Employee turnover is a given in all organizations. However, a high employee turnover is terrible for a business, particularly when you lose high-performing and engaged employees.
The domino effects of unwanted attrition are far-reaching and include decreased productivity, a decline in brand value, and astronomical cost to replace top employees.
It is especially worrying if the reasons for leaving the company are variables the organization can change. Many businesses use exit interviews to unearth why their talent is quitting and glean information that can lead to better retention.
Asking the right exit interview questions provides businesses with context and data they can use to improve working conditions and organizational culture and ultimately retain top talent.
In this article, we share how to conduct exit interviews, why employees leave, and essential exit interview questions to ask and ones to avoid.
What Is an Exit Interview?
An exit interview is a process of extracting valuable feedback from an employee leaving the company. The primary purpose of asking exit interview questions is to learn why the employee is leaving and what the company can do to retain more employees going forward.
It can happen face-to-face, via video or telephone interview, or through paper or online surveys.
How To Conduct an Exit Interview?
It’s imperative to conduct exit interviews with a clear plan and intention to use the data. It makes the process more meaningful than a task to tick off HR’s checklist.
To carry out exit interviews well, follow the steps below.
1. Schedule the interview
In-person exit interviews are the best: you can ask follow-up questions and read body language. You can schedule a video exit interview on Zoom or Skype for remote workers.
Exit interviews are not mandatory except when stated in the employee’s contract. Otherwise, you’ll have to ask the employee if they are available for one and find a time that works for them.
Employers should explain the importance of exit interviews to employees and why they need to answer all questions candidly and give honest feedback. Also, highlight who will conduct the interview, preferably a neutral third party, such as someone in your HR department
2. Prepare your questions
Before the scheduled interview, prepare the questions you’ll ask, including potential follow-up questions. (If you don’t already have an exit interview template, you may want to create one so this step will be more straightforward for future interviews.)
You may want to ask the employee’s direct manager to provide some questions that they feel would provide valuable insights.
3. Approach the interview with an open mindset
One of the reasons for using a neutral third party to conduct exit interviews is to eliminate bias.
For example, a line manager may see the employee as someone “who didn’t work their socks off.” Such preconceived notions will impact how the interview goes.
Being open-minded will help you accept negative and positive feedback without criticizing the employee.
4. Watch the tone and treat the employee with respect
As you ask exit interview questions, use a professional and positive tone throughout the meeting—not one that may imply you’re angry at the employee for leaving.
Treat the employee with respect. Respect their time; if the meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes, be there on time and end on time.
5. Provide appreciation for the employee’s contributions
At the end of the meeting, thank the employee for their time and for providing valuable and candid feedback. Ensure they know they will always be part of the “family” and company policies for getting references.
6. Keep it private
All employee exit interviews must be confidential. Let the employee know the same. Part of that is interviewing in a private safe space, away from outside influence or distraction. This is the best way to solicit honest answers and potentially end up with actionable insights.
Reasons Why Employees Leave
Employees leave for many reasons. Knowing why employees leave your establishment is a critical business strategy. Acting on such insights is one of the ways you can improve employee retention.
Poor or lack of company culture
Poor company culture has many debilitating effects on an organization, including destroying employee morale and engagement.
Examples of poor culture include opaque promotion guidelines, unpleasant coworkers, and cliques with exclusionary tendencies that make the workplace toxic. According to a Zippia survey, 63% of employees would quit a job because of unpleasant colleagues.
Such environments alienate employees, particularly new ones. It’s important that current employees and any new additions feel like a part of the team, including remote workers.
Poor or lack of support
As the Zippia survey also showed, 63% of employees would quit their job because of poor or unsupportive bosses. Employees need ongoing support to manage and meet their responsibilities well, stay motivated, and grow—it’s a very important factor in job satisfaction
This feeling may stem right from their onboarding experience. It’s essential to equip employees for success in their role from the onset.
What further exacerbates the feeling that their boss is unsupportive is when issues employees care about—and perhaps have taken the effort to give constructive feedback on—are not given the energy they deserve, issues like unmanageable workloads, unclear job descriptions, and unrealistic deadlines.
Lack of work-life balance
As the chart above shows, about 58% of employees would quit their jobs to seek/take new roles that would improve their work-life balance.
You can help prevent this by having proper leave management, realistic deadlines, offering remote work (where applicable), and providing a supportive supervisor and company culture.
According to Harvard Business Review, employees with supportive supervisors “experience reduced work-life conflict, improved health, and increased fulfillment on the job and at home.”
Low salary is one of the primary reasons people quit their jobs. 66% of employees would leave for this reason.
The feedback you receive in your exit interviews should clarify if this is a factor in your turnover rates. If it is, you should review the compensation packages you offer.
