Ignore exit interviews at your peril

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min read
October 6, 2023
January 18, 2024
Exit interview
In this article

Discover why conducting exit interviews is invaluable and what can go wrong if you ignore the insights of departing employees.

When an employee decides to leave an organisation, there is a temptation to view this as the end of the relationship. What is the point of spending any more time or energy on someone that’s moving on? However, failing to find out what these employees think and feel about your business can be a huge mistake with long-lasting consequences.

If you want to get a realistic view of your company, who better to ask than someone who knows it from the inside and no longer feels it completely necessary to hide their true feelings? Holding effective exit interviews where employees feel free and comfortable to share their opinions can be invaluable and help change organisations for the better. What better chance does a business have to find out what employees’ see as their strengths and what could be improved?

Beware the Brewdog experience

One organisation that appears not to have held exit interviews, or if they did, clearly didn’t listen to what their ex-employees had to say is Brewdog. Founded in 2007 in Scotland, the company rapidly grew to become one of the most well-known and successful craft breweries in Europe. Never afraid to court controversy to grab the headlines, the founders were keen to emphasise how cool and fun the business was to attract the best talent. However, many employees experienced something very different.

In 2021, more than 60 former workers posted an open letter on Twitter to say they were treated so poorly that it affected their mental health, and the experience was especially poor for junior members of staff. They claimed there was a culture of fear that prevented people from speaking out about things they saw going wrong. It highlighted a clear mismatch between external brand values and what was happening inside the business.

The episode was hugely damaging to Brewdog and their brand. The claims by ex-employees were covered by the BBC’s Disclosure programme meaning these issues were broadcast to millions across the country. The organisation spent more than £9 million revamping their culture and the employee experience investing resources, learning and development and rewards to try and correct the situation.  Holding proper exit interviews might just have saved them a huge chunk of this budget.

Employees have a need to have their say

Not only is it useful for the employer, having the chance to have their say can also be a cathartic experience for the exiting employee. Knowing that their views are important and that they have a way to make these heard, can make a huge difference in how the employee views their old employer and how they might describe them to friends and family. 

Just five minutes on the job search and review platform Glassdoor shows there is huge desire for people leaving an organisation to talk about their experience. Whether this is a rant or something more positive can be influenced by the employee’s experience when they leave the business. Ensuring they have a channel to air their views can help keep any negative experiences within the business to deal with behind closed doors, rather than be exposed to the wider world.

How to get exit interviews right

Exit interviews are important conversations that need to be documented. Any recommendations must be followed up with the relevant stakeholders across the business, so it makes sense for HR to be the guardians of this process and to conduct the interviews. They can also be more independent, allowing for a more honest and neutral discussion.

Each conversation will be different, depending on the circumstances surrounding the employee’s departure. The HR representative should tailor their questions appropriately, so preparation is vital to make sure they get the tone of the conversation right.

It’s important that the interviewer remains impartial throughout. There may be a temptation to jump in to challenge particular views or perceptions, but this should be resisted. This is the employee’s chance to have their say and it's vital their words are captured accurately to address any concerns around culture, management, working conditions are anything else that affects the employee experience.

Finally, these conversations need to be confidential to protect all parties concerned and prevent any negative recriminations.

The exit interview template is just one of our check-in templates that support the entire employee lifecycle. These help HR and line managers have the right conversations at the right time and can be downloaded for free from our content library.

Exit interview template

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