Taking the pulse of an organization

An exit interview can provide a good checkup for HR, but only if the right questions are posed

Employees who leave organizations are just as important as the ones that stay … but for far different reasons. When an employee leaves, she can often tell a lot about a company, about the programs and policies that exist, and about the working environment. But she can only tell if the right questions are asked.

Exit interviews have been used in many organizations as a tool to understand employee turnover. The information gathered can help to evaluate the effectiveness of human resource practices and programs as well as individual managers. It can also highlight potential problems that need addressing.

Good exit interviews combine a variety of open- and close-ended questions, to probe into specific areas of interest to the company. Most exit interviews include sections on the employee’s role and job content, her job satisfaction or dissatisfaction, the relationship she developed with manager and peers, the level of communication within her group, and perhaps within the company as a whole, and access to training. Some interviews delve into salary, benefits and the work environment. Some interviews even ask employees to compare their current job with the new job they’re leaving for as a way to get some (albeit biased) market data.

So what kinds of questions should be asked? The answer depends on what is going to be done with the data and how it is gathered. Exit interviews may be used to focus in on one area of concern, or they may be used to gather general information about the company. They may be conducted as face-to-face discussions, giving the interviewer the opportunity to probe specific areas without having a detailed list of probing questions written down. Exit interview questionnaires can also be used, giving the employee more time and privacy to think about responses. With written questionnaires, the probing questions need to be included in a format that ensures employees provide useful data.

No matter how the information is gathered, every exit interview should ask some basic questions that might include the following:

•What’s the primary reason that prompted you to leave the organization? For this question, you might want to include a list of options that the employee can choose from, such as “job/job content,” “compensation/benefits,” “work environment,” “management relationship” or “career advancement/development.”

•What, if anything, could have been done differently to retain you as an employee?

•Would you recommend our company to others as a good place to work? If yes, why? If not, why not?

•What changes might convince you to return to our company in the future?

Once the exit interview questions have warmed up the employee, and the groundwork has been done, ask some specific questions targeted at key areas. These questions can be “yes” or “no” questions, but the employee should always be given the opportunity to respond with as much detail or information as she feels comfortable sharing. Some examples might include the following:

•Do you feel that communication was adequate within the organization? If yes, why? If not, why not?

•Did you feel that the company had fair and consistent human resource policies? If yes, why? If not, why not?

•How would you describe the level of morale. Within your department? Within the company overall?

•Was your job fully explained to you when you were hired? If yes, why? If not, why not?

•Did your job offer you enough challenge and satisfaction? If yes, why? If not, why not?

•Was the workload in your department appropriate and distributed fairly? If yes, why? If not, why not?

•Did you feel that working conditions were adequate and that you were given the tools necessary to perform your job? If yes, why? If not, why not?

•Did you receive adequate training so that you were able to perform in a satisfactory manner? If yes, why? If not, why not?

•How did you view the relationship between your supervisor or manager and yourself?

o Excellent

o Good

o Fair

o Poor

•Were there any problems between yourself and your supervisor/manager? If yes, why? If not, why not?

•Did you feel your contributions to the company were recognized by management? If yes, why? If not, why not?

•How did you feel about your salary?

o Adequate

o Inadequate

•Did you feel that the company’s benefit plans were adequate? If yes, why? If not, why not?

Exit interviews can come in all shapes and sizes, with many different types of questions. It’s important to understand why you’re conducting an exit interview and what you hope to do with the information you gather so that you can determine the number and kinds of questions to ask. In the end, it’s the questions that make the difference.

Jayne Jackson is the manager, training and development/human resources with the publishing firm Carswell. She may be contacted at [email protected]

Latest stories