Exit Interview Questions You Need To Ask
The quality of exit interview questions will determine the quality of the insights you extract from your outgoing employees. If you’re unsure where to start, the questions below should help. We’ve even included questions specifically for employees who work remotely.
1. What are your primary reasons for leaving the company?
This question helps employers understand why the employee is leaving and identify areas for improvement in their management, culture, or benefits.
Many employees may default to the “for more money” answer. So, you may need to press further by asking: “What other reasons have caused you to leave?” or “Would you have stayed if we matched the salary?”
2. Did you feel supported by your manager and colleagues?
Many employees leave because of a lack of support. So, it’s good to know if the employee felt supported by their colleagues and manager.
If they didn’t feel supported, this points to deeper issues concerning communication, collaboration, office dynamics, and the manager’s lack of critical leadership skills. Identifying these issues is key to putting them right and reducing unwanted turnover.
3. Did you feel you had the necessary resources and tools to do your job effectively?
If an employee didn’t have the necessary tools or technology to perform their work well or enhance productivity, this question helps identify that.
If this is a common theme among those leaving, then it’s time to review your tools and technology stack.
A good follow-up question is asking what tools would have set them up for success.
4. Did you feel like you had opportunities for growth and development within the company?
According to a global survey by McKinsey, 42% of respondents chose a lack of career development or career advancement as the reason they quit their previous job.
This question helps you understand if this is a problem in your organization and whether you need to evaluate your career advancement opportunities.
5. Was the workload manageable, or did you feel overwhelmed at times?
Unmanageable workloads can make an employee feel they lack support from their superior. It can equally upset a worker’s work-life balance.
These are major reasons employees quit their jobs. Asking this question helps identify any workload issues so you can work to address them for future employees.
6. Did you feel like you had a good work-life balance?
This question is a follow-up to the above question. You can identify if employee workload and deadlines, company culture and demands, and leave management are in order and not contributing to poor work-life balance.
7. Was there anything specific that the company could have done to keep you?
This question can help employers further understand why an employee is leaving. It’s almost the reverse of “What were the primary reasons for leaving the company?”
Employers can use the direct insight gained from this question to identify any missed opportunities to increase retention and what employees value the most.
8. Were there any communication issues with your manager or colleagues?
A lack of effective communication can cause misalignment between employees and their managers and colleagues.
Some managers are out of touch with what some employees need and how they can motivate and realign them with the business’s vision and mission.
This question helps identify any communication barriers that may have impacted the employee’s work experience.
9. Did you feel valued and recognized for your contributions to the company?
Asking this question helps employers identify the gaps in assessing employees and rewarding them for the value they bring.
A big part of assessing employees is instituting an adequate performance review system.
10. Were there any challenges specific to remote work that impacted your decision to leave?
This question helps identify any challenges specifically related to working remotely that may have impacted the employee’s work experience.
Perhaps no or poor provisions had been made for the tools and technology that would have helped the employee work efficiently and comfortably from home.
11. Did you receive adequate training and support to work remotely effectively?
Employees new to remote work may initially suffer from unproductivity and experience growing pains as they adapt to the new way of working.
This question helps identify any training or support gaps that may have impacted the employee’s experience.
12. Did you feel like the company culture supported remote work?
In a company where the current culture doesn’t support remote work, things like proximity bias and the impression that “working from home is easy” are prevalent.
This question helps identify cultural issues that may have impacted the employee’s remote work experience.
13. Would you recommend the company to a friend or colleague?
This question helps identify the employee’s overall impression of the company and can help identify areas for improvement.
If you just get a yes or no, try to get a detailed answer. You want to learn the exact reason(s) for their initial response. Again, it’ll illuminate the reasons they are leaving.
14. How long have you known you wanted to leave the company?
This question can help employers identify if an event in the past or an issue about company policies or culture has triggered a mass exodus. Perhaps a change in manager or a major announcement.
The answer can also help you predict who might be thinking about leaving and allow you to act in time.
Compare answers with other exit interviews to see if a pattern emerges.
15. Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience working for the company?
This question is a chance for employees to share information your standard exit interview questions did not cover.
Things You Shouldn’t Ask About
Keep exit interviews on track by avoiding questions related to the following:
Any personal-related questions
Avoid all kinds of personal questions. Avoid questions like how the employee’s family feels about them leaving the company or anything that could be considered personal.
Keep questions limited to issues related to work or their professional career.
Any questions related to politics/religion/race/gender or controversial topics
Except when the employer is an NGO with ties to particular ideologies, it’s imperative to keep questions related to politics, religion, race, and gender out of exit interviews or exit surveys.
Quality exit interviews provide a treasure trove of valuable insights that can power an organization’s employee retention efforts.
The key is asking the right exit interview questions and setting the stage to receive candid responses from the employee.
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