How to Conduct an Exit Interview

At any stage of a company’s growth, exit interviews are crucial for understanding why employees are leaving your company. Obtaining honest feedback can help you identify points of friction that need to be addressed in the workplace. However, when employees leave, emotions and tensions may run high—making exit interviews particularly tricky to navigate.

We sat down with Namely’s Senior Director of People Operations, Julie Li, to learn the best practices for leading successful exit interviews.

Who should conduct an exit interview?

Julie Li: Ideally, the HR business partner should conduct exit interviews. However, in smaller companies without an HR professional, a senior leader or even the CEO (if the team is that small) should have the conversation. It’s important for the employee to know they are sharing feedback with someone who actually has sway in the company.

I would advise against having the direct manager conduct the interview. The employee may not feel as comfortable openly sharing honest feedback with their manager—particularly if they're leaving due to dissatisfaction with this manager.

What questions should I ask during the exit interview?

JL: It may be helpful to create a template so that each employee who leaves is asked the same set of questions. This will help you collect data in a systematic way. One of the most common exit interview questions is simply, “Why are you leaving?” It's also helpful to ask what would have kept the employee at your company.

If you use engagement surveys, consider including some of the same questions so you can gauge what factors are most important to employees decisions around retention. Make sure to ask questions that address the key areas you value as a company. Lastly, a strong way to end the conversation is to ask for any advice the employee would give the leadership team.

How do you conduct an exit interview—in-person or via an online form?

JL: Online forms make collecting and analyzing data easier, but in-person meetings create a much more human experience. During a live conversation, employees are much more likely to feel heard and valued, leading to a more positive departure. When employees leave on a positive note, they are more likely to advocate for the company down the road.

How do I approach the exit interview?

JL: To elicit the most authentic response, be sure the employee knows that their responses will remain confidential. If they fear that any feedback they provide on specific people will be shared directly, they are much less likely to share their true feelings. Make sure the employee knows that the purpose of the exit interview is to gather information that HR or senior leadership can use to help improve the overall employee experience.

Replacing an employee is never easy, and exit interviews provide an opportunity to learn exactly what impacted an employee’s decision to leave. With these insights, you can implement initiatives that help you better engage and retain your existing workforce.

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