What Can We Learn from an Exit Interview?

Employees leave. It’s a fact and it happens all of the time. Can we learn anything from these exiting workers? Many people view these discussions as unimportant but they can really be a very valuable tool; which can truly affect current and future employees at any company.

An exit interview is typically held after an employee has given notice. If an employee is being fired or laid off, these do not regularly occur. The HR rep or hiring manager will either conduct a verbal dialog or a written questionnaire to fill out; but rarely both.

Companies that routinely conduct these exit surveys gather important data to improve working conditions; which also leads to retaining employees. A sincere company can identify problem areas and work to fix these in order to make a workplace more enjoyable, safer or more desirable to work for. They simply ask, ‘What could we have done better?’

There are also sometimes ulterior motives in that whatever information employers can gather from a worker; any part of that data could be used in the future should that employee decide to sue for whatever reason. Any comments said during an exit interview can come back to haunt them. The company can use this information to cover themselves during a potential lawsuit. How often does that happen? Not very frequently but it is something that employees need to be aware of.

Here are some typical questions: What did you like best about your job? (Good question). What did you like least? (Be very careful with this one). What is the reason for leaving? (Is it any of their business and could you be viewed as a disgruntled employee based on your answer?-You’re safe if you just stay positive). Were there any issues with your supervisor or managers? (Unless it is public knowledge that your boss is a jerk, stay silent). What would you change about your job? (Go ahead and answer, but be constructive).

Should you give generic or truthful responses? Career professionals are mixed. Many feel that brutally honest answers can not only create negative feelings towards the departing employee but could also burn a bridge from which one can’t recover. In any industry, reference or background checks could uncover some damaging (although truthful) information. Responses could even be a factor of a non-rehire in the future.

Unfortunately, people need to be careful about what they disclose. In this litigious society and with more people having access to information now more than ever, one has to determine what potential repercussions could occur should any information be released. Look at the breeches of information and potential for damage (News of the World folding in the U.K.; Wikileaks’ government papers, etc.). With the number of merges, acquisitions and management shuffles, information sharing is at an all-time high. And, people don’t forget so easily7

Does anyone have to take part in an exit interview? No-it is not mandatory; except in security or government positions in which case the law or company dictates policy. If it is optional, an employee needs to define a few things before granting a survey. One is whether there could be any risks in supplying ‘truthful’ statements. These could be constructive criticisms of the company, managers, policies, etc.; which could be very helpful to a company. However, will that information be confidential or will you have to sign your name stating the facts. And will that positive (or negative) data ever get out?

We all want to believe that any feedback provided will be held in strictest confidence and will be
something that we will never have to worry about again. Larger organizations will gather this information
from all of their locations, sister companies, etc. and pick out information that is relevant. From there they
can make recommendations to upper management or rewrite job descriptions or employee manuals to
better reflect real working conditions. If this is a quandary for someone, and they just don’t know what to
do, remember what mama always said: ‘If you can’t say something nice7’

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