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Lessons learned: The value of the exit interview

How to learn from attrition and emerge stronger

During the “Great Resignation,” companies large and small are grappling with employee turnover. While a percentage of employees leave for personal or other factors not related to the job, some leave for reasons that could have been fixed beforehand. With a $1 trillion price tag to companies today for hiring, replacing and retraining new staff according to Gallup, there are more reasons than ever to get the most out of your exit interviews.

Whether you have been in business for 30 years or three months, exit interviews can yield valuable information to power your staffing strategy going forward. Uncovering not just discontent, but larger patterns, operational issues and inefficiencies can allow you to make investments now to stave off future – potentially regrettable – attrition.

Make it a safe space

As much as you can, make the exit interview a safe space. This includes being upfront about what information you are looking for and letting the employee know that regardless of their answers you consider their leaving on good terms.

At the beginning of the interview, set clear parameters with statements like, “We’re looking to improve some of our processes and the way we do things. We’d love your unvarnished insight as to how we could improve specific modes of operation.” Let them know you’d like their objective view on how things are done – versus digging for all the reasons they are leaving. Emphasize a positive message – “you can help to improve work for your fellow colleagues who continue to work here,” is a good frame to level-set before the conversation starts.

Look for patterns

It’s important not to just read the answers to an exit interview and file them away. Here’s where you can gain insights that can potentially drive new ideas for your business. Create a simple database where all exit interviews are saved. Once you have a few – start to read for patterns, themes or even consistent operational or personnel issues. Look for culture fit concerns, systems issues, and pay and compensation matters as well. Chances are you will see topics repeat, possibly in asymmetrical ways, across interviews. That’s where the gold is. Use this intelligence just as you would if you hired someone to come in and do an audit of your business and its processes to inform your strategy and tactics going forward.

Next steps:

As you look to strengthen your business and bounce back from an employee loss:

  • Consider reworking your exit interview format to include a focus on systems and processes.
  • If you’ve had attrition in the past – compare how it stacks up to recent attrition.
  • Think about asking remaining employees about topics brought up in the exit interview to get a pulse on what may be happening.