The Problem With Exit Interviews

thinkerExit interviews: strategic move or too little, too late? Turns out, the answer is “it depends.” The biggest argument in favour of exit interviews is that the information provided will be used to improve the work environment. I’ve yet to see a direct correlation between exit data and change initiatives. My cynicism is based on three observations.

  • It’s common to apply broad exceptions to the exit process so that not everyone is interviewed. This means you’re getting a slice of data, not the whole picture. As an example, employees who are not performing satisfactorily or who have been terminated are usually not invited to an exit interview. That handily skews the results as the company only hears from the happy leavers.
  • The exit conversations are sometimes shielded by a bond of secrecy that dynamite wouldn’t dislodge. It begs the question: Why go through the motions of asking if you’re going to tie your own hands behind your back? Some of this, I believe, is caused by the manner in which questions are asked, rather than by direct request of the exiting employee.
  • When there are problems in need of a solution, people know about them. I have never seen a case where an exit interview revealed a problem that was completely unknown and was addressed as a direct result of the exit interview.

I worry about the people who don’t leave. When they hear their departing colleague is scheduled to do an exit interview — and they do hear — are they wondering why it takes a resignation to get invited to a one-on-one consultation on how the company is doing in the areas of benefits, working conditions, and compensation? Annual employee satisfaction surveys are nice but they don’t hold a candle to individual attention and concern.

There’s another problem with exits. Once the interview is done, the departing employee may tell colleagues that they revealed all the woes afflicting the company during their exit interview and were assured that their information would be used to make the company a better place to work. It sets an air of expectation among the remaining employee population. They’re watching for something to be said; for something to change.

Those are my concerns. I’m including links to two articles, each with differing opinions on the matter. Both writers make good points for and against.

In my own experience over the last 20 years, exit interviews take place too selectively to be of any real statistical value. They also tend to be shrouded in secrecy which further reduces their usefulness.

What do you think? Do I have it wrong? Feel free to leave comments.

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2 Replies to “The Problem With Exit Interviews”

  1. I agree exit interviews aren’t helpful. I have never been a fan. I think if you are going to have exit interviews you should have them for everyone. I like your idea of meeting with the people are still here finding out from them what’s working and what’s no.

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