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Exit Interviews – A Waste of Time?

Posted by Eric Friedman

exit interview

When an employee is either fired or quits, it’s customary to have one last round of interviews in the hope of learning about what led them to this point, so that the company can change its policies to correct any problems or issues. These interviews are presented as no-pressure meetings, because the employees have already terminated their relationship with the employer, so they may be more open about the issues involved. However, for many HR professionals, these interviews are considered to be a waste of valuable time, and the information provided is seen as lacking in validity. We’ve come up with a short list of the pros and cons of the exit interview, so you can be the judge of whether or not they’re worth your time.

PROS:

Improving company processes: If you take the exit interview seriously and really listen to those who are leaving your company, you’ll have an opportunity to improve processes within your organization. More than 26 percent of employees leave a company because of a lack of development in their areas of focus, according to the Accounting Principals’ latest Workplace Insights Survey. Knowing about these issues can allow you to take the next step toward improving them.

Fixing behaviors in the workplace: Some people leave because of the behavior of co-workers – maybe a manager or co-worker was bullying or harassing them, and no matter how many times they reported the issue it was never resolved. It’s also very possible that they were too afraid to report the issue while they were employed, and during the exit interview they may feel free to report everything. This gives you a chance to look into a potentially serious problem before more employees leave.

Providing immediate feedback to the interviewer: An exit interview provides immediate feedback to your Human Resources department, and that feedback can be more valuable than you may think. When someone decides to leave a company, schedule an exit interview with him or her before the final day. If you’re still paying them to be there, they’ll be more willing to take the time to talk, and be more honest.

CONS:

A lack of follow-up: One of the cons of the exit interview is that there is often a lack of follow-up. Sometimes it’s because the HR department doing the interview isn’t taking the candidate seriously, or it may be that they just don’t have enough time to perform adequate follow-up.

Low participation for telephone exit interviews due to caller ID: Many ex-employees will opt out of the exit interview when it’s performed via telephone and they’re able to see that their former employer is calling. Once an employee makes the decision to quit a job, they often want to check out of everything having to do with the company.

Time-consuming: Let’s face it, your average HR professional is already bogged down with tasks that seem to take all of their time. If you have a mass exodus of people or even 2-3 people leaving, it takes time to arrange, conduct, decipher, and create action plans based on the information. If you don’t have time to maximize the results, it may just not be worth doing.

Now that you’ve seen the PROS and CONS of exit interviews – what’s your take?

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About Eric Friedman

Author

Eric Friedman is the founder and CEO of eSkill Corporation, a leading provider of Web-based skills testing for pre-employment and training. With academic degrees in Psychology and Business, and experience with both mature and expansion-stage company growth, Eric has focused on how best to hire and motivate team members to be the best they can be for their companies.

13 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Brian December, 05, 2013

    I agree that exit interviews are mostly the waste of time and money, because employees who are leaving the company in most cases don’t care that much about the future of this company, that’s why they are reluctant to give any information that might help to improve this company.

  • Stacey Cobbs December, 05, 2013

    I think employees who are leaving don’t want to share the real reasons why they go, because they know it has nothing to do with the fact that their opinion matters. Companies conduct exit interviews because they want to make sure they won’t be sued.

  • Dan Backington December, 06, 2013

    My viewpoint is that exit interview should be conducted along with or after stay interviews. Acting this way you show your employee that you respect and value them and that their opinion matters. By making it more about an employee and not about the company you encourage them to give real reasons of their leaving.

  • Nick December, 06, 2013

    The most valuable and important thing about exit interviews is that they can shed light on the possible pattern why people are leaving. But if the information is not followed up on, but just stays filed on a computer there’s no point in conducting exit interviews.

  • Lesley December, 07, 2013

    Totally agree, Nick! The problem is that organizations fail to use the information they gather to effect change. Moreover I am not sure many companies really want to know why their employees are jumping ship. In most cases they just want to make sure they are safe from law suits.

  • rg500g December, 07, 2013

    Actually, this is one of the very few such articles I found to be well reasoned and phrased. That said, exit interviews are a total waste of time because what you often do expose is something that just cannot be well addressed. People most often leave of their own accord either because they get clearly better pay or professional opportunities, or the organizational culture does not appeal to them in some way. In either circumstance, any discoveries during the exit interview cannot be easily translated into meaningful change. An abusive manager that makes his or her KPIs is not going to be coached or subjected to any other HR process unless they have done something meriting litigation. If the corporate goals are being attained then all else is secondary until you cross the line and wind up with a compliance breach, an audit finding, or a civil action. Pay and professional opportunities are similarly all but impossible to sway through exit interviews. Companies will find the least expensive labor that achieves corporate goals and will factor in turnover costs in their FTE costing. They know precisely what turnover rate is sustainable and manage to that. I cannot blame them for this. This is simple corporate stewardship. This may cause a ‘brain drain’ in the company, but if the corporate goals are met the company is simply finding that they don’t need arrogant rocket scientists for the job, and their pay scales are set accordingly.

  • Ajay December, 09, 2013

    I think it’s just one of the checklist item to be completed and hence waste of time. Most of the employees who resign, keep giving the hints directly or indirectly. They share their concerns with managers however we don’t act (rather I would say processes/policies do not allow us to do so) on it. And when they resigns we pull all levers to retain them. So it should be better we respect their concerns, listen them when they are in and not when they are going out.

  • Jess December, 10, 2013

    My suggestion would be to skip the exit interview and ask the employee to fill out a questionnaire. Give it to them a week prior to their leaving – this will give them time to think through their answers and not be too shy.

  • Karen Mancini December, 19, 2013

    I believe both the pro´s and con´s for exit interviews. I have seen HR ask questions which satisfy the company and HR ask really good questions that find out the real reasons. Again what a company does with the information is totally up to them and if they “waste” the time of the HR employees asking the questions and then do nothing with the information, then they deserve what they get, and also the HR doing it. I believe we should find out why people leave and I believe we should act on this, its very important informatoin for a company, its one of the ways to improve. HR should be a business partner and not an administartor of processes.

  • Christopher Demers December, 19, 2013

    Interesting post. As a long-time HR practitioner I can say I’ve never felt exit interviews were helpful or useful in any form. The exiting person is typically guarded or over-expansive while management often discounts the input as some form of “sour grapes.”

    Have never liked the process or the product. I am frankly much more interested in how people feel and perceive the organization when they are still actively engaged/employed.

  • RP December, 25, 2013

    If someone is leaving your company and you don’t know why, then an Exit Interview isn’t going to enlighten you much. I’ve rarely if ever been in doubt about what has caused a colleague to leave, whether for negative or positive reasons.

  • Jackie Brough SPHR December, 25, 2013

    The time to fix problems with a job or an employee is as soon as you are made aware of them. That requires a process that allows an employee to have someone they can turn to to discuss issues of concern to them. This can be difficult because most people do not trust management. However, if they come with the understanding that this is a discussion about how to resolve the issue themselves or simply a place to vent, it can be an enlightening experience. From this, one can gain an understanding of their career goals, compensation expectations, and the leadership needs of the individual and/or the organization.
    That being said, I think an exit interview is too little, too late.

  • Pam Dennis January, 09, 2014

    I think as caring employees we should make time for exit interviews, it only takes half an hour and I feel it is a good form of closure for the end of the employment relationship. You should be aware of any problems way before the exist interview if you keep on top of the appraisal process so exit interviews shouldn’t be an excuse to have a good old moan but to reflect on the working experience and wish the employee well for the future. And if we can pick up on anything we can improve upon, then all well and good.

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