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Companies and managers alike are always looking for ways to improve. Feedback conversations with employees are being held on the regular, but often they forget to utilize one group that is very important; the people who leave.

In the world of progress, nothing is as important as reflection. You need reflection to look back and see where there is room for improvement. Many managers and companies are already capitalizing on this by holding regular feedback meetings and one-to-one meetings, where both employees and managers openly speak about their experiences. If you are not doing this, then start doing it. Tomorrow. Seriously. The easiest way to improve your company is by tapping into the knowledge of your employees, so don’t let their talents go to waste. You can read more about that here. In this blog I will not pay attention to that however, in this blog I will go into the importance of the feedback of the people who will actually leave your company and show you what you can learn from them.

Leavers, Exit-interviews, interviews, exit, leaving, Recruitment, Recruiting, HR, Human Resources, People Operations, PeOps, Peops Relations

Let’s start with: why?

Well, firstly, people who leave your company have nothing to ‘lose’, so they will be very forthcoming with what they think. In normal feedback meetings, employees are encouraged to be as open an up-front as possible. Although this sounds great, experience teaches us that employees can be a bit hesitant into saying everything that is on their mind in fear of retribution. This factor of retribution is not present at an ‘exit interview’, so your ex-employee will be open and honest.

Secondly, it is important to note that you can learn a lot from the reason why the employee is leaving. It might be possible that this new information helps you to prevent others from leaving for the same reasons as well. Often managers make assumptions as on why employees leave, instead of actually asking and understanding why they leave. This way they cannot effectively deal with possible problems in the internal organisation. Therefore it is important to find out the true reasons in an exit interview.

Thirdly, it is important for your employer branding as a part of the employee experience. In an exit interview you can take up all sorts of matters which require closure before the employee leaves. Perhaps there are conflicts that need to be settled, equipment which has to be returned, or ongoing confidentiality clauses which have to be signed. Most of all it is a moment for your employee to reflect and express their thoughts and feelings. It is always good to give your employee the feeling that they are being heard, but it is even more important to actually listen (and act).

Still not convinced that it is important to have these exit interviews? Here are ten more reasons.


Leavers, Exit-interviews, interviews, exit, leaving, Recruitment, Recruiting, HR, Human Resources, People Operations, PeOps, Peops Relations

Secondly: who?

The second question which should be answered is who should be holding the interview. Here the explanation is two-fold; both HR and the former employee’s manager should be responsible for the interview with different focusses. The HR department should concern itself with the data side of things, the information that is important to learn from a leaving employee, such as: why the employee is leaving, what he/she believes should be improved, and how he/she thinks the employee experience can be improved etcetera. The possible ways of gaining insights are limitless, so take your time to assess what you would like to know about your company, because again, with the factor of possible retribution gone, the person across the table will tell you almost everything.

The manager should be more focussed on wrapping up the employment with the employee on good terms. He or she should be focussed on trying to clear up any unresolved issues and any administrative requirements for ending the employment. The focus here is to part way in an orderly fashion and to make sure that everything is resolved as it should.

As the focus of the HR department differs fundamentally from the managers’, it is a good idea to split up one exit interview into two smaller ones. In the situation where the manager and the employee do not have a great relationship this is almost a requirement. The first interview should be with the HR department where the employee can feel free to speak his/her mind about possibly anything and the second one with his/her manager to resolve the administrative side of things.

As the form of the interview with the manager is highly dependent on the sort of the company, role of the employee and relationship with his/her manager, we will focus more on the interview with the HR department for the remainder of this blog. That is because we can make more general recommendations on that type of interview as it is less situational.

Leavers, Exit-interviews, interviews, exit, leaving, Recruitment, Recruiting, HR, Human Resources, People Operations, PeOps, Peops Relations

What to ask?

As said before, the main goal is to find out what the motivations are of the employee who leaves, but it is also good to unravel other possible problems in your organisation. So don’t be afraid to ask creative questions. Don’t make turn the interview in a acquisition and the atmosphere light-hearted to get your ex-employee to really open up. When having these exit interviews, then it is good to keep the questions uniform. Make sure that you are asking everybody the same questions, so that you can actually use the results. More on that later.

Here are some examples of questions that you might want to use:

  • What is the reason you are leaving us? (obviously)
  • Could you list a top three of reasons why you are leaving us?
  • Is there anything we can improve as a company? Performance or cultural wise?
  • Is there anything that your own department could improve?
  • Is there anything that your manager can improve?
  • If you would be owner of this company tomorrow, what would be the top five changes that you would make?
  • If you would go back to the beginning of your time at our company, then what would you have liked to see differently during your time with us?
Leavers, Exit-interviews, interviews, exit, leaving, Recruitment, Recruiting, HR, Human Resources, People Operations, PeOps, Peops Relations

What’s next? Data.

Now that you know why it is important and which questions to ask, it is time to get to the interesting part: the data. To get an organised set of data, you will need to try and standardize the answers given by the ex-employees to get a clear picture. For example, if you ask the question “Why are you leaving us?” then you can get a very variety of answers as it is an open question. However, you can label the answers given so you can detect patterns. Answer labels for this question could include: “Atmosphere within company, Development possibilities, Prospect of better benefits, Personal reasons” etcetera.

One or two exit interviews will not give you enough information if you are dealing with possible internal problems. That is because it could just be that the couple ex-employees that you have interviewed might hold a grudge against you. However, if a certain pattern appears when more and more ex-employees point to the same problems, then you can not hide behind the excuse of a coincidental common grudge anymore. So volume is key here.

After having the right labels and enough volume, you are ready to analyse the data and draw the right conclusions to improve your company and tackle possible problems.

In conclusion

You should always hold exit interviews, not only because it adds to the employee experience, but you can also actually learn from them. This information can be valuable to retaining your future talent, tackle possibly hidden problems, and improve your company performance.

Do you need help with holding exit interviews, analysing the data, or implementing solutions to newly discovered problems? Get in touch with us and see what we can do for you.

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