Help improve your company's culture and staff retention rates by conducting the perfect exit interview!
Maybe it’s time to take the next step up the career ladder, perhaps an offer comes in that's too good to refuse, or maybe the the job just isn't satisfying anymore.
Regardless, there will always be a multitude of factors which influences a person’s decision to leave their employer. But it doesn’t have to be the end of the story…
When an employee decides to leave their job, organisations have a golden opportunity to discover what influenced their decision. They have the chance to discover if there are issues bubbling underneath the surface of an organisation which employees have perhaps been unwilling to share sooner.
For the employee, they’re just as important.
An exit interview gives employees the chance to give their true feelings on their experience of working for a company – be it a positive one, or not so positive…
Once their resignation is signed, sealed and delivered, they are far more likely to open-up and be honest when asked to provide constructive criticism; especially when it comes to how they perceive the company, management, leadership, its culture and the opportunities to help their careers progress.
This is where a good exit interview comes into play.
A good exit interview will allow businesses to evaluate what it’s really like for their employees; from the effectiveness of their leadership and management, to the culture of the business.
By identifying any issues which may not be immediately apparent, businesses can not only make the workplace experience more rewarding for their current employees, but also make the company more attractive for future employees, too.
This can lead to businesses finding it easier to attract the best talent the workforce has to offer and encourage their best employees to stick around for longer.
Well, we’ve collected the key findings you should be looking for both as an employer, why you should be asking them, and what you should aim to feed back on as an employee.
Their answers at this stage will then help you to drill down into more specific examples; highlighting either problems within the business that may not initially be apparent or confirming if you have an effective employee engagement strategy in place.
This is the big question – the singular reason for wanting to leave a company. And it’s self-explanatory, really!
Normally, the reasons are pretty stock: a new and exciting role, more money, the next step up the career ladder, or perhaps they simply didn’t enjoy their current job any more.
The exit interview is the chance for you to get specific details as to why they’re leaving, so encourage them to be as open and as honest as possible as their feedback is invaluable.
Employee engagement is when you wake up in the morning feeling glad to be working for your employer. It’s also feeling confident, happy, trusted and supported in a role you enjoy with a team you work well with.
If you’ve got a positive company culture that rewards employees, has clear, defined vision and values that everyone is striving for with a focus on all aspects of employee wellbeing, then the chances of having an engaged workforce are pretty high!
On the other hand, if there are issues with any one of these areas, it could cause a cascade effect that, ultimately, leads to employees looking to leave the business. The exit interview is your chance to ask this all-important question, which can then be expanded upon later on.
It may be a moot point at this stage, but trying to find out if there was anything your company could have done to encourage your leaver to stay can help give you pointers to improving your engagement strategy for the future.
Whilst their time at your organisation is coming to an end, it doesn’t necessarily have to be the end of the story.
If they have proven a valuable member of staff and has a wide and varied skill set, they could prove an ideal candidate for another role within your business in the future.
Yup, if someone who is leaving your business would be happy to refer a friend or family member to working for you, it’s a good indication that the company on the whole is on the right track when it comes to employee engagement and a positive company culture.
However, if they didn’t feel comfortable in recommending your business to others, there may be some serious issues going unchecked – and the exit interview is the perfect opportunity to dig deep beneath the surface.
Let’s now look at some more specific factors that can influence a person’s decision to leave your business.
An organisation’s managers will not only have the job of overseeing the performance of employees and the implementation of projects and regular duties.
They’re also key to inspiring a workforce, keeping them motivated when times get tough and supporting them through thick and thin – quite a large remit!
When you have a good manager in your team, the signs are easy to spot. But a manager who isn’t getting the best out of their employees can be a little harder to pin-point until it's too late.
Industry studies have discovered that managers can account for up to a 70% variance for employee engagement – that’s a huge variance! And it's not just engagement that can be affected.
Research by Gallup has found that the influence of bad or ineffective management is a key driver behind people's decision to leave a job. To be precise, they found that at least 75% of the reasons for costly voluntary staff turnover come down to things that managers can influence; including:
Exit interviews make identifying specific issues a little easier to achieve and can also help managers understand how they can improve on their own leadership and management skills.
