If the number of ‘I’ve got a new job’ announcements I’m seeing on LinkedIn are anything to go by.  Then the much-anticipated great resignation wave is real, and it is well and truly underway. But I wonder, how many of those recent leavers were given an exit interview, and if they were, how truthful were they about their real reason for leaving? Here at Chiumento we’ve been conducting our own research into the area of exit interviews as we think employers are missing a trick by not conducting, these often overlooked, interviews, with more care and attention.

When we asked our network if they were given an exit interview when leaving their previous employer, a shocking 86% didn’t have one (although 7% were offered but refused).  While we weren’t expecting the number receiving one to be high, we certainly weren’t expecting it to be less than 20%.  In a time when organisations are losing staff and struggling to replace them, you would expect that finding out the reasons why people are leaving would be high up on their priority list.

However, it appears there is a discord between the perceived importance of interviewing departing staff and the actual benefit and vital information these interviews can produce. If you want to improve your retention, then you need to know why people are leaving, however, it isn’t as simple as just asking them.  While any exit interview is better than none, there is a right and a, not wrong, let’s call it an ineffective way of conducting them.

Many years ago, our Director Ian was involved in a project for an organisation that routinely did exit interviews in an employee’s last week of employment. No surprise, the data consistently indicated people were leaving for one of three reasons, for better pay, to be closer to home, and for better shift patterns.

The client had addressed all three and yet turnover was still over 20%. When those exit interviews were repeated independently and confidentially six weeks after people had left, the picture couldn’t have been more different. The new top three? Poor management behaviours ranging from bullying to discrimination, a long-hours culture – with no respect for work-life balance, and poor working conditions. That’s a hugely different picture, requiring a very different HR agenda.

But why were the answers so different. Over the years we’ve formed an opinion that the timing of exit interviews and who conducts them has a huge bearing on the quality of data gathered.  Before leaving, people are still worried about rocking the boat, they don’t want to jeopardise their chances of receiving a good reference and generally want their notice period to be over as quickly and quietly as possible.  After they’ve left, those barriers to truth have been removed, they don’t need to worry about their reference, they can speak freely without the fear or risk or recrimination.  That covers the when, there is also the who conducts the interviews to consider.

The well-know saying ‘people join organisations but leave managers’ has a grain of truth to it. So having a line manager conduct exit interviews of their own leavers is never a good idea, yet our recent research has shown that over 60% of interviews are in fact conducted by line managers.  Unless an independent party, be that HR or a company like us, conduct interviews then the truth will remain hidden.

Every organisation understands the importance of interviewing when recruiting, however, interviewing leavers is not given the same time or consideration.  Yet, getting to the bottom of why people leave, the reasons they share with their family and friends, not the ones discussed in the office, is the key to helping organisations improve their staff retention.  This in turn will reduce the need to recruit.  Those that invest in an exit interview process that is designed to get to the truth, one that considers the who, they how and the when of exit interviews will benefit in the long run. The findings will quickly and easily highlight which areas are of the most concern and therefore need addressing first, which areas are potential quick wins, and which will need a longer-term approach to improve.

Are you getting the full story from your current exit process? We’ve been working with a number of clients looking to improve and/or outsource their exit interview process. We are happy to share what we’ve learned and offer some ideas. Just drop a note to info@chiumento.com or give us a call on +44 (0)207 224 3307.

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