When someone chooses to leave your company, it’s easy to focus on what you might be losing—but there is a lot to gain in these circumstances, too. Conducting exit interviews is one of the most insightful strategies you can have during the offboarding process, especially when you create an environment where employees feel safe enough to provide honest and impactful feedback. You can learn a lot about your workplace, improve employee retention, and foster better professional relationships.
Whether you have to let an employee go or they choose to part ways, an exit interview can be a meaningful learning opportunity for the company and ensure that the employee is leaving on the best terms possible. Still, an exit interview is only going to be productive if you know what kind of questions you need to ask. Here are six simple steps to curate the most effective exit interview template.
What is an Exit Interview?
An exit interview is a structured conversation or questionnaire conducted with an employee who is leaving a company voluntarily or involuntarily. It usually takes place during the final stages of the employee offboarding process, just before or shortly after their departure. The primary purpose of an exit interview is to gather feedback, insights, and opinions from the departing employee about their experiences, perceptions, and suggestions related to their employment with the organization.
Gaining such insights from open professional discussions can help HR leaders improve the working environment and experience of their coworkers. In this scenario, work environment surveys are invaluable — you can gather data about your workplace, directly from the source.
Benefits of Creating an Exit Interview Template
There are all kinds of benefits to having a well-crafted employee exit interview template that HR leaders can use. First, exit interviews can uncover valuable insights and help improve retention rates, company culture, and employee satisfaction. Having a final discussion can help organizations identify the underlying causes of employee turnover and give the employee the closure they need. Second, it also fosters a sense of trust, respect, and appreciation among your remaining employees: 93% of employees believe that exit feedback is important.
Plus, having a standardized template completely simplifies the interviewing process and comes with all kinds of convenient perks. It's a great way to guarantee that everyone is treated fairly and without bias during the exit interview process. Not to mention, a template helps you gather the same type of information, so your data will become more and more useful the more consistently you use it.
Step 1: Identify Goals and Outcomes for Exit Interviews
HR leaders and other executives need to determine what they want to learn and achieve by having exit interviews. Without clear goals in mind, your questions and discussion can drift and become unhelpful. This defeats the purpose of the interview and frustrates the employee, too.
As you prepare to create your exit interview template, think about goals like discovering the reasons that people leave, how to improve employee satisfaction, or how to improve company culture. It will be much more realistic to figure out how to improve employee retention with clearly set metrics and other information you want to get from the interview.
Step 2: Decide on the Exit Interview Format
There are three primary ways to have an exit interview:
- Written Interview. Here, the HR leader sends a form for the employee to complete and has no further interaction or conversation with the employee otherwise.
- Verbal Interview. In this version, the HR leader asks the questions verbally and the questions are discussed right then and there.
- Written Form + Verbal Interview. You can also combine the previous two, where the HR leader sends the form and then sets up a meeting with the employee to discuss the questions and encourage further discussion.
What you select will depend on the type of workplace you have, the level of detail you want to get from your exit interviews, the time and resources you can dedicate to this process, and other factors. In-person or over-the-phone interviews that are verbal are great for detail and encouraging conversation, while written interviews will be time savers for both HR and departing employees.
Step 3: Identify Essential Questions and Topics
The five main topics you should bring up when you select your exit interview questions include their reasons for leaving, their job circumstances, the company culture, the work environment, and the technology and resources to which the employee had access. You want to find out about not only their experience with your company, but what about their new job appealed to them enough to entice them to leave. With those main categories in mind, here are some questions that belong on nearly every exit interview template:
- What were the primary factors that influenced your decision to leave the company?
- Did you feel your skills and abilities were fully utilized in your role?
- What could the company have done differently to support your professional development and growth?
- Did you receive sufficient feedback, appreciation, and recognition for your work?
- Were there any specific incidents or issues that contributed to your decision to leave?
- Did you feel that your compensation and benefits package was competitive and fair?
- Did you have access to the resources and support you needed to perform your job effectively?
Step 4: Have Follow-Up Questions Prepared
The initial questions are only the start of an exit interview template — you also need to have follow-up questions ready to go so that you can professionally and adequately facilitate the following discussion. Give room to the employee in an exit interview by being prepared with these questions so they can sincerely express their feelings and insights into the company. This level of transparency can help you uncover systemic issues, offer closure for both involved parties, and lead to greater employee engagement and empowerment.
