A Good Goodbye: Making Exit Interviews Work
Tuesday, February 14, 2023
Effective Exit Interviews

Layoffs may lead the news cycle these days but what may be lost in the digital dilemma of mass terminations is the utility of information that exiting employees might provide. Employers may think that a departing employee has no other value to the business than transitioning their job duties, communicating the key aspects of their position, and accomplishing other end-of-employment housekeeping functions. 

But what might be lost in these transitions are missed opportunities to improve a workplace. An employee exiting a job is typically unburdened by concerns that truth-telling might have on the employee's future with the employer. Smart businesses should seize on this opportunity to debrief departing employees to better understand how its internal processes can be improved, which managers might need more support to be effective, and whether the business is successfully deploying its mission's message. These end-of-employment discussions should be undertaken by professionals who are trained to listen, to follow up, and to separate grievances from more profound issues. 

Perhaps the term "interview" should be replaced with a more descriptive term: a work experience conversation. The information gleaned from this conversation should be treated with the same care as information learned through a job interview, which is usually a forward-looking decision based on the skills the business needs. But in the instance of an exit conversation, the employer might learn something valuable about one employee's unmet need for the benefit of other workers. On this point, the discussion should focus on open ended questions. Searching but appropriate inquiries such as "how can we be better" should be included. And the discoveries collected from these conversations should not be filed away; they should be shared, widely and broadly, with appropriate stakeholders.

Given the focus on human management that ESG demands, consider whether and how this information is shared with the board or a designated committee. Thought might also be given to how the information be used (if at all) to hold senior executives accountable for the company's performance. In short, employers should mine this information for hidden gems. It is always a better look -- especially in this instantaneous social media era -- to turn a former employee into the company's brand ambassador. Like many things, that effort starts with a simple but sincere inquiry into what, if anything, the business can do better to achieve a better working environment.