Sure, you have the public reason; the one he firsts tell you and the rest of the team. But you’re quite certain there’s more to the story.
So how can you discover the truth?
Answer: give him an exit interview.
What Is an Exit Interview?
An exit interview is a private conversation between you and the departing employee; or, if you prefer, between your HR representative and the departing employee. The purpose of the conversation is to discuss why the employee is leaving the company and the factors that contributed to this decision.
You would then take the employee’s feedback and use it to improve the company for the benefit of remaining and future employees.
Why Conduct an Exit Interview?
You can skip the exit interview and just accept the public reason for their departure. But then you’d be missing a golden opportunity to learn valuable insights into your company’s operations.
Exit interviews provide more truthful answers than the stories that circulate through the office grapevine. The private setting encourages employees to speak more freely, and you’ll be able to ask follow-up questions and request more details.
Effective exit interviews can uncover company problems that you never realized were there; problems that will still be around even after this employee leaves. But now that you know about the problems, you can address them and prevent more employees from quitting.
How to Conduct an Exit Interview
1. Make the Employee Comfortable
This is essential because you won’t get the helpful answers you need if the employee feels threatened, pressured, or otherwise tense. Consider whether you or a third party like Human Resources or a manager from a different department should conduct the interview with the employee — but never a direct superior (their boss might be the exact reason they’re leaving!).
Try to conduct the exit interview in a neutral, safe location. A private meeting room or even a coffee shop is a good idea. Somewhere the rest of the company won’t hear what is being said.
2. Keep the Conversation Casual
Have a list of questions, but don’t fire it at them like an interrogation. Let the conversation flow naturally. The employee will tend to steer the conversation towards the topics that bother them the most.
Remember, the interviewer’s role in this conversation isn’t to refute or support what the employee says — only to hear what they have to say. Encourage them to provide more detail and share what is foremost on their minds.
3. Take Good Notes
Take handwritten notes during the course of the conversation. It will show the employee you’re taking their feedback seriously, and you can formalize it into an actual report after the meeting. It’s not recommended to try and record the interview as that formality can make many employees uncomfortable, and they’ll speak less candidly.
For your benefit, and for the benefit of the managers and executives who were not present for the exit interview, the report should be a complete and objective disclosure of all that was shared in the interview. That’s the most effective way to honestly assess any company problems and decide how to fix them going forward.
4. Stay Professional
Employee departures are emotional events. It’s a setting that can quickly turn heated as the employee starts discussing sensitive topics, people, themselves, and even you.
You have to stay impassive and calm during this conversation and not be baited into an argument. You’re not there to be right; you’re simply there to hear what the employee has to say. You can use or discard the information later.
In the same vein, encourage the employee to remain calm and try to help them stay focused on actual facts. Avoid letting the dialogue to slip into an exercise in bad-mouthing or name-calling. A best practice is to sprinkle the conversation with reminders that you appreciate their time and want them to get things off their chest, but your hope is to keep things professional during the airing of any grievances.
5. Remember the Positive
An employee who has chosen to quit for company-related reasons will most certainly be sharing things they don’t like about their job, their team members, and/or the organization. But it doesn’t all have to be negative. Don’t forget to ask the employee what they did like about their stay and what they think the company can do to improve in the future. You’ll be surprised at how many great ideas they have.
An exit interview is a uniquely valuable tool to help companies grow a happier and more productive workforce. Done properly, the exit interview can provide insights that would be difficult or impossible to obtain by any other means. They can be stressful and emotionally charged, but highly rewarding if you handle yourself and the interview with a professional and objective mindset. Don’t waste the chance to learn what is driving your best people away. Nip enough problems in the bud, and you’ll become the company nobody wants to leave.
About the author: Mark Lewis is the Co-Founder and CEO of HelloCecil, a SaaS-based automated video interviewing platform. Mark has some serious HR chops after twenty-five years in the trade. In the early days, he was Sr. VP, Business Affairs and Human Resources for an international publicly-traded company. Later, he owned a health care business in Los Angeles where he hired, trained and managed hundreds of team members.