Staff turnover is inevitable, especially for businesses in the food and drink industry, such as restaurants and bars. For many employers in this niche, a high turnover rate is a fact of business life. And to many managers with such revolving-door staffing needs, exit interviews might seem to be a waste of time. However, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the benefits of exit interviews far outweigh any inconvenience.
Moreover, exit interviews don’t have to be long, formal affairs to be effective. You simply need a procedure and policy in place for performing them and the right person to conduct them.
Benefits of conducting exit interviews for employers and managers
One study conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management found that over 90% of employers make it a habit to conduct exit interviews when an employee leaves. Those employers know the truth about exit interviews: they’re a great source of valuable business intelligence. If that surprises you, you may have fallen prey to the biggest misconception about exit interviews — that they’re designed to either change the departing employee’s mind, or to persuade an angry employee not to sue.
In fact, both of those objectives are bad ones. Changing an employee’s mind happens rarely, and interactions with litigious employees should go through an attorney in any event.
So what can a well-planned, properly conducted exit interview do for you as an employer, then? Quite simply, it helps you reduce your turnover rate by gathering first-hand information on what makes good employees decide to quit working for your company.
When you gather enough of that information, especially from the kind of employees whom you’d like to hire more of, you gain a much deeper insight into where your business can improve in ways that will help it:
- Retain more valuable employees in the future;
- Reduce your turnover rate; and
- Lower the costs associated with a high staff turnover rate.
A solid exit interview program can also help you Identify what your business is doing well; confirm how well you’re staffing the position in question, in terms of skill sets, experience, etc.; and capture any valuable information you can glean from a valuable exiting employee. Knowledge transfer is valuable to any organization. Even if it’s true that no one is indispensable, the knowledge a departing worker takes with them can be valuable. What’s more, well-conducted exit interviews contribute to an employee perception of a positive workplace culture. Businesses that do it right are generally perceived as caring, compassionate employers who are confident enough to welcome constructive criticism.
Who should conduct the exit interview
Many experienced managers recommend that a human resources professional should always conduct exit interviews. There are advantages and drawbacks to this approach. On one hand, HR professionals likely already know how to conduct a good exit interview and won’t need any additional training to know how to ask open questions, follow up constructively, and handle high-stress moments with angry or upset employees.
However, HR professionals may intimidate a worker who has a serious complaint about their experience working with your company. A neutral third party might get more candid responses.
One person who should never be the one asking the questions in an exit interview is the departing employee’s direct supervisor. This is almost always a terrible idea. If the employee has any legitimate constructive criticism to offer the supervisor, they’ll likely be disinclined to share it candidly.
Tips for better questions — and more useful answers
Make your exit interviews available to every departing employee, but strictly on a voluntary basis. Of course, you should never withhold payment of wages or release of any property until exit interviews have been completed. (Applicable laws may also prohibit this.) When you contact the departing employee to arrange for the exit interview, reassure them that it’s confidential and that no one other than the interviewer will be able to attribute their comments to them by name.
Conduct the interview in private and one-on-one. Two or more interviewers can easily intimidate the worker and make them feel “ganged up on.” That will only interfere with your aim of getting candid, truthful information.
The key thing you’ll want to know is why the worker is leaving your employment. Most employees will offer explanations that may be technically accurate — more money, better hours, more convenient location, etc. — but may not actually explain the trigger for the departure — that is, the circumstance or inciting event that prompted that worker to look for something with better pay, different hours, etc.
To counter this, be prepared to ask about it in a few different ways. For example, you can ask each of these at various points in the interview:
- “Tell me a little more about why you’re leaving us.”
- “Was there any specific event or occurrence that prompted your decision to leave?”
- “What made you want to look for another position elsewhere?”
If the employee brings up any uncomfortable or unpleasant interactions with other employees or managers, you may want to explore that further. Try drawing the employee out with open-ended questions — such as “can you describe for me what happened then?” — as opposed to close-ended questions like “did she tell you to leave?”
After getting the employee’s description of troubling events, you may want to ask directly whether the employee feels they were discriminated against, harassed, etc. If the answer is yes, you’ll want to follow up by asking whether the employee shared that information with anyone else in the organization prior to deciding to leave.
Phrasing questions with “what would you change about …” wording help to elicit better constructive criticism. Any aspect of employment could be a good subject for this kind of questioning: the organizational structure or chain of command, schedule, operations, procedures, workflow, etc.
Finally, ask some open-ended questions about final impressions. Questions could include:
- “Would you consider working with us again in the future?”
- “Would you recommend this company as a place to work to your friends and family members?”
- “How would you rate the morale of your coworkers here?”
End the interview on a positive note. Thank the departing worker for their service, reassure them that their answers won’t be identifiable and will be kept confidential, and wish them well.
What to do with the information from exit interviews
Don’t just collect the information from exit interviews and then ignore it. Rather, decide upfront what you’ll do with exit interview data. It should be collected, collated, and analyzed by decision-makers in your organization. Identify issues that get mentioned more than once, then decide what to do to address problem areas.
As one consultant says, “Basically, the exit interview has three purposes: to learn where the company can improve itself, to make sure employees leave feeling good about their service and, in some cases, [to encourage] the employee to stay under new circumstances.”
To fulfill the primary purpose — improving your organization as an employer — decide in advance how you’ll capture and analyze the resulting information your interviewees offer.
Exit interviews are an invaluable tool in a smart manager’s toolbox — don’t overlook them!
Asking the right open-ended questions of departing workers can yield a wealth of insights and constructive criticism, which can make your business a sought-after place to work for all the best employees in your niche and market.