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Why we killed Exit Interviews?

Exit interview is the last engagement discussion between an employee and the organization. In our experience, we noticed that employees preferred to avoid exit interviews. Ironically, HR field team were not keen on taking exit interviews. We realised that exit interview was no longer effective, it became more of formality rather that fact finding exercise.

Failure Points

Objective of Exit interview is to gather information from employees exiting the organization on the exit reasons. However, the process lost its effectiveness due to following reasons:

1. Relationship maintenance - In today's network era, employees either do not want to burn bridges with organization / supervisors or are scared to give real feedback for obvious reasons. Hence to avoid conflict, they use diplomatic answers like 'Better opportunity' , 'Personal reasons', 'Compensation', etc. However reality is always different.

2. Timing - Exit interviews are generally conducted on last working day or closer to last working day. Employee is super busy in closing the pending task to ensure that he gets relieved on decided LWD. Hence he/she wants to quickly get over the process. And the best way is to provide answers which does not require further probe. Few articles have recommended exit interviews to be conducted after 6 months of LWD.

3. Interviewers - Generally HR professionals at junior level conduct exit interviews. They rely on standard set of questions which in most cases are plain multiple choice questions. Deriving something out of any human mind through conversation is an art & a skill. Not every person can figure that out. Also, they don't have the privilege of spending an hour with one employee to conduct exit interview. They quickly go through the exit interview in 10 mins. Explain me which expert can understand the real feelings of employee on his / her reasons for leaving the organization in 10 mins. It takes 10 mins to break the ice only.

In many organizations, there is a back end team which conducts exit interviews over phone. Some companies have outsourced exit interviews to external agency. These agencies again conduct exit interviews over phone. Exit interviews over phone. Even a clinical psychologist calls for face to face discussion to understand the true feelings of his / her patient. Do you really expect the employee to open up their heart to someone with whom employee has not built any emotional connect.

What we did....

We believe if a process is not adding value, we need to scrap the process itself. Hence we killed exit interview process itself. However we know the importance of exit interviews and wanted to ensure that we learn for our mistakes - yes, an employee leaving voluntarily must be due to some mistake from our side. Paul who heads the People Ops function suggested to turn the needle towards coaches (managers as per industry parlance). Our argument is that managers are the ones who are closest to employees at workplace and hence they should definitely have some sense on employee leaving organization. (In case not, then the coach is not good at people management skills.) Now the exit interview gets administered on managers. We ran the process for 3 months and collated the data. We compared the data with previous data wherein the interviews were administered on exiting employees.

The results were really interesting. When the interview was administered to managers, we found out that in 70% cases, managers were aware of employee low engagement level and hence they had a sense that employee will be leaving. They also knew the reason of employee disengagement. What was interesting that when we tried to link the dots with other info (HRBP feedback , team members feedback, etc), the reasons were the real reasons due to which employee left the organization. On odd occasions managers were surprised with employee resignation. But the best part was the data made sense. Answers were to the point and reasons were real reasons of employee leaving the organization. The interviews were conducted by a seasonal HR professional & since point 1 & 2 already got taken care of, answers spilled out freely.

We found this approach to be more effective rather than simply administering the interview to exiting employees. The objective was met, real reasons came out and organization now knows there homework.

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