Why you should lead an exit conversation

There are many different reasons why employees might be leaving your organization. Mostly it’s their personal choice but it can also be due to reorganization, lack of performance or simply retirement. Whatever the reason is, it’s good to have an exit conversation with any of your leaving employees. Perhaps you ask now why you should still invest time in people who stop working for you? So let’s see here what’s the added value of leading an exit conversation with a parting employee.

Make use of the last “formal” moment 
An exit-interview is a great chance to discover through the employees eyes how the organization is doing. This insight can be balanced against your own perception and can also help you in managing and improving your organization. Next to that the exit-interview is the last ‘formal moment’ that creates the opportunity to maintain or even to restore the relationship (e.g. in the case of a damaged relationship or an involuntary departure). For the employee the opportunity to share his thoughts creates a feeling of appreciation and is also a good official ending point. For any organization it should be the goal that former employees speak positively about them or that they are even active references. As you know, you might see each other again, be it as a future client, supplier or partner.

Ask open-ended questions
The most valuable information is the one the employee is willing to share. So if you want to have a good conversation create the best environment for the employee by asking open-ended questions and by listening carefully. Before the meeting send the employee a short email and invite him to think about those questions: 

  • How did you experience your time within the organization?
  • What did you really like in your work?
  • Which things could or should be improved?
  • How do you rate the working environment and/or conditions? 

Choose the right fit as interview partner
Think about who could be the best fit to lead the exit-interview. If the direct manager is (also) a reason why the employee leaves it’s better that the interview is done by an HR colleague. By providing a choice to the employee between manager, HR colleague and potentially another manager the employee will most likely agree to the interview and will also be more open.

Preparation = 90% of success!
Have your conversation the last week before the employee is leaving. He’s still involved, but the last day is almost there and he will probably feel free to talk without fearing a potential negative influence for himself and others. Don’t forget to inform him timely about the option of having the exit-interview, the goal, content and potential gain(s) and what you will do with the outcome.

The interviewer should be well prepared and aware of facts like how long the employee has been working for the organization, career steps, team members/peers and overall performance. Sharing this knowledge will create trust which is an important ingredient to a fruitful conversation.

Guarantee confidentiality
It goes without saying that this conversation has to be treated confidentially and that you shouldn’t use it for personal feedback to managers or other colleagues. Although it might not always represent the whole truth or a trend what the employee shares, there are for sure insights given during the interview that can – or should - be translated into actions and attention points. It is up to HR together with management to discuss and decide how to deal with those. 

Another important point is the question why an employee decided to leave. What is the ‘real’ reason for his departure? To find out what made him really leave is potentially the most valuable information. A question could be why the employee leaves for this specific new job or company or what this job or company has that appeals to him. Overall it is key to stay neutral and to keep the atmosphere positive. Close the session by wishing the employee the best of luck.