Why are you leaving me? Five exit interview tips

Kate Palmer - HR Advice and Consultancy Director

September 03 2019

Look around your workplace. Can you see your workers? One day, they’re going to leave you.

Don’t be alarmed. It’s completely natural. The average UK worker changes jobs every five years.

And although some relationship experts will tell you not to over analyse a breakup (“these things happen: move on”) you should take the time to understand why your staff leave. It could reveal important facts about your business…

But how do you find out the real reason an employee has resigned? What questions do you ask to get useful information? And what do you do when a soon to be ex-employee just wants to gripe? Here are five top tips for holding a successful exit interview.

1. Find out why they really left

One of the most important things you need to know is why your worker is leaving and whether you risk other staff resigning, too.

Sometimes it will be obvious. Your worker was headhunted. Another company gave them an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Other times it’ll be a mix of factors. Arguments with management, changes in responsibilities, boredom, or worries about job security often add up to the decision to leave.

Whatever answer you get, it’s up to you to decide how to use this information. And that’s not easy. For example, a dispute with a supervisor can be a clash of personalities or a sign that there’s an issue with your management team.

After the interview, speak with other members of staff. Do they feel the same way? If so, what can you do to make sure you don’t lose more employees?

2. Look out for harassment, bullying or discrimination

If your employee suggests that they suffered harassment, bullying or discrimination you need to take their claim seriously.

If this is the first time you’ve heard about the issue, ask why your employee didn’t feel like they could raise it before. If they have already raised it, but don’t feel like it was addressed, is there an issue with your grievance process?

Either way, you’ll need to investigate. Because you could face a claim of constructive dismissal, even after your employee has left.

Hopefully, you won’t run into anything quite so dramatic in your exit interview. If you do, I recommend getting expert support from a Peninsula HR specialist before you go any further.

3. Ask positive questions

There are two reasons why you should stick to positive questions during an exit interview:

  1. It’s a nicer experience for you both
  2. You’re more likely to get honest answers

Let me explain. Saying how you feel isn’t always the same as being honest. It’s hard to give a truly objective answer when you’re sad or angry.

So ask your employee about their positive experiences. What did they enjoy about their job? What are they most proud of? What do they think the company does well?

And when it comes to talking about your employee’s challenges, frame those in a positive light, too. How can we improve? What can we change to help our staff achieve their goals?

You’ll put your employee in the right frame of mind to give constructive feedback, and you’ll get more honest insights into your strengths and weaknesses.

4. Stay open-minded

Remember, you’re not trying to negotiate with your employee or change their mind. An exit interview is simply a chance for you to find ways to improve your business.

So stay open-minded, even when you hear things that you disagree with.

For example, you may feel like you push your staff to achieve their best. Your staff may feel like you put them under unnecessary pressure. You might feel like your staff get great salaries and benefits. Your staff might feel they’re undervalued.

Different perspectives challenge our beliefs, but often reveal nuggets of truth.

5. Keep your cool

In an ideal world, you and your employee will be going through an amicable divorce. An easy split. A conscious uncoupling that’s best for you both.

But things don’t always work out that way. It’s not unheard of for staff to go out ‘all guns blazing’ and use the exit interview to tell you exactly how they feel.

Our advice? Stay cool, stick to your pre-planned questions, and, if their outburst is aggressive, unprofessional and unfounded, never hire them again.

Need advice on holding an exit interview? Our friendly HR team is on hand to help. Call 0800 028 2420 or request a callback.

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