Turnover is a natural part of the employee cycle and a certain amount should be welcomed. However, some employers will experience a ‘revolving door’ where it appears that they are constantly in hiring mode. Recruiting without understanding why employees are leaving could see employers repeating the same mistake and finding themselves operating with a continual hole in the recruitment bucket.

Sometimes, employees feel ‘pushed’ to look for alternate opportunities as their current employer is not meeting their needs or wants. On other occasions, even happy workers may be ‘pulled’ by a stronger Employee Value Proposition (EVP), such as improved conditions of employment, opportunities for progression, and engaging development programs. 

Even when the problem may seem obvious, it is important to ask the right questions in exit interviews. Authentic organisations improve by asking the tough questions and being brave enough to make the necessary changes.

Ten tips to consider when planning the exit interview 

1. Why are you leaving?

Having the courage to ask employees why they are leaving an organisation provides an insight as to whether they have been ‘pushed’ by the employer or ‘pulled’ by another organisation. This is important as sometimes employees are not unhappy, but another employer has enticed them with something that better meets their needs or wants. 

It is easy to assume that an employee has left because they didn’t like their manager or were dissatisfied with the salary, but as an example the new employment offer may simply have appealed as it is closer to home and will shorten the commute.

2. The ‘push’ factor - what could we do better? 

It is empowering to have insight into the way(s) the employment experience has been disappointing. It provides the employer with the ability to decide if the reason is something that they would like to act on or conduct further internal analysis into. 

It can be common for these responses to show a systemic issue with leadership, or a poor workplace culture, and importantly they will highlight any potential blind spots. Asking the tough questions could just save other resignations. 

3. The ‘pull’ factor – what enticed you?

Engaged and productive employees still leave organisations. This is tricky, as it means that even when employers provide the right environment, they are still vulnerable to good people departures. Asking employees why they are resigning will often highlight the ‘pull’ factor. They may say things like, “I’m really happy here, but they have offered me greater flexibility”. 

This answer indicates that another organisation has done a better job at understanding the employee’s priority needs and meeting them through their EVP. In this scenario, it is usually too late to change the employees’ mind, as even if the current organisation can match the flexibility, the employee may feel resentment about not being offered it in the first place. 

For this reason, it is a good idea for employers to periodically conduct ‘stay interviews’ to ensure that the key needs and wants of the employees are understood. The business can then choose whether they want to meet those needs and wants. It is also recommended that leaders do the work to understand each team member’s unique EVP.

4. Let’s talk leadership

One of the top reasons cited for leaving an organisation is the employee’s relationship with their manager. This is not a one way street and employees also are responsible for their behaviour, but it is a good idea to delve into the leadership experience. This can uncover some positives, and when multiple people from the same team resign, it can also create opportunities for employers to learn about leadership issues. This feedback can uncover areas for development, or highlight the need for further investigation through speaking to other team members. 

5. Communication

It is a smart idea to find out whether exiting employees felt they were valued and communicated with in an authentic and transparent manner. If one employee felt as though they were on the outside looking in, chances are there are others who feel the same way. When organisations learn this, there is an opportunity to rethink the way in which they approach communication at all levels in the business. 

6. Were you set up for success?

It is common for exiting employees to talk about how they were not successful due to a lack of support. When employees are asked if they felt that they were given the support and tools to achieve, organisations can find these responses very insightful and can use them to improve support for remaining employees. 

7. When were you were the happiest at work?

This is an important question as it can reveal an employee’s core motivators. For example, when a call centre consultant says they were happiest when they were off the phone, it indicates more about that person’s fit for the role as opposed to the role itself. Sometimes the answer to this question can be as simple as, “I was happiest when my manager took the time to recognise my contribution”. This is an example of an employee need being met. 

8. What did you like least about your role? 

If the position itself was the problem for the departing employee, then finding out what they disliked and what they would change about it will help the business to avoid the same problem with their replacement. Understanding motivational fit is key. 

9. Would you recommend working here?

If employees are leaving with a bad taste in their mouth, it is likely that they will share this information with their family and friends. This type of negative publicity can affect the organisation’s ability to attract talent. It may also damage the bottom line. For instance, people are unlikely to continue to buy or use services from a company that treated a friend who worked there poorly. It is critically important to understand what went wrong and take steps to prevent the problems from being repeated. 

10. Unresolved issues

It is a good idea to ask an open ended question such as “what else would you like us to know?”. A question like this minimises the chances that valuable feedback will be missed. It can also allow a disgruntled employee some closure by giving them the opportunity to discuss what is bothering them. This can bring all sorts of information that the employer was not expecting, however it is better to hear through an exit interview, than through office gossip or online feedback forums.

Feedback is a gift 

Exit interviews are a golden opportunity to gain valuable insights and perspectives about what is going well in the business and what needs urgent attention. The exiting employee is not the enemy and quite often they are leaving with a heavy heart. A career should be seen as a journey and not a destination, in which case leaving an organisation is a normal occurrence. Conducting the exit interview is a positive step towards ensuring that your organisation is remembered for all the right reasons. 

Further information

For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.

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Georgina Pacor
Georgina is Senior Content Writer and HR Specialist – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 20 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.