Usually involving a meeting between management representatives and the individual leaving an organization, an exit interview can provide a useful footnote to a former staff member’s term which gives both parties invaluable direction moving forward.
Benefits on the business side include insight into the firm’s culture, policies and practices, while employees can get the truth off their chest regarding experiences as a staff member – or at least that’s the idea.
While there are no ways to guarantee the undiluted truth in exit interviews, there are a number of factors to consider and practices to employ that will create a culture that promotes honesty.
The desire for honesty
For some, an exit interview is the perfect opportunity to be completely candid. But others may not want to burn bridges or may simply let apathy play out, not wanting to give a genuine appraisal to a company they’ll never have to care about again anyway.
While the issue is never black and white, some dismiss the idea of an employee not wanting to cooperate, maintaining that ex-staff should have the integrity to strive for honesty. To tune into this ethic, individuals should remain aware that the process needs to be taken seriously or a great opportunity for growth for both parties will be lost. Leaving employees should focus on the chance to gain closure, for fear of entering their next job with emotional baggage.
Furthermore, employees should recognize that a huge gulf exists between being honest in a polite way (appropriate and professional) and being downright rude, which will not elicit respect. The best way to mobilize your honesty without jeopardizing your career as an employee is to keep things short, pleasant and presented from a positive standpoint.
Employees should definitely avoid mud-slinging, instead taking a diplomatic approach that conveys a point and puts the employee in the best light possible.
The interviewing panel
Some firms make the mistake of placing an employee’s former supervisor on an exit interviewing panel. This is generally not a good idea because if that employee had an issue with their line manager’s style or practices, then the point is unlikely to come to the surface.
HR usually puts together a team to conduct these interviews, but there’s every chance that an employee – again, in no great haste to burn their own professional bridges – will open up to HR.
Nominating a third party to host the interview is the best way to secure as open and honest a reflection as possible.
While some firms may conduct an interview in the immediate wake of a resignation letter being handed in, it’s better to wait until the individual has left the company to initiate the review.
A buffer of two weeks will allow the dust to settle for both parties, giving employee and employer alike more time to focus on the reasons for resignation so that emotions make way for constructive criticism.
Before the interview takes place, it is vital that managers are clear on the purpose it serves. An employer is usually aiming to part company with the ex-staff member on good and productive terms.
It is important that employers recognize this and take the opportunity to dig beyond the usual reasons for an employee’s resignation.
Wanting a higher salary or a more flexible schedule may constitute valid reasons for resignation, but the catalyst for the employee’s decision to leave is often the last stone to be unturned. The truest purpose of an exit interview is to get to the bottom of what the tipping force was – maybe a head-hunter was involved – which can provide insight into the firm’s competition.
An exit interview should always tie off an employee’s term with a company, not least because they can offer intelligence on the employer brand and play a decisive role in pinpointing reasons for turnover.
However, the question of honesty often stops firms from taking exit interviews seriously. Enterprises need to push through this, as the process can help to reduce liability and demonstrates that the firm in question is concerned about giving employees a chance to air their views.
If the right environment is created, exit interviews can inspire real change to make a real and measurable impact on businesses and employees alike.