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HR Q&A: Suggestions for Exit Interviews During the Pandemic

We’ve had a lot of turnover since the pandemic started and are thinking about doing exit interviews to see if we can find out why. Do you have any suggestions?

Exit interviews can be a very useful tool — if you’re prepared to act on what you learn — so it’s great that you’re thinking about using them. I’ll cover some basics.

Exit interviews typically use one of two formats: an in-person interview or a form the employee completes on their own. An in-person (or video conference) interview allows for follow-up questions if the employee says something you’d like to know more about, while a written form lets the employee give more thought to each question and answer at a pace that works for them. They may also be more honest if they don’t have to answer questions face to face.

Tips Before You Get Started
• If meeting face-to-face, conduct the exit interview as close as possible to the end of employment (e.g., the last hour of their last day of work).
• Meet somewhere private and make sure to allow enough time for a meaningful conversation.
• Avoid having the employee’s direct supervisor conduct the interview, if possible.
• Explain that the interview is for informational purposes and for the betterment of the organization and their coworkers.
• Say that you will take notes and that you will keep them as confidential as possible. Note that certain issues, if raised, must be discussed with management.
• Assure them that concerns or information shared in good faith will not be communicated to future employers or negatively affect a reference check.

Questions to Ask
Generally you’ll start with why the employee is leaving. Ask why they sought employment elsewhere, whether the company or their manager could have done anything differently to keep them there, and what the employee thinks their new company will do better.

If they had a bad experience at your company, find out why. Ask the employee to talk about any problems, unresolved issues, or other matters not handled to their satisfaction. Did their supervisor demonstrate fair and equal treatment? Did they provide recognition on the job? Did they foster cooperation and teamwork? You might get answers you don’t want to hear, but they’re invaluable if you’re serious about improving employee retention.

Working relationships are also foundational to employee morale and success, so ask about situations, practices, or behaviors that helped or hindered collaboration. Was communication good or bad? What made it that way? What practices or working conditions were beneficial and should be maintained or enhanced?

The exit interview is also a good opportunity to get the employee’s perspective on their training, benefits, and the growth potential the employee felt they had, as well as the performance review process, and their assessment of employee morale. Finally, once you’re done with your questions, ask the employee if there’s anything they’d like to add.

You’ll probably want to follow a similar line of questioning if you request a written response, but keep in mind that the employee probably won’t want to spend a lot of time on it, so I’d suggest keeping it to five questions at most.

Answer from Sarah, PHR, SHRM-CP:

Sarah has extensive Human Resources experience in the legal, software, security and property preservation industries. She has a Business Communications degree from Villa Julie College (now Stevenson University) and a master’s certificate in Human Resources Management and a Strategic Organizational Leadership certification from Villa Nova University. Sarah is also a member of the National Society of Human Resources Management and has managed the HR function for small startup companies to mid-sized/large organizations.

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