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.