It’s no secret that employees are the heart and soul of any organisation.
No business can be successful without skilled individuals, and members of staff who are not only talented, but also passionate about their jobs are extremely hard to come by.
To ensure that you maintain a high retention rate and reduce turnover, you need to learn as much as you can about your company's advocates. Having an insight into what it is that pushes these employees to continue working for your company has proven to be indispensable. But what if these employees aren't champions of your business after all - what if they are telling you exactly what you want to hear?
Ultimately, their livelihood rests in your hands, so their supposed kind words could be skewed. And even if the answers that they are providing to your questions are absolute truth, if the feedback that they have for the organisation is largely positive, how does this lead to an improvement of internal processes?
Whilst positive employee feedback may provide a feel-good factor, motivating you and your team and solidifying the belief that your company culture is largely welcomed by both new employees and those who have been a part of the organisation for quite some time, it will most likely lead to simply doing more of the same.
If you are really looking to refine the inner workings of your organisation, it is not conversations with your existing employees that you should be having, you should be speaking to those who are serving their notice period - your outgoing employees. Exit interviews—whether performed by a member of your HR team or by an external consultant—provide a perfect opportunity to do just that.
Why are exit interviews important?
Exit interviews can be hugely important to any organisation as they allow you to introspectively analyse the aspects of your business that need improvement. By taking an in-depth look at your work environment, organisational culture, management, and day-to-day operations alongside an employee who has made the decision to leave, you will witness firsthand the experience shared by members of your organisation, giving you a much clearer picture of employee morale.
When you conduct an exit interview with a departing member of staff, the information gleaned will allow you to make a conscious effort to improve your engagement and strengthen relationships with the employees who will remain a part of your team, and any future employees who you will eventually onboard. As employees moving onto pastures new are much more likely to give you honest answers to your questions, the information you will receive will be much more viable and helpful for making an improvement.
To ensure that every exit interview that you host is effective, below we have provided a list of some of the most common, must-ask exit interview questions. Along with each question, we have provided some supporting information that will provide further context and will give you an idea of the sort of response you should expect to receive.
Common Exit Interview Questions
#1: Why did you start looking for another job?
This question arguably forms the basis of every exit interview. People make the decision to leave their roles for a wide variety of reasons, and in many cases, this can simply be due to a change in circumstances. Perhaps the employee is leaving the area, and is looking for a role that is a little closer to home, or they are looking to make a career change.
Needless to say, not every decision to leave a role will have been made against your company. Whilst this question is almost always asked first and will certainly provide context and insight into the main reason why an employee has chosen to make their exit, it will need to be supported with further questions. Responses to this question can be highly varied, but if you begin to notice patterns as you ask it over time, it may be indicative of a larger problem.
#2: Why are you leaving?
Nine times out of ten, this is the follow-up question to that listed above. Whilst the two may appear familiar from the outset, you'll be surprised by just how different they really are, and as a result, the responses that you are likely to receive will be just as disparate.
Looking for another role can be a relatively passive practice. In many ways, it is not dissimilar to window shopping; if your employees conduct this type of research, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are 100% certain that they want to make an exit, they are simply gathering information on new employers to see what's out there. Don't shoot the messenger, but there's even a chance that some of your current employees are doing the same as you are reading this article!
But actively making the decision to leave your current position is a different matter entirely. Whilst question 1 can help you to determine the multitude of factors that have influenced your employee's decision to begin looking elsewhere, question 2 will highlight the factor that actually led them to leave.
This part of the exit interview will also teach you more about what other organisations (sometimes even your competitors) are able to offer that you cannot. If an employee is leaving to take on a similar position but at a higher salary, it may be an indicator that you need to increase that which you are offering to employees doing the same job.
#3: Did you feel that you had everything you needed to perform the duties of your role well?
If you are looking to improve your company's retention, this exit interview question can help you to do exactly that, as it will provide an opportunity for your leaving staff member to offer you constructive feedback on the employee experience in a non-confrontational setting. Whilst the question itself will begin with a simple yes or no answer, the conversation will remain open-ended, as your employee will inform you of what they believed to be missing in their role.
Regardless as to whether your employee felt as if they were lacking physical or software-related resources, such as tools, systems and applications, or support-based resources, such as additional training, the feedback you can glean from this question will be highly significant. Whilst you will not be able to retrain your interviewee following their advice on what they would have had you do differently, the information will be invaluable in providing a better experience to your next hire who you will soon be onboarding, as well as your other employees from other areas of the organisation.
As this part of the exit interview process is largely specific, you are more likely to receive honest feedback. Don't feel too uncomfortable if it isn't exactly what you wanted to hear - try to remember that any criticism that you receive will essentially offer you a template for improvement from which you can define clear goals on retaining employees.
#4: How was your relationship with your line manager?
This stage of the exit interview offers an opportunity for HR to get an insight into the inner workings of how your teams operate. It draws into question not just the interviewee's relationship with the employer as a whole, but also leadership teams.
This part of the interview will highlight any managerial issues that need to be addressed, and if it is the case that your departing employee's decision to leave the organisation lies with their line manager or the company hierarchy, they will be likely to offer you specific examples of where the relationship didn't work out well, and reasons why.
