Business · HR

Spotlight: Can Exit Interviews Really Improve Employee Retention?

Creating an effective employee retention program depends on a number of factors, from the culture of a company to the expectations of its employees. The ideal program is likely significantly different from company to company. To understand how to develop a more effective program, companies should ask the employees themselves.

All companies will lose employees. But, to lower attrition rates, it is important to understand why employees leave and make changes based on this knowledge. An excellent tool for learning why employees choose to leave is the exit interview.

Companies should never assume that they know the reason employees leave. In reality, the reasons that employees leave are incredibly diverse and always changing. However, exit interviews give important insight into the employee mindset and help human resources departments meet the constantly changing expectations of the workforce.

What to Ask during an Exit Interview

interviewExit interviews can be a powerful tool, but only if the interviewers ask the right questions. During the exit interview, the employee has already chosen to leave, so the focus should be on getting his or her impressions of the company rather than convincing the employee to stay. These impressions can extend beyond the immediate reasons for leaving.

Often, employees choose to leave because they simply receive a better offer elsewhere. While this is the immediate reason, this decision could point to a lack of development opportunities at the company or to a perceived inability to advance to higher positions. If the employee who chooses to leave has this impression, then many other employees likely do, too. Therefore, it is important to highlight available opportunities or create new ones.

The exit interview should start at the beginning of the experience with the company. If the employee chose to accept the position in the first place, individuals may assume that they hiring process was effective and that it left and good impression, but this is not necessarily true. Interviewers should ask why the person chose to accept the position and whether he or she had any hesitation in joining the organization.

The hiring and onboarding process are people’s first contact with the company, so it is important that these processes make a good impression and that they speak honestly to the culture and values of the company. If the employee felt that the company was represented in a dishonest manner, this is important information for improving employee retention.

A big topic in employee retention is the employee-manager relationship. For this reason, exit interviews often focus on the employee’s perception of direct supervisors and impressions of their leadership styles. Interviewers may want to focus on whether the manager was able to effectively move between styles to motivate the team or whether there is room for improvement. This information is important in creating better manager training programs.

Importantly, interviewers should not focus solely on the negative. Individuals should always ask what people like most about the company and what they found to be the organization’s biggest strengths. In many ways, this information can prove more important than criticisms. While criticisms point to important changes that the company needs to make, organizational change is often very slow. However, the firm can make more immediate improvement by building upon the programs that the company does particularly well.

Moving beyond the Exit Interview

interview conversationA growing trend in the business world is to complement exit interviews with “stay” interviews. While this sort of interview can never replace the importance of the exit interview, it can offer more information for creating more effective retention initiatives.

Organizations that choose to use stay interviews typically focus on the highest achieving employees and the individuals that they do not want to lose. The stay interview demonstrates to these individuals that the company wants to know what it is doing right and wrong and that it is dedicated to improving its processes. Sometimes, merely conducting the stay interview is enough to convince someone to stay.

As the name implies, the stay interview focuses on why individuals choose to stay at the job. The interviews should be simple and informal rather than a cause for employee stress. Individuals often choose to stay at companies for a wide range of reasons, so it is important to get a sense of what is most important for employees, as well as what the company might need to revise moving forward. Many times, it is important to focus on broader concepts, like company culture, to get a sense of what does and does not engage employees.

One of the biggest issues that may arise during stay interviews is transparency. During exit interviews, individuals have nothing to lose because they are departing from the company. However, those in stay interviews may hesitate to tell the truth for fear that they could put their position in jeopardy. One way to avoid this is to keep the meeting casual, but some organizations may want to consider bringing in a third-party interviewer to keep the process anonymous, especially if interviewers get the sense that employees are holding back information.