Exit interviews – a tool for staff retention or just a waste of time?


Your boss sucks, the company culture is toxic and you’re run ragged from constantly having too much to do. All good reasons to jump ship and, with new pastures beckoning, you’re looking forward to telling it like it is at the exit interview. A word to the wise – don’t.

Take the long-term view. Resist the urge to vent and refrain from saying anything now that could harm your career further down the road.

“It’s very tempting to go into an exit interview with all guns blazing, particularly if you’re leaving under less than favourable circumstances. But it’s actually far better to take a step back and prepare for the exit interview with a clear head,” says executive coach Sinead Scott-Lennon, managing director of HR for Better Workplaces.

“Sectors, and often entire industries, can be very interconnected and sometimes cliquey, and you don’t want to burn any bridges. You may run into colleagues or a former boss at industry events or even rely on them for a reference at some point in the future.

Secondly, the exit interview is your opportunity to help improve working conditions for other employees and constructive suggestions can leave a favourable impression after your departure.”

Mixed opinions

Opinions about the value of exit interviews are mixed and tend to split between those who see them as an underused resource for employee retention and those who consider them a gigantic waste of time. Some organisations do them, some don’t. Some take them seriously, some don’t. Some include line managers as part of the process, others assume HR will do all the heavy lifting, although that has its limitations according to one senior executive.

“I’ve done a few exit interviews in my time and seen them done by the organisations I’ve worked for,” he says. “If they’re conducted by HR alone, action rarely ensues. They become a wasted opportunity and nothing changes.”

Those in the pro camp believe exit interviews are something leaders should be focusing on a lot more to give their organisation an edge when it comes to competing for talent. High employee churn is a good predictor of low performance, and any company that can retain its employees while its competitors are losing theirs, is at a significant advantage.

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