What is the value of an Exit Interview? - HR Future helps people prepare for the Future of Work and is South Africa's leading print, digital and online Human Resources magazine.

What is the value of an Exit Interview?

Staff turnover is one of the most significant HR costs in any business. The direct costs seem obvious; recruitment advertising, screening, interviewing, reference checking, assessments, contracts, followed by induction and training, all in terms of the hard costs and the allocation of resources, time and staff.

Based on a review of 30 case studies in 11 published research papers, The Center for American Progress estimated the cost to replace a worker to be one-fifth of an employee's annual salary.

The indirect costs are less obvious but potentially greater; the loss of knowledge and experience, lowered productivity due to the vacant position and the increased workload of other staff taking on added duties and responsibilities and the possible negative impact on staff satisfaction and morale.

It is for these reasons that employers are continually looking for ways to improve recruitment and retention to minimise staff turnover, including strategic behavioural interviews and assessments at the recruitment stage, continuous training and development programmes, competitive and equitable pay systems, employee benefits, performance incentives and recognition, staff relationship programmes and succession planning interventions i.e. mentoring, coaching, job-shadowing, cross-training etc.

Knowing what your staff need and want from the employment relationship and how they think of and compare you to competitor employers are imperative to the quality of your recruitment and retention strategy.

Getting honest input and feedback from working staff is challenging in light of the real concern that any negative comments may jeopardise their chances of promotion, recognition and or reward within the company.

Although not without some of the same trepidation, albeit specific to securing a future work reference or maintaining friendships and his or her professional network, interviewing an employee who has already made the decision to exit the business, will almost always yield more balanced honest input.

Conducting a strategically-designed and well-executed exit interview with departing employees can reveal vulnerabilities, deficiencies, and threats within your business and industry that can advise on required organisational, structural, operational and compensation changes.

To be of true value, this information needs to be collected over time, allowing for the identification of patterns or trends that point to objective, rather than subjective context. The interviews also need to follow a strict professional format and schedule to ensure consistency and integrity in the data collection process.

Topics that should be covered in the exit interview include:

  • Reason/s for leaving
  • Levels of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with various aspects of his or her employment experience including nature of the job, working relationships, management, pay and benefits, policies and procedures, training, recognition, opportunity for growth etc.
  • Suggestions for change and or improvements,
  • Advice on what skills and qualities are needed in his or her replacement and

If the opportunity presents itself and if the company is interested in keeping the employ of the person, negotiation on how his or her decision can be reversed.

To further eliminate any concerns of confidentiality and anonymity, partnering with a third party facilitator is advisable, especially in companies without a dedicated HR department or objective HR professional.

If there is an existing strategic partnership with a staffing company or outsourced recruiter, this relationship presents the ideal scenario, as they will be tasked with finding and securing a replacement for the departing employee and the responses solicited in the interview will provide valuable insight into the experience, expertise and behavioural requirements of the position.

Whether outsourced to a third party or conducted and managed internally, the potential of a successful exit interview to provide valuable inside information to advise and inform on effective recruitment and retention strategies cannot be overestimated.

Kay Vittee is the CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions.

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