Simple Exit Interviews Help Reduce Turnover

15 Nov

There’s turnover, and then there’s turnover. There’s the kind we welcome, as when a marginal, pain-in-the-neck employee quits, and the kind we dread, like when a valued employee resigns to go elsewhere. Once an individual’s decision to resign has been formalized, there may not be much that can be done to prevent the loss of that employee. But we can, however, take steps to learn why valued employees leave and use what we have learned to help prevent similar losses in the future.

Exit interviews are often described as locking the barn door after the horse has been lost. But the purpose of an exit interview is not to reverse an individual’s resignation, but rather to reduce future turnover by learning the reasons for leaving so conditions that might be driving good people away can be addressed constructively.

Many large companies put every departing employee through an elaborate exit interview and accumulate statistics related to departures. But a constructive exit interview doesn’t need to be lengthy or complex, and not every departing employee needs to be subjected to such an interview. There’s little sound reason to pursue the occasional welcome instance of voluntary turnover, and certainly no reason to exit interview persons leaving because of retirement or disability or those whose departures are unavoidable (for example, resignation owing to spousal relocation).

People leave their employment for various reasons. When examining voluntary departures of good employees, look most closely at those who leave for other employment and those who resign for “personal reasons.” The most frequently encountered reasons for leaving include, in no particular order:

  • Lack of recognition; the feeling of being unappreciated, of never having one’s contributions recognized.
  • Poor quality of supervision; unhappiness with how one is treated by superiors.
  • Personality conflicts; frequent differences with coworkers and supervisors often cause one to seek a new work environment.
  • Lack of advancement opportunity; the perceived opportunity for promotion and growth is important to many employees, and its absence prompts some to find work where this opportunity is more likely to exist.
  • Money, often important in one of two senses: the desire for a larger income; or seeking change because of a belief that one is unfairly paid relative to others.

Valued employees often consider changing jobs because of unhappiness with some aspect of the work situation, and often their reasons relate to how they believe they are treated. Look at the role of the immediate supervisor. Recognition, quality of supervision, personality conflicts and perhaps even a portion of perceived advancement opportunity fall within the immediate supervisor’s sphere of influence. In other words, the supervisor’s relationship with the employee is often the strongest factor influencing an employee to either remain or depart.

Departing employees are most likely to speak honestly if exit interviews are conducted by someone other than the immediate supervisor, say perhaps another supervisor, the immediate supervisor’s manager, or, preferably, whoever usually attends to human resource matters. Even when undertaken by a neutral party, some departing employees — usually those leaving for “personal reasons” — may say nothing negative for fear of affecting future employment references.

What to do when learning of employee unhappiness in an exit interview? Over the course of one, two or a few exit interviews you’re not likely to accumulate sufficient information to act upon. To be reliable, exit interview information must be accumulated until certain patterns begin to emerge. Once a pattern emerges, however, you’ll have a reasonably clear idea of what needs attention if you are to head off some undesirable future turnover. A pattern may tell you that a supervisor’s style is objectionable, recognition for work done is scant, workload is unfairly distributed, pay and benefits are lagging behind the community or any number of other undesirable circumstances. Once this information is validated through repetition, steps can be taken to address the problems.

Your company’s exit interview questions may be customized to your unique circumstances, but some suggestions can be offered. Following are several sample questions.

  • How do you feel you were treated by your supervisor? By your coworkers?
  • How well do you believe your work was recognized and appreciated?
  • Do you feel you were given adequate training and assistance in learning the job you were expected to do?
  • What’s your opinion of the opportunities for transfer or promotion within this business?
  • How would you describe the general morale of the employees with whom you worked?
  • How fairly was the workload distributed among you and your coworkers?
  • What could be done to make this company a better place to work?

An exit interview won’t always tell you everything you’d like to know, but it’s often a constructive start on learning why good employees leave.


Pinal Mehta

One Response to “Simple Exit Interviews Help Reduce Turnover”


  1. General HR « AscentOm Career Consultants Pvt. Ltd. -

    […] Simple Exit Interviews Help ReduceĀ Turnover […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: