Man in business suit walking outside in front of a parking garage exit.
PHOTO: sookie

While your organization spends time and energy (hopefully) building great experiences for your employees, don’t forget about those walking out your door. Exit interviews can serve up a goldmine of data to help you improve employee experience and engagement. “This information can lead an organization to determine more specifically where a problem exists and develop highly relevant and linked strategies to address the issue,” according to a report from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

A recent report from the Work Institute entitled, 2017 Employee Retention Report, found that 75 percent of the reasons employees leave their jobs could have been prevented by their employer. Work Institute officials in the report called on organizations to conduct better exit interviews that will lead to better data and ultimately help drive down turnover. So how can you improve your exit interviews? Here experts offer some ways to help extract useful data from your departing employees.

Believe in the Value of Off-Boarding

Most companies realize the value of onboarding new employees, according to Gerrit Brouwer, CEO of Appical. But it ends there, he said. “They focus on getting individuals more settled in their roles and productive earlier. They know the costs of employee attrition and of having underperforming teams should positions remain open for too long or are filled with a bad hire. And they are only too aware of the importance of a positive external reputation, showing them as a great place to work, so make sure that everyone joining has a positive experience. But what about when an employee wants to leave?” Brouwer said. 

That brings us to the offboarding stage, where, Brouwer said, leaving ex-employees with a bad memory can cost organizations in the long run. Recognize the value in keeping a strong relationship with ex-employees. With offboarding, the goal is to give departing people a positive experience and smooth transition out of the business.  

Related Article: How to Build an Employee Experience That Rivals Your Customer Experience

Hold the Exit Interview Before the Last Day 

It’s crucial organizations conduct the exit interview long before the last day in the office, Brouwer said. This will allow you to tap into the energy of your colleague, since they are already excited about their new job at a new employer (we think they're excited. Of course, they may not have a new job, and they’re just leaving because they want to leave). “If your interview takes place at the last day in the office, it is more difficult to capture the relevant insights as your employee may be heavily distracted. Also starting earlier with interviews with more stakeholders gives you the opportunity to capture knowledge and experience” Brouwer said. 

What Were Their Challenges and Accomplishments?

Elaine Varelas, managing partner at Keystone Partners, said certain questions can yield useful constructive comments from your departing employees. She shared this starter list for exit interview questions. 

  • Do you think you and your colleagues have the opportunity to affect the current organization?
  • What were some of the challenges/issues you faced?
  • What were some of your greatest accomplishments here, and how did you get there?
  • If you could affect some of the reasons for leaving, would you stay?
  • Were there areas where you tried to have a positive impact but couldn’t, or areas you hope there might be a change for the better for the next staff member?
  • Do you see yourself returning one day?

Related Article: What Does Employee Experience Really Mean?

Understand Why They Joined Your Company 

It’s important to ask exit interview questions that elicit the answers to the questions, “What led them to take their job in the first place? What were their expectations?” 

Asking tough questions like these will help your organization improve and retain valued employees, according to Brouwer.

Ask About Their Journey 

Act humble during the exit interview and ask the departing employee open, honest questions. The answers to these questions will ultimately help build data for actionable process and culture improvements, Brouwer said.

According to Glassdoor, some open, honest questions include the following. 

  • How would you describe the culture of our company?
  • What could have been done for you to remain employed here?
  • Did you share your concerns with anyone at the company prior to leaving?
  • Were you satisfied with the way you were managed?

By understanding the answers to these questions and applying them, organizations can make culture or process improvements that impact workers in a positive way. 

Better Understanding Of Employee's Perspective on Culture

This is strongly related to employee engagement, according to Brouwer. “Because of this reason,” he said, “an exit interview can be a great opportunity to ask how would you describe the company culture. This offers some new perspectives to make your company culture better.”

What Could We Have Done Better? 

Ask this question to illicit real feedback to where, from the employee's perspective, the culture or workplace has fallen short. Maybe you discover that a productive leader's command and control style is off-putting your workers or the organization's unwillingness to implement flexible working hours is having a larger impact on retention than you thought. “It’s almost certain there are at least a few things that could be improved. ...this question should give you some ideas as to which areas you should focus on improving,” Brouwer said.