Culture, Feedback Effectiveness, Leadership, Mission

Exit Interviews: When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

It’s been reported that more than 90% of Fortune 500 companies hold them but only 40% of those companies claim exit interviews are successful.

In the light of this, how valuable are exit interviews? Potentially, very valuable. Exit interviews can provide organizations with a wealth of important information. They can elicit honest feedback regarding employees’ work experiences (typically, exiting employees feel they have little to lose by being completely honest). If the information gained is used wisely and systematically it can help lower employee turnover and improve HR and other systems that negatively impact staff.

However, much will depend on the process followed and how the data gained is used within the organisation.  Results from a survey on Linkedin by iHR Australia indicated 24% of those who responded to the survey found their exit interview to be a positive experience, 19% experienced it as bad, while 38% had never had one. In this article I outline six factors which can strengthen the effectiveness of exit interviews in your organization.

  1. When Should They Be Held?  
    Ideally on the last day of work if possible as the interview can serve as an opportunity for dealing with final arrangements. To encourage attendance it’s important to inform the employee well in advance, explain the process and the benefit to both the employee and the organization and assure them their personal details will be kept confidential.
  2. For Whom Should They Be Held?  
    All employees who are leaving the organisation should be entitled to have an exit interview. It should be each person’s right to be able to express how they felt about their work experience. However, exit interviews should not be compulsory – if you force attendance you will likely receive unhelpful or distorted feedback.
  3. Why Hold Them?
    • To try to facilitate a person’s departure from the organization in a positive and respectful manner.
    • To seek to identify (and address if possible) any problems, disappointments or misunderstandings the employee experienced.
    • To gain insights and information that could improve employee morale, organisational systems and workplace culture.
    • To improve the organisation’s reputation in the marketplace.
    • To finalise any administrative requirements, eg. to return property and finalise payments.
  4. Who Should Conduct Them?
    Definitely not the employee’s line manager, but rather someone neutral in order to avoid bias. Also, some resigning employees may not give an honest response to a manager as they realise future employers might contact the organisation for a reference check. Usually, exit interviews should be conducted by an HR officer or preferably an external HR specialist consultant. Using a consultant can help strengthen the employee’s confidence their identity will be kept confidential and only a summary of the findings of several people will be presented to the organization.
  5. What Should Be Covered? – Some Potential Questions
    • What did you value most about working here?
    • On a scale from 1-10, how clear were your goals and responsibilities?
    • What would you like to say about the way you were managed and supported?
    • How would you describe the culture of this organisation?
    • What, if anything, could we have done to make you want to stay?
    • What was the main reason you were looking for another job?
    • What advice would you like to give to us?
    • In your opinion what could we do to make this a better place to work?
    • Would you consider recommending us to a friend who’s looking for a job? Why/why not?
  6. What to Do with the Results?
    From the employer’s perspective the main reason for holding exit interviews is to gain insight into how exiting staff have experienced the organisation’s culture in the light of their work experience. Such feedback is vital for the purpose of improvement. Therefore the interviewer should provide periodically a written report indicating names of those interviewed together with a summary of aggregated information received plus the interviewer’s personal comments and recommendations. Individuals’ personal comments should not be identifiable. This summary report should be sent to the HR department or, if the organisation lacks an HR specialist, to the appropriate member of the executive team for reflection on any consistent themes and consideration of appropriate strategies to improve relevant organisational policies, systems and culture.


As can be seen from the above, exit interviews can be a valuable method for gaining helpful data from employees who are leaving the organisation. However, to be effective they need to be conducted by an emotionally intelligent, skilled and unbiased interviewer who is authorised to provide assurance of confidentiality around identity protection of individual interviewees. The risks to the organisation’s reputation are too high if poor processes are followed. Naturally, the value of the practice is highly dependent on the organisation analysing the data received and making wise decisions about how to use it effectively.  

Graham Beattie

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