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How to get Employee Engagement Intel from Exit Interviews

They’re a useful source of information on employee engagement that companies need to make sure they’re tapping.

Exit interviews — part of the offboarding process — occur when an employee is leaving the company, or at some point after their departure. Ninety-one percent of Fortune 500 companies use them, according to a survey by consultancy Burke.

But are they using exit interviews to their full potential?

Nope, says the Burke survey, which found under half of companies found the interviews effective.

What’s more, there is some debate on the quality of exit interview answers. Some common criticisms here are aimed at the structure and timing of the exit interview: That it shouldn’t be conducted by the exiting employee’s boss or someone in HR, or be done immediately upon a departure when emotions may still be running high.

Fair points all, but more about how the interview is run, not whether it should exist in the first place.

Aside from wanting to see an employee leave with positive sentiment and leave open the possibility of their boomerang-like return, exit interviews can have a major additional benefit: valuable insight into employee disengagement factors.

But how do you suss this out?

For starters, get the timing of the interview right.

In fact, you may want to conduct two interviews. As HR Magazine notes, consider a written questionnaire during the employee’s final week on the job.

This is your starting point. Then, after they’ve spent a month or more since departing, hold a telephone follow-up interview. This not only lets any emotions over the departure settle, but also opens up better and more objective perspective from the departee on what made them quit in the first place.

And when it comes to employee disengagement factors, the trick is to ask the right questions.

The classic here is, of course, Why are you leaving? This will likely fill you in on the facts surrounding their departure. Or you will get a somewhat polished answer (inadvertantly on the part of the employee or not) that makes the employee’s splitting reason more positive than it really was.

So it may not produce an answer that sheds real light on disengagement factors that made them want to quit in the first place. And it’s that information that will let you better identify engagement problems and staunch the bleeding.

So how do you get around this? Get into specifics. Pinpoint the event that got the employee thinking about departing (or, conversely, put them in a state where they could be easily scooped up by an outside offer). Ask them questions that focus on the mental steps the employee went through in the run-up to them jumping ship (or abandoning ship, from their perspective).

With this information in hand, you can better diagnose the “push” disengagement factors and take steps to re-engage employees.

Harness the power of employee ideas.