Plus, don’t forget that ineffective management can be a key symptom of poor productivity and staff engagement. In fact, as our recent engagement study discovered, up to 80% of those dissatisfied with their managers are also disengaged from their employers.
Let’s look at the key factors you should discuss…
The exit interview is the perfect opportunity for an organisation to discover if its’ managers are on-message with not only the company’s vision, mission and values; but also, if they’re helping or hindering staff on their way to reaching their targets.
Success for employees often relies on clear expectations being set by their managers.
If they’re not being clear, or perhaps inconsistent with their expectations, it may become impossible for an employee to reach their objectives; leading them to be disengaged with their role, their manager and ultimately, the wider business in general.
Try to find out whether the expectations of the role were clearly communicated or not by their manager. This will indicate whether your managers are on-message with not only the company’s vision, mission and values; but also, if they’re helping or hindering your staff on their way to reaching their targets.
If you’re the person leaving, think about how you were managed whilst in your role:
By giving constructive feedback on how managers may or may not have communicated their expectations, you can not only help a manager improve their own managerial skills, but also help the organisation improve their workplace culture.
Be it through regular 1:1 sessions or more informal meetings, constructive and consistent feedback is a vital part of an employee’s career development.
Feedback clarifies those all-important expectations, helps build confidence and gives them the chance to identify areas of improvement. That feedback should also include the positives – and it shouldn’t be held back until more formal catch-up sessions, either.
Giving positive feedback is easy, but it can just as easily be forgotten. It’s really not hard to find the right words to tell someone they’ve done a good job or congratulate them on smashing a sales target.
But positive feedback should also include the little things which make the working environment a positive one; like staying a little later to help finish an urgent presentation or making sure everyone has that all-important cup of hot tea or coffee in the morning!
However, when things are going well it can become all-too easy to become complacent about giving praise.
Confidence breeds confidence and losing sight of just how important small words of praise are can be genuinely detrimental to a workforce.
Lack of appreciation in the workplace can be a huge influence on people’s decision to leave for greener pastures. In fact, it’s believed that nearly 70% of employees would happily leave a job if they felt unappreciated; so always be sure to check if an employee did feel valued and appreciated in their role before they leave.
On the other side of the coin, it’s also important to understand how not-so-good feedback was given to an employee:
It’s normal for people to want to either put off difficult conversations or soften the blow of a negative employee appraisal, but this approach can do more damage than good.
A manager who doesn’t address an immediate problem with an employee may find a small issue snowballing into something more serious – possibly even the reason why they’re choosing to leave in the first place!
In extreme circumstances, an employee could feel that they have been given unduly harsh, inconsistent or overly-negative feedback whilst in their role.
Whilst every employee will encounter difficulties or make the odd mistake (we’re all only human after all!), if they’re constantly beaten over the head – metaphorically, of course – with past mistakes or made an example out of, their confidence in their role could become damaged beyond repair.
The exit interview is your chance to discover how managers in your organisation deliver and support feedback to employees and identify any specific issues which could be driving valued staff members out.
Whilst a person’s decision to leave a business will of course be influenced by a number of factors, people often leave their managers – not necessarily their jobs or employers.
As an employee, it’s your opportunity to provide honest feedback in a confidential setting about how managers supported and guided you.
Look to give clear examples of perhaps what you felt worked, and what perhaps what didn’t – both are equally as important!
Good leaders in your business will actively help your employees reach their objectives; not just delegate tasks, sit back and offer feedback on their effectiveness.
The exit interview is your chance to find out if your managers are having a demonstrable and positive role in the development of your staff. This can be in the form of receiving regular and consistent feedback on their performance, to actively helping them overcome any barriers to success.
Ideally, employees should have felt comfortable approaching their managers or senior leaders and to say, "I need help", or "I’d like to talk about adjusting my objectives".
This approach helps build a supportive environment where employees feel engaged with their employer; and as we all know, engaged employees perform better and will of course, stay for longer, too.
If they felt they couldn’t, it could be the sign of either an ill-equipped or ineffective management team – both of which are not great for staff engagement.
