Why Skipping Staff Exit Interviews is Bad Business

Adapted from Staff Exit Interviews: Top Tips on The Camp Whisperer.

People have a number of reasons for leaving a company. We leave for personal reasons, professional goals, interpersonal issues, and even just for a change. No matter what your specific case, as staff leave your business, it is important that you take the time to find out what their experience was. Even, or especially, if they are leaving on bad terms.

Too often managers skip this step and suffer the consequences, which can at times be extreme.

I personally only recall having 1 exit interview. EVER. And I’ve held about 30 jobs in my life. This reality fails to give the rightful importance to acquiring data that can benefit your company.

Just a reminder of why having staff exit interviews is important:

Your staff are the face of your business.  

Your staff has to deal with the rules, regulations, expectations, or lack of any of those on a daily basis.  They are the ones who have the best idea of what is working and what isn’t, in fact, they may be leaving because of one of those.

Your staff see what you don’t because they’re on the front lines.  They know what expectations are realistic, and what ones aren’t.  They know why customers are unhappy. You don’t always.

The more data points you can collect, the better your understanding of the business will be.  

Your knowledge is just one data point.  Each staff member provides one more.  

Tips on how to make exit interviews a reality:

Set the expectation that every staff member has an exit interview.

No exceptions.  Whether that is a summer staff member, a manager leaving after 22 years, or even someone who is leaving after 3 days of training, the expectation should be that every staff member has an interview.  And you should plan that time on your end as well.  By creating this expectation, you are never in the position of trying to set up an staff exit interview with one or two people who you think have had a difficult experience and could offer valuable insight. Awkward!

For seasonal staff, set aside a day for exit interviews.  

This tip is for your sake and your schedule.  Fitting 10, 20, or 30 interviews into your schedule at the end of an exhausting season can be daunting.  And if you’re trying to schedule them into 2 weeks, you’ll feel like those 2 weeks have been taken away from you.  Take a day or two, or maybe an afternoon, and have seasonal staff sign up for the time slot that works for them.  Then have them come to you.  This simplifies the process and makes it manageable.

Prepare a standard set of questions.

Entering an interview without a clear idea of what you want to say and ask does not set you, or them, up for success. Put together a standard set to use for everyone, and make sure they have access to it well in advance.  Make sure questions are impactful and phrased in a way that encourages conversation, and that you have a good balance of questions that might be perceived as slightly negative and those that appear positive.  A standard question set will also prevent any employee from feeling “targeted” in their staff exit interview, which rarely leads to positive interactions.

Know your time constraints.  

If you have time for an hour-long interview, that’s fabulous!  You can learn a lot of valuable information in that amount of time.  But an hour for every exit interview may not be practical. Know your constraints, and limit your questions to allow plenty of true conversation within that.  You might only have time to ask one question. That's fine! Just make sure that one question gets at the heart of what you need to know to propel your business forward.

Be as casual as possible.  

Staff often have difficulty sharing their negative opinions or experiences with management.  Not only do people often struggle with what they perceive as confrontation, but we are all incredibly aware of our need for good references.  No one wants to jeopardize a relationship.  Therefore, it is vital that any exit interview be conducted in a way that feels “safe”.  You want people to feel comfortable.  Strive to make the interview feel like a conversation.  Can you have them over coffee?  Can you wait to write anything down until after the interview is over?  Is your body language open?  What about the physical space you have interviews in?  Does it feel casual and comfy, or is it industrial and stale?  Be aware of all of these factors that can affect the way staff feel as they are being interviewed. Also, be aware of your own relationship with the person being interview. If your relationship has at times been tense, it might be a good idea to ask someone else to handle the interview.

What is your biggest struggle with staff exit interviews?