Why exit interviews are essential

Understanding why your employees leave is almost as important as understanding why they stay. Some would say it is even more important. An employee’s real reasons for leaving can be revealed in exit interviews. Interviews that are conducted by the human resources department or other company employees at time of resignation may or may not produce accurate and legitimate answers. Most departing employees are reluctant to reveal important demotivators because they do not want to burn their bridges. They may not want to offend the management at that sensitive time of saying good-bye. 

An experienced third party, a consultant or firm that specializes in conducting these sensitive interviews and collecting a wealth of invaluable inputs, can often accomplish effective and productive exit interviews. The information gathered in this process can guide corporate management in making changes that will reduce future turnover, as well as potentially solve other problems in the organization.
What is the best way to process an employee’s exit? HR always recommends an exit interview. The process is predictably simple while most people think it’s a big waste of time. If a person resigns, you already know why he is leaving. But mostly the stated reasons are far from true, most resignations state personal reasons or better prospects. If one is being discharged, he will be angry and won’t tell anything useful anyway. Why bother then?
There are a lot of good reasons to bother—administration, protection and good management practice are among them. From an administrative standpoint alone, an exit interview provides an opportunity to get needed information (like where to send the employee’s settlement cheque, TDS certificate, retrieve company property (keys, mobile, swipe cards credit cards, laptops, etc.), clear up any outstanding issues like expense advances and deliver required information.
Administrative details are important, but the real value of an exit interview is in the information one can obtain to protect the company and save a lot of time, trouble and expense later. For example, it is not uncommon for an employee to resign, or be discharged for a reason, but when tactfully handled can reveal the real reasons in an exit interview. For instance, recently when I had handled an exit interview, a very senior executive told me that he is quitting because he is pretty annoyed with the CEO’s arrogance and style.
In a broader perspective, exit interviews provide information about overall management style of the company. An employee who is discharged may not be happy about it, and his or her comments will have a negative slant. But there’s usually plenty of truth to be learned as well. In one case we had observed that one department had a high turnover and exit interviews reflected problem areas like partisan attitude of the supervisor. Consistently high turnover in certain positions can be an indicator that the job or the work is not defined properly, thus, the wrong people are being hired. Reasons for voluntarily separation may be valid, like lack of benefits or low pay or even unsatisfactory designations, improper grades, etc.
Some thoughts about how you say good-bye to employees, whatever be the reason for their exit, salvage some credibility. If it’s a discharge, you’ll want to do damage control as much as possible. Recently, two people who were asked to go within two months of joining, told me how brutal the HR general manager was in handling the exits. Depressed and victimised they felt more angry and vengeful for the simple reason that the HR was even forcing the person to interview candidates on the very morning when he was told to go.
Treating people as human as possible is a good management practice and that dictates he or she be treated with professional courtesy and respect. Conduct the exit meeting as privately as possible. Taking a more positive view of the exit—this is also the time when many employees are willing to point at deficiencies in the company, comments such as, “poor management or supervision”, “complete lack of supervision and support”, “poor communications”, etc, have come quite often when I had handled exit interviews. Any company management that is honest with itself will use these responses to look into the claims and make corrections where the allegations are found or known to be true.
While handling exit interviews handle the employee in simple, direct terms and discuss under what circumstances the decision has been made or try and figure out what triggered the decision to quit. It is invariable that something snapped inside. Without a debate on the merits, gather all required information and record and do paperwork and handle the exit with the final settlement check, so that whatever suspicion the person has is nullified. Whether the separation is voluntary or not, HR has to make sure that the employee leaves without any incident. Exit interview and counselling can avoid much of unpleasantness, someone who can handle the person at times of emotional disturbance is only the HR person.
Exit is just as important as the procedures one uses while hiring. Handled in a professional way, exit practices can be constructive, useful and improve your work environment and above all add to retention.

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