In cases were people leave on positive terms you often get throwaway answers such as: compensation and commute time or gentle rationales like, “the company is great and I wasn’t actively looking, but this opportunity came out of nowhere and is too good to pass up.” The practice is understandable because the world is small and people want to preserve relationships.
When people are let go or leave under a negative cloud, the response they provide is often raw, exaggerated, and hyper-focused on recent activity. You may learn something about their emotions or the conditions that led to the event, but you rarely get the root cause. Some try to remedy this by postponing the exit interview, but the response rate drops considerably and when heads cool the pendulum swings back to benign stock answers.
Even if they worked, they wouldn’t because few HR professionals and managers are properly trained on how to conduct an exit interview. Fewer still have a strategy for what they hope to achieve e.g. dig for root cause, uncover patterns in talent loss, win back key employees via a “stay interview”, or preserve the brand through a positive final interaction. Without training on process and clarity of purpose the action could do more harm than good.
Theoretically there is nothing wrong with asking employees why they left an organization, but teaching managers to have productive conversations with their staff while they are still employed is a much better use of time.
Remember, when the only person talking to your employees is a recruiter, can you really blame them for listening? If that’s the case, perhaps the manager is the one who needs an exit interview.
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