Leveraging the Exit Interview to Improve Your Business


The process can be a valuable source of feedback for organisational effectiveness.


When a valued employee leaves your company, there are many steps to take to ensure a smooth transition. But one step that shouldn’t be overlooked? Conducting an exit interview with the departing employee.

Every organisation wants to retain skilled, high-performing staff. Exit interviews can provide valuable information about why team members are choosing to leave your company—and hopefully help mitigate future turnover.

In a previous Kenyans Come Home newsletter, we discussed the importance of developing your employer brand. Exit interviews can be a key source of information about the employee experience in your company. As Lyndy van den Barselaar, managing director of Manpower Group South Africa, told the Sunday Times, “Employees are customers of your business too. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses your business has from the perspective of an employee is vital in ensuring your business is doing the best it can—and someone who is leaving the business is more likely to be honest and open about their opinions.”

Ideally, an exit interview will “catalyse leaders’ listening skills, reveal what does or doesn’t work inside the organisation, highlight hidden challenges and opportunities, and generate essential competitive intelligence,” according to business researchers in Harvard Business Review

But exit interviews are only beneficial if they are consistently applied, the data properly analysed, the findings communicated to leadership, and positive changes implemented. Most organisations don’t have an effective follow-through process for exit interviews. A global study found that three-quarters of organisations conducted exit interviews, but less than one-third could name any specific action that had been implemented as a result.

One strategy that can promote action is to expand responsibility for exit interviews outside of the human resources department. If HR personnel conduct all the interviews, findings may not reach key decision-makers within the relevant departments. Business experts recommend engaging managers, preferably one or two levels above the employee’s direct supervisor, who have significant decision-making power.

Some organisations have committees, comprised of key leaders, that review exit interview results at least once a year. Others hire third-party organisations to conduct the exit interviews and communicate findings.

It all begins, however, with setting the tone. Encourage honesty and openness while assuring departing employees that they will not face any repercussions for what they share. If you are able to, promise confidentiality. Those conducting exit interviews should also listen far more than they speak, and ask clarifying questions to ensure an accurate understanding.

Even then, it’s possible that the outgoing staff member will not be forthcoming. In one study, 59% of former employees that answered a follow-up questionnaire gave different reasons for their departure than they did at their in-person exit interview. If your business has the capacity to follow up with former employees several months after they have left the organisation, either through a written or online questionnaire, it is likely that you will get even more useful data.

It’s also important for exit interviews to cover key topics, such as:

  • Company culture
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Comparison with competitors’ employee experience
  • Ideas for improvement and innovation
  • Job responsibilities
  • Management and leadership
  • Professional development

The best exit interviews promote the overall effectiveness of your organisation while also being a positive experience for the departing team member. “To ensure a positive business reputation amongst job seekers, possible future candidates and customers, it is important to do what you can to remain on positive terms with employees—including those who are leaving,” says van den Barselaar.

Regardless of why they are leaving, employees are more likely to speak positively about your business if they feel like their feedback was heard and valued. And that can only assist you and your business in future recruitment efforts.