Exit interviews: Do them right, suggest HR mavens

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Exit Interviews aren’t a new fad. Getting it right is the key. Here is how to relook at the signing off ceremony.

Exit interviews form a significant part of good HR practices, and the onus lies on both the interviewer and the employee about to depart. It is an opportunity really, for both. For the former, to understand the reason why an employee no longer wants to associate with the company and for the latter, to flag something she/he wanted to. However, are organisations taking this seriously or only looking at it as just another formality to get done with?

There could be lethargy at both ends. One may complain that there are too many people and too little time, while the other may just not care enough anymore. Dangerous territories both.

‘It is the right, positive thing to do simply because it helps you identify trends that can actually improve staff retention. One employee’s concern can be another employee’s concern too,’ says Deepali Bhardwaj, head-HR, Cushman & Wakefield.

‘Not giving your outgoing employees an ear can have serious repercussions because they (employees) may feel completely undervalued. Exit interviews also give you a chance, from a business perspective, to know the reasons for an employee’s decision to leave. You can assess and identify a trend that may emerge,’ she adds.

For an active approach to continuously improve the effectiveness of organisational systems and processes, the importance of exit interviews cannot be stressed upon enough.

S V Nathan

A second exit interview should be done 30 days after employees have left the organisation. When people join a new organisation and are into their new roles, at that point in time they are in what I call, a happy, vulnerable cusp of honesty. That thirty-day period is the magical honest cusp when you can recall a lot more. There are often startling revelations when these people come out and give some great insights into why they left. Then we try to correlate and see if the answers are similar.

Brand ambassadorship and rehires

What must be realised is that employees are an organisation’s best brand ambassadors, whether they are in the system or not. In fact, it is in the latter case when this shows most. Employees may have several reasons to leave an organisation but making them feel valued during their stay in the company is essential. The little touch at the time of exit that makes them believe in a company that cares to listen, leaves a lasting impression. It leads them to talk highly of the company in their circles.

‘It is very important when an employee is leaving or has decided to move on, to speak to them. A very wrong way of looking at things is to think of the process as futile now that the decision to leave has been made already. These are people who can be rehires tomorrow. They are the people who can be your brand ambassadors wherever they go,’ says Bhardwaj.

‘When people leave organisations, they don’t want to burn bridges. They should not. One, you never know when you want to come back to it and two, it is just the right thing to do. If it is a senior functionary of the firm, even if you take 30 minutes out and spend time with the person, it leaves a very strong impression. If they want to come back, then you are leaving them that door partially open. We are not shutting the door behind them. Second, they can become your biggest brand ambassadors. We call all our alumni ‘colleagues for life’,’ says SV Nathan, partner and chief talent officer, Deloitte India.

‘If an exit interview is done well—trying to understand rather than defend—and a person is heard out, then that person goes away feeling this is an organisation that has cared to listen to me,’ he adds.

A senior executive heading the HR function in a leading BFSI brand in the country agrees and believes that as essential as exit interviews are, they are probably not being done skilfully.

“I ask two questions. One is, ‘Will you come back and join my organisation again?’ and the other is ‘Will you refer my company to another person?’ That gives you a lot of insights into what people think of the brand. If you want to go, you should go. What I am more interested to know is what you think of my brand,” he says.

The two most important questions of an exit interview. One is, ‘Will you come back and join my organisation again?’ and the other is ‘Will you refer my company to another person?’ That gives a lot of insights into what people think of the brand. If you want to go, you should go. What I am more interested to know is what you think of my brand.

Do it well, do it right
Doing nothing is not an option. Doing it very well is the best thing to do. The end of an exit interview must be to understand the trigger for exit and to take appropriate action. Most employees often refrain from divulging the real issues.

Exit interviews are sometimes treated as a checkbox, with some organisations looking at merely ticking it. This doesn’t help from an insight perspective.

Nathan who admits to placing a lot of weight on exit interviews has a few suggestions to make when it comes to better HR practices.

According to him, one thing that could be done is to stay in touch with the employees and do another exit interview with them 30 days after they have left the organisation.

‘When people join a new organisation and are into their new roles, at that point in time they are in what I call, a happy, vulnerable cusp of honesty. That thirty-day period is the magical honest cusp when you can recall a lot more. There are often startling revelations when these people come out and give some great insights into why they left. Then we try to correlate and see if the answers are similar,’ he says.

Another thing Nathan insists on is ‘stay interviews’.

‘Why do people stay in an organisation? There will always be ups and downs in careers, but as long as the culture is good, the employees feel valued and are treated well, then people continue to stay with organisations. That’s a premise. You validate that. You have to check why people stay,’ says Nathan.

Deepali Bhardwaj

The insights are not shared as any single employee’s feedback; simply because one person may not be competent to give that feedback. You need to analyse what you get. Not every feedback is shared either, because sometimes people leave because of the management. When the employees realise that the managers will get to know, then they will not be as transparent.

 

 

Confidentiality is key

It is a given that anything an employee shares during an exit interview remains confidential. But is it really? It is often this lack of trust that prevents employees from being completely honest while sharing feedback.

Bhardwaj states on her part, that feedback is absolutely confidential. All insights received are shared with stakeholders in the form of trends while keeping the identity of the person secret.

‘The insights are not shared as any single employee’s feedback; simply because one person may not be competent to give that feedback. You need to analyse what you get. Not every feedback is shared either, because sometimes people leave because of the management. When the employees realise that the managers will get to know, then they will not be as transparent,’ she says.

‘Don’t forget, when these people go out, it’s a small world. There are only two to three layers of separation. There is a lot of reliance on confidentiality,’ adds Nathan.

An often-held notion is how employees don’t leave companies but managers. This is true to an extent. Rarely will anybody leave a job for a lesser-paying growth opportunity. Sometimes employees feel a sense of unfairness. The reasons can be many —an unfair evaluation of work, a missed promotion or worse, friction with a superior. In such situations, it is unlikely that an employee will come clean during an exit interview. That is when the skills of the person conducting the interview come into play.

Whether fair or not, the triggers behind a disgruntled employee need to be found out. If there are corrective measures to be taken post feedback, they need to be put in place before further talent drain takes place.

‘Exit interview is a part and parcel and the only process we have, to get an insight into the psychological triggers of people who wish to quit and the consequent policy action on intervention. The one typical trigger is the perceived unfairness in the system. The other is the concerned employee’s relationship with an immediate manager. When you ask an employee the reason for leaving, it is usually better prospects and salary. However, most of the time, the actual reason is perceived unfairness, lack of trust and transparency with a senior colleague. Possible reasons for a lot of attrition is perceived unfairness relative to peers,’ says the HR executive at a financial services company.

Differently and skilfully-framed questions are key to a quality exit interview; this is an insight he wishes to share with every HR professional.

Questions during an exit interview must be open-ended and not just a simple, ‘Were you happy?’ Someone who seems to be leaving on a sour note will not offer the best insights to a question as direct as that. When asked in several different ways the responses will result in qualitative feedback, opine HR officials.

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