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Did you know that the secret to retaining good employees is to find out why employees leave in the first place? As simple as it sounds, many companies skip out on the precious opportunity to gain valuable feedback from departing employees for one reason or another. However, skipping out on this step could cause your company to witness repeating patterns in employee turnover and eventually become a revolving door for staff members (which is extremely costly and detrimental to company success). As an employer, you must learn how to master the art of the exit interview in order to gain insightful information that could potentially save your company.

The best way to find out why employees are leaving your organization is by conducting exit interviews. Exit interviews, if done effectively, can provide you with valuable insight about your company and, more importantly, the employee experience. This type of interview provides just the information you need in order to improve procedures and policies within your organization. After all, employees who are leaving the company in two days are much more likely to provide constructive criticism and negative feedback than those who plan to stay with the company for a while and, therefore, wish to simply “keep the peace.” Exit interviews often bring necessary attention to functionalities, processes or habits that could be holding the company back from reaching new heights. By asking the right questions and being open to receiving feedback, you are gifting your company the opportunity to grow in the best possible way. Here’s how to master the art of exit interviewing:

Plan to conduct an exit interview for every departing employee

It’s important to gather information from many sources. This way, you can compare and contrast interview outcomes to determine the most pressing issues, and work on these first. Multiple sources of information will also help you sort out what is actually happening within your company. Try to schedule the exit interview as close as possible to your employee’s scheduled departure date—ideally the last or second-to-last day.

Consider having an impartial third party conduct the interview

An employee may be reluctant to speak with his or her manager in an exit interview, especially if the reason for leaving had to do with that manager. Consider asking a member of human resources (or an impartial manager that did not work directly with the employee) to conduct the exit interview. This way, the employee may feel more comfortable giving an honest assessment of his or her reasons for leaving.

Take time to prepare for the interview

Prepare a number of open-ended questions: the key word here is open-ended. Try to stay away from yes-or-no questions unless you immediately ask them to elaborate.  Make sure the questions are carefully constructed, and that they’ll encourage the employee to answer openly and honestly. Incorporate questions that are specific to them, but also include staple questions that should be asked in every exit interview to find patterns. Try to make the interview feel as casual and as comfortable as possible, while still maintaining professionalism.

Ask questions similar to the following

  • Why have you decided to leave the company?
  • Did your position match your expectations? How was the role different from what you originally expected?
  • What is the company doing right?
  • What should the company strive to improve on?
  • What aspect of your job caused you the most frustration?
  • What aspect of your job brought you the most joy?
  • What is the overall climate for employees in the office (from your perspective)?
  • Who here has had the most positive impact on you? Why do you think that is?
  • While working here, did you feel as though your work mattered? Please elaborate.
  • Were you passionate about the work you were doing? Why or why not?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your supervisor’s management skills? What could that person have done differently in order to have received a “10” rating from you?
  • What advice would you give the next person taking your position?

Maintain a strict no-retaliation policy

Another thing that may influence an employee’s honesty during an exit interview is the belief that his or her answers may ruin a good job reference. For this reason, maintain a no-retaliation policy. You may even wish to have this policy in writing and ask the employee to sign off on it before the exit interview.

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