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Aug 20, 2015

Exit interviews follow along the same lines as Amazon or Yelp reviews. The ones most likely to participate are the outliers, those who are very happy or very angry.

The ones in the middle, those who aren’t completely happy or completely angry, can provide your business with the most helpful information. Unfortunately, they are the ones least likely to respond.

Research shows that exit interviews have a very low participation rate, around 30-35 percent for pencil and paper, as reported on

The reasons are more than obvious, however, when you think about it — exit interviews leave employees on the losing end of the bargain. They are often given at the last minute, involve uncomfortable questions, and don’t offer any notion that the results will be used for anything meaningful.

Improving your exit interview participation rate beyond the norm involves addressing the underlying barriers. For most businesses, the top three barriers are:

  1. Attitude —  How do you approach the exit process and the survey?
  2. Environment — Did you actively foster a culture of feedback?
  3. ResultsWhat happened as a result of exit interview feedback?

While fixing these barriers may seem like they require a lot of work (it can be), you can begin by improving your current resources. You can begin that process in just five (5) easy steps.

1. Ask better questions

Exit interview questions are notorious for being cold-hearted and non-flexible. They also tend to focus on blame.

Include questions that are more open-ended such as, “What did you like best about working here?” Don’t forget to leave open the option for future opportunities. A sample question might be, “Would you like to be considered for future opportunities with this company?’

2. Plan for it

A structured exit process provides a much easier transition for a terminated employee.

Taking the time to explain the exit process and the importance of the exit interview can help improve participation.

3. Demonstrate they actually lead to results

The best way to get participation is to make it worthwhile. If your exit interviews brings up important issues, discuss them with management and staff (when appropriate).

Take action of what seems appropriate and worthwhile. Employees will take note that what they say matters and the business is doing its best to improve.

4. Encourage a culture of feedback

If you want to foster a culture of participation, you need to start this from the employee’s first day to the last. Show employees that their contributions matter and are making an impact.

Fostering a participatory environment from the beginning of the work experience increases chances of participating at the end.

5.  Opt for a “stay interview” instead

Some exit interviews are particularly hard on a business terminating critical or high-value employees. Instead of letting that person go and giving them an exit interview, ask them to stay.

Curtis Odom, a managing executive, offers this suggestion in a Forbes article. Stay interviews are a much more proactive way of getting the same information as an exit interview, but the focus is on repairing the relationship rather than ending it.

This was originally published on the Genesis HR Solutions blog.

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