Truth in turnover: The benefits of exit interviews
Staff turnover is disruptive and expensive for any business, particularly when considering the time it takes to hire replacement employees.

Research for SEEK shows that 28% of people are looking to change jobs in the next six months, and whilst an exit interview might not stop someone from making their next career move, it can help you work out some of the main reasons people say they leave.

That’s why exit interviews are crucial to both retaining talent you have and attracting the right people to replace them.

Feedback can be seen as a gift to the organisation, says Deborah Wilson, Head of Careers, Leadership Strategy, Development & HR Consulting at On Talent.

“Exit interviews are important for two reasons, firstly so the employee is heard – both their positive and constructive views on the organisation, the structure, and their reasons for leaving.

“Secondly, the organisation has the opportunity to review what they could do to improve any of the areas mentioned and overall employee engagement. Often there are easy wins from exit interviews that might be otherwise overlooked.”

How to conduct a useful exit interview

Asking questions is a helpful start to finding ways to improve, but 33% of people report not being completely honest in their exit interviews.

Wilson says the way interviews are conducted is key to how useful and valuable they are.

“If exit interviews are conducted internally, then you could consider letting the employee pick who they would like to complete it,” she says. “ It’s also important to reassure the employee that their responses will be acted upon but also anonymous.

“The interviewer should listen openly to responses and engage with the individual to let them know their views are important and that their comments will be heard.”

Wilson says organisations can also collect valuable data by engaging an external company to conduct their interviews.

“This mean employees can get many things off their chest and make genuine suggestions. I believe most individuals want to contribute in this way.”

What to ask in an exit interview

Martin Dineen, Managing Director of MJD Executive, says that when it comes to the most effective questions for an exit interview, it’s important to include a mix of questions to tease out particular areas you may wish to explore.

Some example questions include:

  • What made you decide to explore new opportunities?
  • What factors led to your decision to leave the organisation?
  • How could we improve our company culture?
  • Did you enjoy your role?
  • What did you like best about working here?
  • Can you think of anything that would help your team to improve how you work together?
  • How do you feel about company leadership?
  • Do you feel your personal career goals were supported in your time here?

What to do with your exit data

After you have honest answers, it’s important to put them to good use.

Dineen says exit interview data can tell an organisation not only where it might be going wrong, but also what it’s doing right.

“The recruitment process in a tight labour market is all about promoting why your workplace is an amazing place to work,” he says.

One of the best ways to attract new talent is to use evidence from exit interviews.

“Talking about why your employees love working for you is powerful but consider what happens when you describe the not so wonderful – and how you went about resolving it to make your workplace a better place for your employees,” he says.

“Demonstrating a commitment to continuous improvement is so compelling to prospective hires.”

And while COVID may have made communications more difficult, Dineen says it’s no reason to pause exit interviews.

“We received feedback from candidates that many employers stopped conducting exit interviews through COVID and lockdowns or changed the process to an online format,” he says. “Whilst an online format is perhaps easier, many saw it as a lack of engagement from management.”

An alternative to the exit interview

An alternative to an exit interview, says Dineen, is a ‘stay’ interview.

“Conducting regular discussions with your staff in relation to why they stay with you can allow you to identify issues before they become too big,” he says.

Whether through ‘stay’ or ‘exit’ interviews, leaders have the opportunity to learn from employees and to apply these learnings to create a positive workplace for current and future staff.

Source: Independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually. Published June 2022.