The Word on Exit Interviews

The Word on Exit Interviews 150 150 Jason Lauritsen


A colleague recently asked my opinion on employee exit interviews.  I told him that I thought that they were a waste of time–one of those activities that HR departments spend a bunch of time on without understanding the why.

There are a lot of reasons why exit interviews are another example of a good intention executed in a colossally flawed way.  I’ve have talked to colleagues who conducted research that revealed how flawed they really are (hint: if you are doing exit interviews, try resurveying the same people 90 days after they leave to see if their answers are still the same).

But, this issue seems so straight forward that I hope that we don’t have lay out a bunch of research to prove the point.  Here’s the analogy that clarifies it for me.

If I interviewed someone you dated or were married to as the relationship was ending with little hope of reconciliation, what kind of picture would that person paint of you?  What would they say if I asked them what you could do to be a better partner?  Would the information be fair, balanced, or constructive?  Do you think that person would account for their own role as part of the failure of the relationship when they were providing their answers?

You might be thinking, “Sure, but romantic relationships are different than work.”  Yes, a romantic relationship is more of an emotional relationship, but if you think work isn’t an emotional relationship as well, you are kidding yourself.  When we part ways with an employer, it’s often just as emotional as a breakup.  We associate our indentities with our work.  We spend more time at work than we do with our families.  It’s serious stuff.  And when we leave, there are emotions involved whether we are parting on good terms or bad.  Emotions distort.

Emotions mean you can’t possibly get good data in that moment.  Exit interviews seem like a great idea at first blush, but  they just aren’t.  And, when you slow down to think about it, it’s hard to arrive at any other conclusion.

So, if you are doing exit interviews today, stop it.  How about you redirect your efforts and go talk to your very best employees about what keeps them around and how you can support them in driving your business?  That would be a much better investment.

  • Tina DeRadder

    Okay, first I need to say this is the first time I have actually disagreed with you on a topic, so I have to speak up on this one. Not all employees who leave a company are upset and/or disgruntled, many are leaving for very positive reasons and we are thrilled for these employees, or it simply is no longer the right company for them. And if they are disgruntled all the more reason to hear their candid replies. It is all in how the exit is conducted. I have been doing the exits for our company for the last five years and have discovered trends that were a real concern that our leadership was not aware of. This led to focus groups and the discovery of other issues that develop over time when processes/procedures, work environment, etc, no longer are working. This has also led to the most successful and positive changes in our business from change in systems, complete process/procedure overhall, policy changes, opening communication lines between the front line employees and leadership, flexible time off/schedules and the list goes on and on. I love it when I see the light bulbs go off in my leadership’s heads after they really hear (not just listen) but really hear what their employees are saying. I have watched walls completely crumble and have watched our leadership finally realize just as much “life” happens to their employees as it does to them. We want to hear that emotion, because if the person who is leaving the company is feeling it so are others. Exit interviews are a powerful tool if done right, and the data is tracked, reviewed on a regular basis and you DO something about the common themes you will see over time. I see exits as a continuous improvement tool. Our world is constantly changing and I find this resource as just one of many tools to help us create a positive and productive work environment for all.

  • Leigh Branham

    Tina is apparently the exceptional HR pro who is able to get departing employees to tell the truth about why they are leaving. Most exit interviews are ineffective at uncovering the real reasons employees leave because they are done by company HR staffers who are simply completing a required task instead of probing to get at the root cause reason. This is why, even though 90% of companies conduct exit interviews and surveys, only 30% even bother to share the results with managers. Managers know the findings are superficial and mostly not useful. Most simply employees don’t want to burn a bridge. The best way to get at the real reasons is to hire a third-party provider to conduct the interview or survey anonymously after the employee has left. I have been conducting these for nine years and consistently hear the refrain, “This is something I didn’t tell my manager, but I’ll tell you…” I agree with Tina–it’s all in how it’s done. For more on this, see my book–The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave or

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