When a worker terminates their employment relationship with a company voluntarily, there is an opportunity to gather information about the day-to-day operation of the business: things to improve, strengths that we are not aware of, issues that lurk uncorrected right under management’s noses etc. For this reason it is important to take advantage of an exit interview in a voluntary process.
A great opportunity for information
The moment when a member of our team decides to leave on their own, a small impact can immediately be felt throughout the workforce. Why would anyone want to leave our company? How have we not seen this situation coming? These are normal doubts. But behind that unperturbed visage our employee will have not one, but several reasons that have encouraged them to take such an important step in their work life. We must take advantage of this setback to conduct an exit interview, since it can help us gather information that we do not yet know about the day to day activities of our business.
What do we gain from a disengagement interview?
When the employment relationship between an employee and the company terminates, the normal exit interview will occur. This can have one of two objectives: either communicate the dismissal to the employee if the termination is on the company’s part, or in case of an employee-initiated termination, to know why a worker decided to go and what relevant information can they convey about the inner workings of the company.
The key is that, once the worker is no longer linked to our company, they may feel much more inclined to speak frankly about what is not going well in the day to day activities of our business. This is the true value of exit interviews that occur under normal conditions - to know from a qualified point of view, the internal processes and mechanics that we must improve.
Similarly, the exit interview can also be an opportunity to delve into the working relationships between different team members. Because, of course, this is one of the most important challenges facing any small and medium business that grows in workforce: managing, and managing well, the role that each worker plays in the company with respect to their other colleagues.
All too often a voluntary discharge does not occur because the worker has received a much better offer from another company, but because the working environment of a business may not be the most appropriate. As business-owners, it is not easy to detect these situations and a worker who leaves can get us on track to avoid future hiccups.
With that being said, in most cases this type of voluntary separation occurs because the job opportunity being offered to that worker by a rival company is, simply, more attractive than ours. Which makes all the difference in the end. So, it does not have to be a bad working environment or latent big problems in our company’s daily operation that catalyze an employee leaving us. Therefore, these types of interviews can also serve to know what is happening in our sector, which companies are expanding and which profiles are the most demanded.
Obviously, we cannot expect our former employee to give us the details of his new job, but it is not uncommon of them to share basic information such as the name of the company to which they are leaving to or their responsibilities at the new company.
How to ask for a positive exit interview
The first and most important point: this interview must be voluntary. We cannot - and should not - force a worker who is going to leave to sit down and talk to us about their reasons. In addition, forcing this situation will produce the inverse effect that we want to achieve and the worker might close up altogether. So attention must be given to create as positive and as pleasant climate as possible in which our employee feels ready to share their ideas and thoughts freely.
Also, such positivity shouldn’t be exploited in order to coerce the worker to stay or make them a counter-offer. If such a negotiation were to take place, it would set a bad precedent for the rest of our work force, since they would understand that 'threatening' with leaving can be used as a weapon to improve their working conditions.
With these two notes in mind, we must present the interview based on an established script: welcome, exposition of motives etc. Plan it as a conversation with well-defined objectives. So it is not a bad idea to carry some concrete questions that we consider relevant. Here the field is very wide. They can be questions concerning both the generalities of the company and very specific things that only concern the position the worker is leaving.
Finally, remember that an exit interview can serve to leave a positive parting note between the leaving employee and the company. This is important since you never know if you would directly or indirectly require their services further down the line.