The 5 Questions to Ask in Employee Exit Interviews

exit interviews

Employee attrition is a fact of life, especially in a strong economy. Even in prosperous times, companies that fail to understand the causes of worker attrition do not continue to stay in business. Many defunct employers look back on their miss-steps and ask themselves “Why didn’t we conduct exit interviews to learn why we weren’t retaining good employees?”

Sometimes it’s the chaos of work. Sometimes employers don’t see the value in conducting exit interviews, or they believe the purpose is to change an employee’s mind. It isn’t. It’s about gaining the insights you need to reduce future turnover. To do this, you need to extract as much information as you can from what should be a ten minute interview.

Begin by clarifying that your purpose is to learn about any problems that should be addressed to improve employee retention. Explain that you are looking for honest, thoughtful answers. Then ask these questions and you will get the feedback you need to retain valuable employees:

1. Why have you decided to leave the company?

Open your exit interviews with the most important question. Being direct elicits the most truthful responses. If you delay this question, the employee may feel that the purpose of the discussion is to change his or her mind, or to change their negative perceptions during the course of the interview to deter a rant on social media (which is a serious problem to avoid).

If the departing employee struggles to answer, provide a printed handout and ask them to rank the top three reasons and include the following: poor quality of supervision, personality conflicts, lack of opportunity, lack of recognition, dissatisfied with responsibilities, dissatisfied with working environment, unhappy with pay, or better opportunity elsewhere.

2. How did the job compare with your expectations from when you were hired?

This question will elicit valuable insights that actually answer three questions:

  • Are we setting realistic expectations about the company, job, training, and processes during the interview process?
  • How are we living up to our reputation as an employer?
  • What did candidates expect in this specific role, and how did the job differ?

3. Did you have the resources, training, and supervision you needed to be effective?

Many businesses that see a spike in attrition learn critical information by asking this question. Business training and processes need to be continually adjusted to the needs of different employees. For instance, a niche business with proprietary processes may need more training reference materials than a corporate accounting firm. Understanding how the departing employee felt about the provided resources will help you determine future investments.

4. What caused you to start looking for a new job?

This question often yields surprising answers. Your competitor may be waging a successful recruiting campaign that poaches your most valuable workers. Or you may be overtraining employees for their roles, providing skills that they won’t use in this job but could use to find a better paying job. Often, the answer is boredom or lack of intellectual stimulation. With an answer like this, probe to find out the cause of boredom or dissatisfaction to determine if it is something that can be fixed.

5. Did your supervisors care about you?

One of the most common reasons employees cite for leaving hourly jobs is poor relationships with supervisors. This may be for lack of recognition or opportunity, personality conflicts, or disinterest in the employee as a person. Employee engagement leads to employee retention, and no one has more power to raise engagement levels than direct supervisors. Poor working relationships are an affordable problem to fix, and a problem you can’t afford to ignore.

Exit interviews are a valuable part of your long-term team-building strategy. Use them wisely, and apply the information you gain to improve employee engagement and retention.