Exit Interviews: 10 questions you should be asking

The so-called ‘Great Resignation’ is showing no sign of slowing down. Recent data suggests that the number of employees resigning here in the UK are at their highest rate since 2009, with “historically elevated levels of workers leaving the labour market entirely”.

This ongoing anomaly isn’t confined to the UK, either. In the US, a staggering 4.4 million workers quit their jobs in February 2022 – that’s reportedly 3% of their entire workforce! Elsewhere, major European countries are also seeing employees seeking out new opportunities, with LinkedIn data for January showing a notable increase in the number of workers switching industries in Spain, the Netherlands and Italy compared to early 2021.

employee manager interview

Clearly, the Great Resignation has put virtually every business at a greater risk of losing employees than ever before. And, whilst this is of course a huge problem for hard working HR teams, it can also provide them with a golden opportunity…

Exit interviews: the key to solving the Great Resignation puzzle?

With so many employees quitting their jobs, and labour markets proving ultra-competitive, HR teams need to understand the driving forces pushing them towards the exit. This is where effective exit interviews come in.

They’re the perfect starting point for investigating whether there’s deeper, more systemic problems contributing to employees moving onto pastures new. You’ll often find that during an exit interview, employees are more relaxed about sharing their true thoughts on their experiences of working for your company. This unfiltered information can be vital when it comes to improving rates of staff retention.

When an employee’s tenure is coming to an end, they’ll be more likely to open-up about issues which they may not have been comfortable sharing before. Perhaps a certain manager lacked critical leadership skills? Maybe the job didn’t meet with their original expectations? Or perhaps  there’s a negative aspect of your company’s culture that isn’t immediately obvious to those outside certain departments?

Regardless, the exit interview is the perfect time and place to discover the real reasons people decide to leave a job. Your leaver’s answers can help you gain a deeper understanding of your organisation and assist in developing more effective HR strategies: such as improving staff retention and increasing employee engagement.

So, what are the most important exit interview questions you should be asking your leavers? Here are 10 you need include…

1. For how long had you been thinking about leaving?

It’s good to understand how long someone had been toying with the idea of leaving: although it may simply be for reasons outside of your organisation’s control. For instance, wanting to be closer to family members.

However, their answer may coincide with a transformation in your organisation: such as a new manager arriving, a new process being introduced or someone joining their team. If you discover a pattern of employees who began to consider leaving at the same time as a change within the business took place, investigate whether the change is adversely impacting staff retention.

2. What is the main reason for you leaving your role?

You could argue that this question is fairly similar to the first one, but there’s one key difference: there may have been an initial trigger for wanting to look for something new, but the final decision to leave might have been made for a host of other reasons. Knowing what the ‘final straw’ was can help you to understand both the cause and the effect.

3. Did the role live up to your expectations?

If someone’s leaving just a few months after coming onboard, use the exit interview to check whether the employee’s experience was representative of the original job listing – and the promises made during the interview process.

The feedback they give will help you to create accurate job descriptions before starting the hiring process for replacements. You can then ensure you’re looking for the right skills to fill the vacant position and create job adverts that are truly representative of the role.

4. What did you like or dislike about your role?

This follows on nicely from the previous question and can also help you improve future job listings. Take the positive aspects of a role your leaver gives to you and use them in your recruitment adverts to make your ads more appealing.

On the flipside, pay attention to any negative aspects that are raised by your leavers. As you gather more and more responses, you may start to see trends emerging in your data that could be pointing to something more serious than just one or two disgruntled employees. If certain dislikes or concerns become common in your leaver’s responses, investigate the causes and see what can be done to resolve them.

5. What attracted you to your new role?

A bit like professional footballers, there will be times when an employee feels they need to move on to bigger and better things. For example, perhaps your organisation can’t offer the next big step-up the career ladder they want, or they want the experience of working for a bigger brand.

On the other hand, if an employee is leaving for a similar role but with a better wage or enhanced benefits, it will provide you with evidence that you may need to rethink how you reward your staff, so you can be confident of both attracting and retaining the best employees. If they’re leaving for a competitor, understanding what they’re doing to attract staff can also help you to avoid missing out on sought-after industry talent.

6. Do you feel the organisation supported your professional growth and development?

A study by CNBC found that an astounding 94% of employees would stay at a company for longer if the business invested in their career development. So, it’s worth finding out if your organisation is helping its’ employees develop and enhance their skillsets, or if stagnation is pushing them towards the door.

If your outgoing employees consistently mention that a lack of career development or training as a reason for leaving, consider whether introducing training opportunities could help improve your rates of retention in the future.

7. Did you receive regular constructive feedback from your line manager?

Alongside more formal training, your managers should be ready and willing to provide advice and guidance to help employees do their jobs better.

If your outgoing employees say they’d not been receiving any sort of guidance or regular constructive feedback, you may have to investigate whether your managers would perhaps benefit from mentoring or coaching to help them improve their people leadership and management responsibilities.

8. What’s your impression of the company’s culture?

Our 2022 survey into company culture revealed a staggering 85% of employees said they had left a business or had considered leaving due to a poor company culture or work environment. Our research proved that employees are not prepared to put up with a poor company culture and will leave a role if it doesn’t meet with their expectation.

The exit interview is a glorious opportunity for HR teams to discover if their own company’s culture is fanning the flames of resignations. If the same issues, concerns or comments keep being raised by your leavers, it’s a big red flag that there may areas you need to examine and potentially tackle as a priority.

9. Could we have done more to keep you here?

If you have employees with hard-to-replace skillsets or have proven consistently valuable to your business, asking this simple and straightforward question can give you an explicit understanding into what your company might be missing.

10. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Lastly, while any kind of effective data analysis relies on asking the same well-structured questions at every exit interview, it’s vital to invite leavers to say what’s on their mind by letting your leaver speak freely about their experiences that may not necessarily correspond with your questions. After all, you may discover something about the business you had never even considered before…

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