Last, but by certainly no means least, your managers need to be great leaders.
Employees need good leaders to inspire and support them in their roles; plus, if you have a good leader in place, you can foster that all-important positive workplace culture that lets staff perform to the best of their abilities.
The exit interview is a great opportunity to find out if your managers are the leaders your business needs. For example:
And that last point is important. How your managers recognise and reward your staff is crucial due to the huge influx of Millennials and Gen-Zs joining the workforce.
Whilst money and employee benefits are high on their career priorities, they are the generations whose motivations go beyond just a good rate of pay or the prospect of a yearly bonus.
If your managers are unable to effectively motivate, recognise and reward the Millennials and Gen-Zs in your workplace, it may be a key underlying reason why your conducting an exit interview in the first place!
As an employee, think of any examples where a manager has ticked these boxes.
If your managers are ticking all the right boxes, great! You might just have a fantastic company culture – keep it up! If not, they may be a key factor in why your staff decide to leave and may also be preventing you attract the best talent the workforce has to offer.
The exit interview is the perfect opportunity to discover more about your organisation’s roles that go beyond just the main duties, responsibilities and wages – here’s the key things you should look to learn more about during an exit interview:
One feeling you definitely don’t want to experience whilst in a job role is disappointment.
If you’ve joined a company on promises of a challenging, rewarding position or a leap up the career ladder, discovering it’s ‘not like it was in the brochure’ can be a demoralising experience and destroy staff motivation.
After all, why would you want to stick around in a job you don’t like?
If your organisation will be looking to recruit a direct replacement for the leaving employee, it’s essential to discover if a leaver’s experience matched that of the job’s description. Otherwise, you could find any discrepancies negatively affecting your future staff retention; leading to higher staff turnover, increased recruitment costs, decreased engagement… yup, you get the idea!
If you’re the person leaving, think about what attracted you to the role in the first place:
Aim to give specific examples of where there were issues or where there were noticeable differences.
Whilst it’s natural to begin to wind down on the approach to leaving a job, giving honest and open feedback about the role’s key duties means that you’ll be helping your replacement enjoy their new role and make it a success – something you’ll be keen to do in your new job, too!
No one likes to feel like just another cog in a machine, so if an employee has been growing bored or unfulfilled in their role, being offered a new challenge and the opportunity to advance their careers may just be too good to refuse.
It’s also important to remember that the prospect of advancing a career with a business or organisation they know well plays a huge part in employee engagement.
Think about it; if you work hard and have the prospect of a great promotion on the cards, you’re more likely to stick with a company for longer due to it being a more natural career path.
The key thing to remember is that whilst this is of course totally normal, it could highlight issues with opportunities and development within your own organisation. If an employee has excelled in their role but has chosen to develop their career elsewhere, try to find out why this is.
Now, it could be something very obvious – if you’re an SME for example, there simply may not be avenues of advancement available – but, if you’re working for a larger organisation with multiple departments or divisions, there may have been an easy avenue for advancement which an employee has decided against, or simply wasn’t aware of.
If you’re the person leaving, think about whether your employers could have done more to help advance your career with them.
And speaking of career development…
Yup, the effectiveness of on-the-job training that helps employees carry out their regular duties and develop new skills shouldn’t be underestimated – and this is especially so of the growing millennial workforce.
A key part engagement with millennial employees lies in the development of their own leadership skills.
According to the Deloitte 2016 Millennial Survey, 63% felt that their leadership skills were not being fully developed. If you’re finding a steady stream of Millennials joining and leaving your business on a regular basis, it may be down to a lack of training or development options.
It stands to reason that the organisations who invest in this area will clearly prove attractive to both current and prospective employees.
With this in mind, use an employee’s exit interview to check if they felt they were given the chance to develop their skills with the organisation.
By doing this, you’ll be able to identify if your company needs to give more thought to your employee’s career development and, in the process, make your business a more attractive proposition for people to stay for longer or join you to take a step up their own career ladder.
A constant feeling of powerlessness or failure isn’t good for employee engagement.
If your employees feel they can’t succeed in their roles, they won’t stick around – and it may be a key factor in why a member of your staff has decided to leave.
