Is the exit interview too late?

wall art left with the exit interview

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

I recently published an article on “Exit interviews: ask employees about their experience”. Shortly after, I received a very interesting comment from an HR Bartender reader.

Interesting article about exit interviews. But the way I see it from the other side of the table, if I thought my employer was interested in what I had to say, I’d probably still be there. I see an exit interview as something that can only hurt me and not help me.

I totally get it. One of the reasons an employee leaves is because he feels that his voice is not being heard.

I also know enough organizations that ask the question and the employee does not respond. Either the employee feels like he doesn’t know what to say or just doesn’t want to contribute to the conversation. Because – as the reader said in their note – they think it would do more harm than good.

Individuals and organizations need to think differently about employee departures. It’s not about ending a relationship. It’s about changing it.

-Sharlyn Lauby

Unfortunately, this lack of communication hurts everyone. It hurts the employee because they feel their feedback has no value. The employee may have a great idea to save the company money or improve customer service. But because they don’t feel like anyone will listen, it’s not shared. Moreover, not only will the company suffer because they have not heard the great idea, but the employee will eventually get frustrated and leave.

Gautam Ghosh wrote a nice article titled “The Voluntary Employee Departure Process: The Often-ignored Part of Building a Relationship”. What I like about the article is the “building the relationship” section. Individuals and organizations need to think differently about employee departures. It’s not about ending a relationship. It’s about changing it. Former employees can refer clients and candidates. Former employees may decide to come back as a freelancer or re-engage.

Some people may say that this is exactly why they take this reader’s advice and keep their mouths shut. But not saying something doesn’t give anyone a chance to listen and possibly act. The good news is that there are many more opportunities for employees to provide feedback before the exit interview:

  1. Surveys or check-ins for new employees. It’s very common for managers to check in on new hires to make sure they feel welcome and get all the information they need.
  2. Employee Engagement Surveys. Many companies conduct annual employee surveys to anonymously ask employees about their work environment and experience.
  3. keep interviews. Managers will often ask employees what they like about working for the company. If an employee doesn’t want to complain, tell the company what they’re doing right.
  4. Skipping interviews by level. This is when an employee meets his manager’s boss. Sometimes it can be nice to share ideas with someone other than your immediate supervisor.
  5. Training Evaluations. Many evaluation forms ask if you: suggestions for future training topics. If you have any ideas or concerns regarding training, be sure to share your thoughts.
  6. Guidance and coaching. If someone is struggling to express their concerns, it may be helpful to talk to a coach or mentor. I’ve even had employees talk to HR about presenting ideas.

While I don’t believe the exit interview is too late for sharing feedback, I do understand how others feel this way. Remember, there are plenty of other opportunities to share your thoughts and ideas. I would hate to hear that an employee left the organization because they were frustrated that no one was listening to them only to find that they never used the feedback channels that were always available.

Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby following a speech at the Learning and Development League annual conference in Delhi, India

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