The importance of exit interviews

This article was originally published in Polish on No Fluff Jobs blog.

Creating a positive employee experience is one of the most important goals of the HR Department. At Merixstudio, we start building it when the potential employee visits us for the first time. Then, we continue striving towards achieving this objective during job interviews and the first days of onboarding. The entire recruitment process gives the prospective employee a firsthand experience of what it’s like to work with us.

But why am I talking about job interviews if the topic of this article are exit interviews? After all, the former take place at the beginning of one’s journey at a given company and the letter provide closure. Truth is, however, both are equally important in showing that you care about your employees and their opinions.

Exit interviews on the Polish job market

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, exit interviews were unthinkable for most Polish entrepreneurs. With the unemployment rate on the rise until 2003, many employers thought it natural to call the shots and disregard employees’ needs. In the following years, the unemployment rate fluctuated and it wasn’t until 2014 that it started to steadily fall down.

Currently, the Polish job market is often referred to as the employee’s market. Unemployment is at its lowest and there’s a shortage of qualified and talented candidates. This results in employees not being afraid to change jobs frequently in search of ideal work culture.

Attrition rate in Poland 2016-2019

IT is the industry with the fourth-highest attrition rate on the Polish job market. Source: Antal

To live up to the growing expectations, companies pay more attention to employee satisfaction year by year. That’s where exit interview steps in. And these are not just empty words – in fact, statistics show the popularity of EI grew from 75% in 2016 to as much as 91% and 87% in 2019 (for Fortune 500 and mid-sized companies respectively).

How to conduct an exit interview?

The ever-growing popularity of exit interviews has brought about the plurality of tactics and techniques concerning handling these talks. Let’s go back to the aforementioned study by Harvard Business Review. The research involved surveying representatives of 210 organizations from 33 different industries and has shown that the majority of companies do conduct some type of exit interview. Of those:

  • 70.9% have HR departments handle the process,
  • 19% have the departing employees’ direct supervisor do it,
  • 8.9% delegate this task to the direct supervisor’s manager,
  • 8.2% use more than one interviewer to conduct the EI.

To sum up, an exit interview is usually run either by the HR - employee’s supervisor duo or by the HR manager themselves. At Merixstudio, we usually go for the latter option. Why? Simply because it leaves more room for honesty. After all, some people may feel uneasy criticizing their supervisors in their faces even if we’re talking about constructive criticism. That’s why we prefer to hold our exit interviews as face-to-face talks which usually last about an hour.

What questions should be asked in an exit interview?

A relaxed face-to-face conversation is considered by many to be the most effective way to create an EI rapport. But relaxed doesn’t mean spontaneous; on the contrary, it’s always a good idea to start an exit interview with a pre-prepared questionnaire at hand. The form may include questions about the reason for quitting, manager’s leadership style, corporate culture, salary, etc. What matters most is adjusting the list of questions to our needs and avoiding making them sound too authoritative.
If you have no previous experience conducting exit interviews, we suggest using some ready-made forms at the beginning. Of course, you’re more than welcome to get inspired by the set of questions we ask at Merixstudio:

  • What’s your opinion on the working conditions at our company?
  • Did you feel valued at work?
  • Were you regularly informed about the organizational changes?
  • Would you describe your work environment as positive and comfortable?
  • Did your duties give you space for self-improvement?
  • What did you learn working with us?
  • Were you satisfied with your salary?
  • Would you recommend our company to others?

Whichever questions you end up asking, remember about one thing: giving the interviewees time to talk about any issues, doubts, or pressing matters they may have in mind. At the end of the day, they’re the center of attention.

When to conduct an exit interview?

Exit interviews may be gaining momentum but we have to remember that they’re not mandatory. For this reason, it’s essential to do two things before arranging the meeting: introduce the interviewee to the concept of EI and ask for their permission to participate in the survey.

As far as the timing is concerned, it’s best to conduct an exit interview about two weeks before the employee leaves our organization. Can I do it later you may ask? Technically yes but in this case remember about securing time for the interviewee’s review. Only once you obtain it can you submit the EI to the managing directors and other decision-makers.

How to benefit from an exit interview?

Unfortunately, even the longest, most in-depth exit interview can end up being a waste of time. How to prevent this? Treat it as a lesson that will help you improve the overall employee experience. Ideally, the survey ought to:

  • show the work environment (employee benefits, work culture, atmosphere, etc.) from the employee’s perspective;
  • uncover the necessary management style changes;
  • acquaint the HR Department with the best practices implemented by the competitors;
  • imprint the positive corporate image in the mind of the former employees (who, by the way, can act as the company’s supporters even after they leave it).

How do we conduct exit interviews at Merixstudio?

Enough of the theory – let me tell you how we run exit interviews at Merixstudio.

The highest ranks in our corporate structure are the C-Level jobs. Then come Heads of the departments and the Team Leaders. The representatives of these two groups are not only in charge of respective teams but they’re also the primary recipients of the exit interview survey. Once they go through the EI reports, they attend a meeting held by the HR Specialist or Manager. The aim of such a meeting is to discuss the conclusions and design a procedure which is to solve the problems uncovered by the exit interview.

At Merixstudio, we pay special attention to our employees’ well-being. It shows, for instance, in employee satisfaction surveys which we hold regularly to find out what the needs of our team are. This, in turn, translates into a low turnover rate. Of course, it’s only natural for some people to quit their job at Merixstudio – if this happens, however, we’re even more eager to find out the reasons behind their decision.

For us, an exit interview is a tool for exposing issues that were not detected by the satisfaction survey and – even more importantly – for changing the way our company works for the better. First of all, it shows the bosses what really makes the employees tick and which benefits fail to do their job. Secondly, exit interviews inform the Team Leaders about the best ways to motivate their subordinates and provide them with feedback on their managerial style. Finally, EIs serve as a source of invaluable insights about employer branding for the Marketing and HR Departments.

As you can see, saying that exit interviews are as important as satisfaction surveys for us is not an understatement. The former – even though conducted with employees who’ve already quit their job – are as valuable as the opinions of our current employees.

Should I conduct exit interviews at my company as well?

The answer is simple: yes, regardless of the industry you’re in. If you care about making an impression on your new employees, why not show the ones who quit their job that you care as well? After all, their insights can prove invaluable for improving your work culture and helping you lower the turnover rate in the long run.

See what other things we do to build an outstanding employee experience.

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