Whilst your organisation simply can’t do your employees work for them (obviously!), there are a number of things you can check when someone decides to leave to see if the company has a culture of supporting employees succeed. These include:
But let’s dispel a couple of myths here: company culture is more than just a fun working environment, ping pong tables and bean bags.
It’s how a company nurtures growth by engaging with its’ employees, encourages healthy and positive workplace behaviours, work ethics and attitudes. Basically, all the really good stuff that are critical to business success!
With businesses striving for increased productivity in often-crowded and competitive marketplaces, a company’s culture can be that ace in the hole that money can’t buy.
It’s a huge part of what makes good things happen in an organisation; so, if you still think it’s just a flavour of the month or just another marketing buzzword, ignore it at your peril!
An exit interview is a great opportunity to discover if your company culture is in rude health or is actually holding your company back. Here’s what you should be looking out for when talking to your employees:
The importance of regular communications with staff cannot be underestimated; but its effectiveness can often be forgotten or simply overlooked.
Effective communications between senior management and staff can help foster a feeling of trust and respect with employees – and that’s something that money can’t buy!
Trust and respect within a workforce are essential for any organisation looking for long-term success; but if those communications don’t happen on a regular basis, or perhaps are only paid as ‘lip service’, it’s very possible that your employees will have little to no trust or respect for the people charged with leading your business – hence why they’re leaving!
It’s not just that awesome feeling of trust and respect that communications bring, though.
Encouraging your employees to collaborate and communicate can help build better relationships in the workplace and support social wellbeing in your organisation, too.
A company’s vision, mission and values help give that all-important strategic direction.
More importantly, it also helps distinguish you from your competitors and explain your own propositions to your customers. Without these, it becomes extremely difficult to build the foundations of a successful business.
From an employee point of view, it’s essential they understand the importance of company’s vision, mission and values; but not just understand them – also align with them, too.
If your workforce is all pulling towards a shared mission and vision with the same values, it’s more likely to succeed in the long term!
The exit interview is a great opportunity to see if your company’s vision, mission and values have been clearly communicated and whether they’ve been embraced by the workforce. If not, it may be a contributing factor behind problems with company productivity, staff retention and engagement.
There will always be times when you have to put in an extra hour or two to help complete an urgent project, cover someone’s absence or simply complete your daily duties; but when it becomes the norm, it can have a hugely damaging effect on the workforce and a company’s productivity.
In general, it’s estimated that most UK employees work on average around 17 unpaid hours a month.
This presenteeism isn’t helped by living in an ‘always on’ world where mobile devices mean you can be reached virtually anywhere in the world at any time of the day.
Your employees may be on their holidays or trying to relax after a long day in the office, but dealing with work-related matters outside of work hours is now a common occurrence. In fact, it’s estimated that over 40% of employees regularly check their work emails outside of normal office hours.
The work-life balance is a driving factor in staff retention rates; so use the exit interview to discover whether a healthy work-life balance was encouraged, or if your employees were consistently having to give up their own time to deal with work-related matters.
If you can get the work-life balance right in your organisation, you may find that not only will it become easier to keep hold of your most valued members of staff, but also you make it easier to attract them in the first place!
We mentioned how managers or team leaders should reward the efforts of their staff appropriately a little earlier, but it’s important to discover if the organisation on a whole has a culture of recognition and reward, and the exit interview is a perfect opportunity to do just that.
The effect of rewards and recognition on company productivity shouldn’t be underestimated, so along with discovering if managers recognised and rewarded positive workplace behaviours, look to confirm if this was a consistent company-wide approach, or if it was sporadic or non-existent.
Whilst there will be policies and procedures that are an inescapable part of your business (GDPR, anyone?), if they’re too convoluted, complex or time-consuming, you may find they are a contributing factor behind job dissatisfaction and disengagement.
The way your employees are expected to work has a huge effect on an organisation's culture.
Look to find out if your leavers found processes too bureaucratic or rules too inflexible; for example:
These are the little things that really add up to make a difference to the lives of employees both present and prospective.
