The Last Exit

Stop wasting time.

Recently I was discussing exit interviews with a client who believes in and practices them. In fact, their interviews are pretty lenghty. Their rationale for same included many of the textbook reasons I remember former employers espousing to me as a newbie.

Here's my perspective: exit interviews are a waste of time.

That we should try to assess feelings about our company is without question. We should care both about how attractively we're perceived in the labor market as well as what our employees really think about our culture.

Yet, that information has to be systemic and real-time to be of value.

Exit intervierws are neither.

Recall that exit interviews are hand-me-downs and as such, don't quite fit. They're a relic from a time when HR had no other way to gauge employee attitutudes about the company. And while they may have worked decades ago they don't work now.

The input we get from them is sanitized, homogenized and standardized: its of little value.

And by the way, the employee is leaving. We haven't influenced attrition downward.

What to do

For good data on workplace attractiveness there are more effective systems:

  • Salary studies and compensation studies abound in type, frequency and cost and give us much more concrete information about where we rank in the market than a few subjective remarks from departing employees. By the way, why do people say they're leaving? More money. True? Not really. Most people leave for a combination of reasons – not all bad – but having made the mental decision to go, they look for jobs paying more. Wouldn't you? Who leaves for less?
  • Numerous survey systems are in place that were not available decades ago that enable us to question employees on a multitude of things, and social media now gives us a live feed. Rather than wait for people to leave we can pulse them anytime we want. Just remember the key rule of surveys: don't perform them unless you are going to tell people what the survey data said and what, if anything, you plan to do about it
  • Open door, skip levels, roundtables, chats, all-hands, townhalls, etc., etc., are all mechanisms to drive real live dialogue between staff and management. I've seen them done well and poorly. Done well people feel unthreatened to say how they feel, management responds in an adult way, and follow-up is shared openely so all parties know whether or not anything is being changed or addressed. Open communication is the essence of transparency

We are a mobile workforce. On average we will experience between seven-twelve employers in a career.

People are going to leave.

Given that, I advise my clients to work harder on uncovering how people feel about the company while they're here. Its absolutely important to understand how employees feel about the total offering, the work and our culture.

I just want to know while there's time to do something positive about it.


6 thoughts on “The Last Exit

  1. Christopher,

    Well said. The exit interview is simply too little (or too much) too late. Sadly, for many employees it’s the only time any one asks for their feedback and gives them a platform for delivering it. So HR writes down what’s said, maybe shares it with someone (like the employee’s supervisor who either basks in the positives or dismisses the negatives as a flaw in the employee), or just files it in the maw of everlasting company cyberspace.

    I’m with you on the need to care about what employees think about working in our companies and to act on it as a way to retain them and to attract others. Great post with an important message.

    Thanks, ~Dawn

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment Dawn and so intelligently too. It’s critical to know how our employees see the work environment and offering – waiting until they leave to do so is malfeasance.

  2. Hello Christopher,

    In my last company, we had this shared document where every manager could find the outputs of exit interviews done by H.R. Looking at this doc, I was always wondering why our employees were resigning…

    Most common answers:

    Salary? => Happy about it, above average
    Managers => Great people, I love my manager
    Benefits => Really good
    Training => Yes, perfect!
    and so on, and so on…

    So why were they leaving us?

    I was still not convinced that these interviews were useless. I still had hope that we might find something, that someone, someday, will say something interesting and helpful for the company. But it never happened. Employees know perfectly that their future employer might and will certainly call the previous one!

    And today, I stumbled upon your article and it was an eye opener. I’m done now with exit interviews!

    I googled “exit interviews are useless” and found several interesting articles on that subject.

    Once again, thanks for posting it!

    Eric (@rkruiter)

    • Well, thank you for reading and commenting on it Eric!

      Yes, the data from exit interviews is typically so thin and skewed that its hard to really call it data. And my view is simple: I really do care what people think – as an HR person that’s a core part of who I am.

      But I want to know how they feel and what they think while they’re working here, so we can extend their tenure and make improvement to our culture.

      Relying on exit interviews is a lazy panacea that offers no real solution.

      Thank you so much for commenting Eric!

  3. There are few blog posts that I keep coming back to, but this is one of them Christopher, primarily because I have mixed feelings about what you’re proposing here. It’s an interesting dilemma – I believe exit interviews can be useful, albeit very subjective. Perhaps done well, exit interviews are less about the data, and more about someone – anyone – actually asking an employee who has dedicated a significant chunk of their waking hours to your organisation why they are breaking up with you. (it’s not them. it’s you.)

    • An intelligent and thoughtful perspective Alex: I see your point. While I know there is no “right” answer I come down firmly on the side of no interviews, in part because of the logic you raise. How sad it is – and needless – to express interest and concern only when someone is leaving. I see your view and respect it: and most of all I thankyouforsharing it Alex!

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