How to make the best of stay and exit interviews

'You don't want to ask any questions that won't be valuable to employee retention'

How to make the best of stay and exit interviews

As organizations grapple with ways to keep everybody happy — in light of all the turmoil in the Canadian economy — what are the best ways to find out why so many are walking out the door?

Checking in with those employees who are leaving, and perhaps more importantly, those who are sticking around, might help HR and employers keep a true pulse on the overall morale of the workforce.

“When we look at retention… especially in the current climate, if you don’t currently have an exit-interview program, or a stay-interview program, then you should be; you really want to find out why talent is leaving your organization and what you can do to improve,” says Katelyn De Freitas, director of client services at JUST Checking Resources in Burlington, Ont.

“The purpose of the exit and stay interviews are essentially to assess the workforce and identify opportunities to improve employee retention… by finding out what your organization’s doing well, and what they could do better.”

By conducting regular check-ins with workers, HR and leaders can better tailor the employee experience, she says.

“The goal is to gather feedback and be able to implement changes before employees leave, while they’re still employed.”

Employee retention is a top concern for executives, found a recent global survey.

Stay interviews

In order to keep in tune with how employees are managing, these types of pulse checks should be done regularly — but also when they might be warranted, says De Freitas.

“They should be conducted regularly, at least annually, or during times of change, whether it’s recent mergers, layoffs, new departments, any other specific organizational development,” she says.

But what types of questions should be asked?

“You want to ask quantifiable questions so you can analyze the overall results, the overall feedback but you’ll also want to ask a lot of open-ended questions because you don’t know what you don’t know,” says De Freitas.

“That will give you more information on things you haven’t even thought of when going into this program but it also addresses key individual issues or reasons for leaving in the case of exit interviews.”

While for smaller organizations, a program of pulse checks might be a bit onerous, employers and HR can target more precisely and still achieve results.

“If you can’t do that organization-wide, what you want to do is look at where do you have the most turnover, in which departments, and then focus on those hot spots,” she says.

Two other retention experts recently shared insights on getting the retention strategy right.

Why are you leaving?

Despite all the best efforts of HR and management, sometimes workers have had enough and will need to leave the organization, and that is when the exit-interview process kicks in.

Timing is crucial, according to De Freitas, in order to tease out the best results from departing employees.

“There’s a very specific time period where you will receive the best feedback, and that is approximately a week before the employee leaves so within that two weeks’ notice period, and up until two weeks after. Anything a month later or beyond, that is really a post-exit interview, and you’re going to get very different results.”

“If you’re requesting the interview to be done too far out, they’ve moved on; they’re not participating anymore.”

Almost 25 per cent of Canadians have switched jobs recently, according to a survey.

Careful questions

The goal in these types of talks should be clear, says De Freitas.

“In general, you don’t want to ask any questions that won’t be valuable to employee retention. These interviews will be long enough so no unnecessary questions should be included, just ones that include value and will add value.”

Keep in mind the worker is leaving the organization and don’t be too personal, she says.

“For instance, if you know the employee is saying they’re moving, and that’s why they’re leaving the organization [saying]: ‘Why are you moving? Where are you going to?’ Those aren’t necessary and you also don’t want to ask questions about specific individuals, office gossip, or especially not asking an employee to reconsider leaving their job when they’ve already handed in their resignation.

“Uncomfortable and inappropriate questions not only alienate the employee, but they also don’t meet the goal of the exit or stay interview,” says De Freitas.

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