Employers are seeing the benefits of supporting their staff through physical and mental health issues – not only is this a way to boost productivity, it also shows you care as an employer, and ultimately helps you build a positive employer image – great for staff retention and being an employer of choice, too!
Actively supporting health and wellbeing isn’t just offering fruit or discounted gym memberships, though.
It’s helping reducing stress amongst the workforce, actively helping people cope with financial struggles, and creating a culture that understands mental health needs.
A business that supports the wellbeing of its staff should also drive people to take preventive steps to improve their health. This all helps reduce stress, absenteeism, and its productivity-killing partner, presenteeism.
The exit interview is your chance to look deeper into your organisation’s working world. Has it made employees feel happy, healthy and motivated to go the extra mile every day? Or are they choosing to leave because they feel stressed, unhappy and unhealthy?
Your employee benefits are meant to be more than just a little add-on for your employees - they're an essential part of your workplace culture that goes some way to really looking after its staff.
From that all-important employee health and wellbeing we mentioned earlier, to support with buying a new car, or even just everyday savings on shopping and leisure. These are all offered with the intention of making you employees' lives that little bit easier and their time at your organisation that little bit better.
But, are they actually doing all this?
If you're going to make sure the benefits you offer are right for your business, you've got to make sure they're right for the entire workforce – not just because they look good on any potential job ad!
Whether the type of benefits you offer have been decided at payroll or board level, it's a bad idea to assume the benefits you offer are what everyone wants.
It’s also the case that the prospect of useful staff benefits was a key reason why an employee joined in the first place – so if they’ve not engaged with them, found them unhelpful or worthless, it can have a negative effect on your workforce and can influence a person’s decision to move on.
A common theme throughout positive employee experiences is clear and regular communications.
If you have an effective employee benefits platform or engage in regular communications with your staff, you’ll have a general idea as to their effectiveness and their popularity.
An exit interview allows you to get a ‘view from the ground’ and an honest opinion about what you offer and if benefits were clearly communicated.
Lastly, check to see if there are any particular benefits you offer that your employees feel are not particularly effective, engaging, or just not right for the employees of your business.
For example, if you have an ageing workforce, do you think they would really appreciate discounted tickets for sky diving? Probably not!
The exit interview is a great chance to get some honest feedback on the benefits you offer and whether they are as engaging and effective as you think.
When people decide to leave, they’ll be more inclined to give an honest opinion as to what it’s really like to work for your organisation.
It’s one that shouldn’t be missed but equally important is acting upon the answers you receive. If you’ve identified recurring problems or consistent issues, take the time to devise an action plan to address and improve your staff retention strategies.
Looking carefully at your leaving employee’s answers will give you insights into what your organisation is doing well and what needs to change if you want to keep your best employees. And sure, this will undoubtedly take time to achieve, but if the end-results are improved staff retention rates or reduced recruitment costs, surely they’re an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed?
However, don’t just rely on exit interviews as the only source of information about the employee experience in your organisation.
You should conduct regular employee interviews, check-ins and surveys in order to get that all-important feedback on the employee experience, company culture, job satisfaction and employee engagement in your company.
It can also allow you to identify any problems quickly – for instance, is your rewards strategy fair to all your employees? Do your employees have concerns about their own wellbeing? And perhaps most importantly, why do your employees really want to work for you?
Remember, conducting exit interviews, catch ups and staff surveys are a total waste of time if it isn’t followed up by defined and demonstrable actions.
The interviewer should finish the interview with ideas about how to improve the role and the organisation’s engagement strategy to enhance the employee experience for everyone.
Finally, it’s important that the departing employee leaves their exit interview feeling appreciated and heard.
Part of Sodexo Employee and Consumer Engagement, our Glow solutions help workplaces grow a positive culture by attracting and retaining top talent and increasing employee engagement.
We understand that every workplace is different - our mission is not to build a culture for you, but to help nurture and grow the one that already exists.
At Sodexo, we have over 50 years’ heritage in creating award-winning experiences that make people’s lives better.
From growing employee culture and inspiring success in your workplace, to driving consumer engagement with your brand, we transform the way in which employees and consumers behave or perform, meaning they’ll engage more deeply with you.