If from their response to this question you learn that the leaver had an issue with senior management, it may simply come down to a clash of personalities. However, this seemingly unavoidable incompatibility could be indicative of a larger issue on the part of the immediate manager in question.
To help you get to the bottom of this possible management inadequacy, you may choose to conduct interviews with members of the same team, or issue an anonymous online survey. If these feelings are shared with your members of staff who are not leaving (yet!), it could be a sign that action needs to be taken to address the issue, such as providing management training.
#5: Do you believe that your hard work was recognised?
Continuous recognition from employers is integral to keeping employees happy. This is not something that should be reserved for performance reviews, feedback of this type should come frequently to keep employees motivated to hit targets and to reinforce their belief that the work that they are doing is up to standard.
If the answer to this exit interview question is no, it can highlight a problem with rewarding and incentives in the organisation. It could be an indicator that your heads of department are not providing sufficient feedback—whether through emails, one-to-ones, in-person meetings and more—to your members of staff.
Having a solid incentives and rewards system in place does not just benefit those currently working for your organisation, it can also serve as an aspect of the job that will be attractive to soon-to-be employees - those who are attending interviews for the position.
#6: Do you feel that there was a change to your job description during your time in the role?
In smaller organisations and startups, it is likely that the duties that employees are expected to carry out as part of their role will change over the course of time that they are working with the company. If the team is in the process of growing, it is fairly normal that an employee would pick up additional responsibilities outside of their regular call of duty, depending on the varying needs of the department or the company as a whole.
You can expect varied responses to this part of the exit survey, but they will usually go in one of two directions: the employee will have either appreciated the additional responsibilities that came with the role, seeing these as an opportunity for growth and career progression, or they will have been dissatisfied with the fact that their position effectively turned into something that, in short, they didn't sign up for. It is widely recognised that an incongruence between the day-to-day duties of the role and that which was included in the job description is not exactly welcomed by employees, and it is for that reason that many employees quit during their first year with an organisation.
If your departing employee responds with yes, it may highlight a need to consider hiring for an additional position, one that will be responsible for the additional work handed to them.
#7: How did you feel about your workload?
In a previous article, we discussed the way in which employee burnout may be resulting in turnover at your company. Large workloads are to be expected in most roles, but it goes without saying, overworking employees is something that you certainly want to avoid.
Asking this exit interview question will highlight whether the issue of burnout is affecting employees in this role. Is too much pressure being applied? If it is clear to see that the expectations of this role are far too high, you will be able to put measures in place to help mitigate. Whether you do this by hiring more members of staff, streamlining workflows, or anything else, having this sort of insight will allow you to employ the measures required to help employees stay on top of their work-life balance.
#8: How could we improve the company?
This exit interview question puts the power in the hands of the interviewee, giving them the freedom to identify any aspects of the organisation that they believe have room for improvement. As the leaving employee will essentially be telling you how you would look as an ideal employer in their eyes, you really can expect anything with this one.
Whether they have larger recommendations that would undoubtedly be challenging to put into place, such as a shift to your organisational culture or HR procedures, or relatively simple amendments, like an upgrade to your systems or the introduction of office refreshments, be sure to welcome the suggestions gracefully and take the advice on board.
#9: What could we have done differently to make you stay?
If you are looking for specific examples of what you can do differently as an employer in the future, there is no better question than this one!
In response to some of your questions, your departing employees may allude to wider ideas of company culture, pay scales and more, and perhaps they will not give away the intricate details that influenced their decision to leave. As this question is so direct, your employee's response will equally be succinct and straight to the point. They will provide hard evidence that something is not working for one of your employees.
It is worth noting, however, that you should not use this as an opportunity to keep your interviewee on board - they have already come to a decision, and that decision was based on these requests having not been fulfilled before this time. Instead, you should use your employee's feedback to this question as advice that will help you retain the rest of your members of staff across the company.
#10: Is there anything else you’d like us to know about your experience working with us?
Don't forget to let your interviewee have their say. Remember, the whole conversation that you have had up until this point has followed the form of an interview - they have been providing answers to your questions as an interviewer. About as open-ended as an exit interview question can be, this question is a must, as it gives your leaving employee the floor to voice their concerns. If there was anything that they wanted to mention that didn't come up during the exit interview, it will be sure to come up now!
The statement 'some things are better left unsaid' does not apply here. If there is an issue in your organisation that needs addressing, you need to know about it!
By and large, exit interviews are not pleasant experiences. Having someone leave your company can lead to organisational shifts and of course, turnover is never good for business. However, it could not be more important to understand why employees are choosing to leave your organisation - having an awareness of the factors that influence their decisions allows you to do what needs to be done to ensure that employee departure is not a frequent occurrence.
Not only that, but the insights that you gain from exit interviews will help you to better serve the employees who remain a part of your organisation - hopefully they will continue to do so for many years to come!
XCD's HR management software has been designed with your people in mind. We understand that maintaining positive employer/employee relationships is paramount, and when done right, many of the issues that would influence an employee to leave your organisation are negated. To start managing your employees more effectively, book a demo to see our HR software in action. Alternatively, you can give us a call on +44 (0) 800 0432923, or send us an email at email@example.com. We look forward to hearing from you.