Q: I want our exit interviews to be more productive. Any ideas?
A: First, I think it’s excellent that you’re doing exit interviews. You can learn a lot from what departing employees say. People who are on their way out tend to speak more freely about how they feel about their experience with your company, exposing issues that otherwise would have stayed underground.
Identifying these issues gives you a chance to address them, improve the overall quality of the workplace, and reduce turnover in the future. At the same time, those who leave get to vent their dissatisfactions, and as a result may leave feeling more positive about your company.
Developing effective exit interviews and assembling them into a usable format takes considerable skill and effort. Here are some essentials:
o Have someone who’s neutral and well-trained in interviewing techniques conduct the interview. A strong interviewer will be able to sort through distorted information and get beneath the surface to reach the employee’s true sentiments. Those who leave often feel more comfortable talking to an objective outsider than to, for example, their supervisor. Someone from the human resources department can also play this role. However, when the level of trust in an organization is low, consider hiring an outside consultant.
o Conduct the exit interview several days before the employee leaves. You’ll avoid hasty answers as a result of a last-minute rush.
o Use a two-stage process-one interview when the employee leaves, followed up a few weeks later with a second (“post-exit”) interview. This gives the employee time to put things more in perspective and increases the likelihood of a more objective response. At the same time, you’ll be able to spot inconsistencies in the information.
During the first stage, focus on quantitative information. Use a scaled questionnaire that covers issues surrounding the job, such as salary, work environment, reason(s) for leaving, performance reviews, benefits, advancement opportunities, equipment, etc. This information is easily coded and analyzed, although not very personal. Next, gather qualitative information (i.e., an interview using open-ended questions) to complete the picture as to the why’s and how’s. Often issues that were not polled or mentioned initially are exposed during this second stage.
o Look for trends and treat data systematically. Identify inconsistencies between the two types of information and explore these further, if necessary. Compile the information into summary reports (e.g., include them in quarterly turnover reports). Data from your exit interviews can then be tied to, for example, performance criteria, turnover, grievances, and productivity.
This last point is critical if you want to make the most of the interviews you perform. Too often, companies conduct exit interviews but leave them in employees’ files without further analysis or action. For example, if ineffective supervision is an issue, help supervisors to improve their management style by relating employee perceptions of the work environment. Communicate your intentions to make changes on issues you plan to address to your employees so that they know you are working on ameliorating these issues.
Promptly acting on significant trends in the data may make a difference in, for example, whether a driver who is planning to leave does indeed do so!
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