Step 5: Determine Who Should Conduct the Exit Interview
Decide who will be responsible for overseeing the exit interviews. This person is usually a member of the human resources department, though some companies use an external consultant. Consider the power dynamics involved to ensure that departing employees feel comfortable and confident in sharing their feedback. It may be beneficial to have a neutral party conduct the interviews to encourage honest and open communication, depending on the circumstances. Just make sure that you don’t have a direct supervisor or team member conduct the interview — this reduces the likelihood of honest feedback or may even lead to conflict.
Step 6: Test, Evaluate, and Continuously Improve
Finally, make sure you test the effectiveness of an exit interview template by piloting it with a small group of departing employees. From there, you can hone in on what worked well, what encouraged the most discussion, and what kind of feedback you received based on your strategy and questions. You can also involve other HR leaders, employees, and stakeholders to better assess the clarity, relevance, and usefulness of the questions, as well as dissect the feedback provided.
Best Practices for Effective Exit Interviews
- Create a safe, casual, and confidential environment. Ensure that departing employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and experiences honestly. Assure them that their feedback will be treated with confidentiality and without repercussions.
- Listen actively and ask follow-up questions. Actively listen to the employee's responses and ask follow-up questions to delve deeper into specific areas. This demonstrates genuine interest and shows that their feedback is valued.
- Take notes and document responses. Maintain accurate and detailed notes during the exit interview. This documentation allows HR leaders to refer back to the information later and ensures that valuable insights are not forgotten or misunderstood. It also helps identify patterns and trends when analyzing data from multiple exit interviews.
- Analyze data and take action. Look for common themes, trends, and areas for improvement within the organization based on interview question responses. Use the insights gained to inform decision-making processes, address identified issues, and implement necessary changes.
- Provide feedback and closure. After the exit interview, provide departing employees with feedback on any actionable items discussed during the interview and express appreciation for their contributions to your organization. This shows that their input has been taken seriously and that the organization is committed to making improvements.
Common Challenges and Pitfalls of Exit Interviews
As you conduct exit interviews, even the most prepared interviewer can still run into stressful or frustrating situations, especially if an employee is leaving on less-than-ideal terms. Be aware of the following challenges of exit interviews so you can know how to combat them:
- Reluctance to provide honest feedback: Some departing employees may be hesitant to provide honest feedback, fearing potential repercussions or burning bridges. They may choose to provide vague or superficial responses instead. Overcome this reluctance by encouraging open and candid communication from the beginning, especially by being appreciative of honesty and putting an unbiased, uninvolved HR in the interviewer’s chair.
- Emotional responses: Exit interviews can elicit emotional responses from departing employees, and managing these emotions and maintaining a professional environment while still allowing employees to express their feelings can be challenging for HR leaders. As the company representative, it’s always important to keep your cool and remember that you want their honesty, as long as they are still exhibiting respectful and safe behavior.
- Lack of clarity or specificity: Departing employees may struggle to articulate their experiences or provide specific examples when discussing their time with the company. This is where having clarifying follow-up questions and a welcoming environment can help you draw out more details and have an actual discussion.
Prioritizing People Through the Entire Talent Cycle
Having a strong exit interview template and strategy is a huge resource for HR to use as they work on organizational growth and improvement. By setting relevant goals, asking the right questions, and creating a safe environment, an exit interview can transform your workplace and employee experience.
Using exit interviews to improve your organization is an important indicator that you care about creating a company where employees want to stay. Creating an intentional plan to improve your workplace by supporting employee wellness can be a key step that existing employees may not know to ask for. Building resources to prioritize wellbeing in the workplace is something employees can’t ignore.
Gympass experts can help. Talk to a wellbeing specialist to learn how to prioritize employee wellbeing with the right benefits.
- Wickham, N. (2021, September 23). Pros and Cons of Exit Interviews and Surveys. Quantum Workplace. https://www.quantumworkplace.com/future-of-work/pros-and-cons-of-exit-interviews
The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.