At a glance – the why, who, what, how and when of exit interviews

Why? One of the final touchpoints within the employee lifecycle and opportunity to gather information about an individuals overall employee experience. When assessed in detail, both individually and collectively, this information can provide invaluable insights to inform truly strategic HR interventions.
Who? Often the responsibility falls to either HR, direct line manager or a line manager outside direct reporting lines. Depending on how the interviewee perceives it may positively or negatively impact data collection. For example, if the impetus for leaving is related to line managers behaviour, would they be open and honest?
What? Simply – what does an organisation want garner from conducting these. It can range from a compliance focused process (final opportunity to raise any grievances) to act as a final safeguard of the organisation to a truly strategic process which actively shapes employee initiatives.
How? Traditionally exit interviews were precisely that – an interview. With advancements in technology this can now be virtual, through surveys or via HR systems. This introduces the potential for hybrid options also – a survey which is facilitated through a virtual meeting.
Where? Hybrid working introduces the opportunity to conduct these from any location. The location shouldn’t be underestimated in the design process – if the process is an anonymous survey there may still be concern over providing feedback if a screen is potentially visible to a colleague and/or line manager.
When? Often conducted towards the very end of an employee’s notice period – potentially their last day – when is as important as other items. Too early in an notice period and employees may be reluctant to be fully honest and open. Whereas too late, the may be focused on finalising handovers, or simply disengaged, that they don’t engage with the process. Surveys also open the opportunity to enabling employees complete post-employment.

The value of effective exit interviews


Exit interviews provide an invaluable opportunity to gather and use data from employees who leave to inform continuous improvement for those who remain.

The new year can strike fear into employees and employers alike. Employees can dread the return to work, dreaming of moving on to pastures new whilst employers are concerned about losing their star performers to competitors. It is no secret that January is traditionally the month with the highest employee turnover. Unfortunately, when an employee’s mindset moves in this direction, any preventative intervention is usually too late, ineffective or, at best, temporary. 

Enter the exit interview. A thoughtful exit interview process can be the catalyst to deliver real organisational change. However they often promise so much but, regretfully, often fail to deliver.

Exit interviews can be one the most important sources of organisational intelligence to shape and inform impactful employee engagement initiatives. Simply pondering the basics mechanics of who, how, what, where and when demonstrates a multitude of potential methods to execute this process (see “at a glance” section above). 

Each method has respective strengths and potential drawbacks in terms of capturing vital data.  As with any process, where numerous methods are available the potential to succumb to pitfalls is heightened. Therefore, it is no surprise that exit interviews often fail to deliver on their potential. 

Through our work across private, public and not-for-profit sector the same challenges and issues arise – and are almost always linked to poor process design and execution. The most common reasons we encounter for this are:

  • Lack of capacity to conduct the interviews.
  • Ineffective questions which fail to provide meaningful raw data.
  • Lacking the capability to transform raw data to insights.
  • Utilising an ineffective or inappropriate mechanism for conducting 
  • Exit interviewers who fail to capture the substantive point.
  • Data is not reported at all undermining its value.
  • Reported data is siloed without attempt to draw correlation to other organisational trends
  • Process undermines open and honest feedback from employees – even when purported to be “anonymous”.

Whilst there are plenty of challenges to effective exit interviews, there is also a case to be made to turn this process on its head – to establish entry interviews. These could complement your exit interview data by measuring early employee expectations to contrast to actual experience during exit interview. Considered together they could unlock critical information relating to your overall employee experience. The scope of entry interviews could be broader to gather other valuable information such as insights into competing employers or identification of undisclosed skillsets. 

For too long, exit interviews have been considered a discrete event focused on organisational failure. We believe that’s a mistake. Over the years, our Transformation HR and Change team has assisted organisations to transform their exit interview process to being delivering true value and impact.  So, if you believe in the potential of exit interviews but are unsure of how to get the most of them – or have significant raw data but unsure how to covert these to add value – contact a member of our team below for a discussion.

Recommendations to transform your exit interview processes

1. (Re)design with desired insights in mind: start with the end point in mind. The insights you want to elicit will inform what data you need to gather. If you have an existing process – this is the perfect time to redesign to start a new year of fresh data collection and insights generation. If in doubt consider asking your senior management team or Board what they want to see.
2. Align to your organisational values or culture: all organisations boast about their culture so aligning exit interviews with these will imbue it with value from the outset. It also provides a simple, yet meaningful reporting, metric to grab attention of your audience. Better still if you can align to your organisational strategy or priorities.
3. Critically assess the mechanics of conducting exit interviews: reconsider the who, how, where and whento break down barriers to meaningful data collection. At a minimum it should reflect your culture and “how we do things around here”. For example – providing an anonymous survey link could be counterproductive, potentially insulting, to an exiting employee if your organisation thrives on face-to-face engagement.
4. Ask the questions you are (normally) afraid to ask: measuring existing employee sentiment through engagement surveys has never been more popular. Yet, organisations can be reluctant to seek answers to questions that matter which may be be long-held, untested assumptions. Exit interviews provide a relatively safe forum to gather this data. If the data increases comfort levels on these areas so may willingness to ask opinions of existing employees.
5. Share and report the data: often, exit interview data is safeguarded or kept locked away by HR teams. However often the data will point to matters of interest for particular divisions or, potentially, line managers and as the old adage goes “what gets measured gets managed”. Ideally this should be presented within Board reports to complement other people metrics presented.
6. Consider outsourcing: outsourcing your exit interviews has the potential to unlock their true value further. Employees may be more likely to be open and honest with a third party whilst the organisations are unencumbered by having to conduct these but still get data and meaningful insight reports.

For more information, please get in touch