of the supervision you received?

  • What could your immediate supervisor do to improve his or her management style?

  • Based on your experience with us, what do you think it takes to succeed at this company?

  • Did any company policies or procedures (or any other obstacles) make your job more difficult?

  • Would you consider working for this company again at some time in the future?

  • Would you recommend working for this company to your family and friends?

  • How do you generally feel about this company? Very Satisfied — Very Dissatisfied

  • What did you like most about this company?

  • What did you like least about this company?

  • If you could change anything about how our company operates, what would it be?

Employee Retention, Comments, and Suggestions

  • What motivated you to begin looking for another job?

  • What made you consider an offer from another company?

  • Before deciding to leave, did you investigate a transfer within the company?

  • Could this company have done anything to encourage you to stay?

  • What does your new company offer that this company doesn’t? (If leaving for another job)

  • Did anyone in this company discriminate against you, harass you, or cause hostile working conditions?

    • If the employee reports harassment, get very specific details and examples

  • What other comments or information would you like to share?

When the appropriate questions are asked, employee exit interviews can positively change the climate of the organization by changing management style, making changes that reflect employee opinions, and creating value recognition programs where needed. Make sure the questions you ask are ones that will elicit the type of answers that will most enhance and improve your department, and company overall.

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