Exit Interviews

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Back in the day when I was a Human Resources underling, my supervisor asked me to create a form to track exit interview data. I told her that exit interviews are for suckers. The data comes too late in the process, and we never do anything with the data except report on the information to our clients. We would be more effective HR Generalists if we gave our clients a weather report and served them a cup of coffee.

My boss said thanked me for my feedback by rolling her eyes and repeating her request. Okay, thanks mom, but I’m still not whipping up the form. I wasn’t going to embarrass myself, and my supervisor, by delivering a fancy MS Word document to our clients.

I took a small risk and called another division within the company (because god forbid a Fortune 500 company have one HR process) and asked them to open up their fancy exit interview web system to our employees and HR generalists. They asked, “Do you have the budget for this?”

I answered, “Sure I do.”

A successful project was born. They had a web portal (ooh!) and a searchable database (ooh!), and they were able to run reports and provide analysis on exit trends and trends on specific key words (i.e., low salary, more opportunity) within the data. We made a few cosmetic changes, flipped a switch, and the web portal available to our division’s departing employees.

I received a gold star and a pat on the back for my efforts. In the zero-sum game of corporate America, my supervisor took credit for my accomplishments. That’s fine, I thought, because I don’t want my name associated with an exit interview process — no matter how fancy or pretty. The process itself is flawed, and HR always gets it wrong.

Sure enough, something totally predictable happened: hardly anyone used the exit interview web portal. Only the haters took the time to fill it out, and there wasn’t enough data in the system to map the trends and perform a thoughtful analysis. Then a departing employee asked, “Why is this the first time I’ve ever been asked these questions? Why isn’t my boss calling me to ask these questions?”

Common sense. This employee had it, and we lost him to a competitor.

So let me be clear as to why I hate exit interviews: It’s not the job of Human Resources to tell the corporation why its employees are leaving. If your supervisors and leaders aren’t talking to their employees and don’t know more about your exit trends than Human Resources, your company needs an intervention.

[Cross-posted on HRM Today.]

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