Exit Interviews: The 2nd Most Worthless Activity HR Has To Handle

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Jul 24, 2015
This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.

Editor’s Note: Readers sometimes ask about past TLNT articles, so every Friday we republish a Classic TLNT post.

Let’s be clear, the most useless HR activity is Performance Management. Hands down.

But since I have been an enthusiastic beater of that horse already, a close second has to be the Exit Interview.

Let’s review all of the reasons for their sacred cow status:

  • Good, actionable data on why people are leaving;
  • Closure for employees;
  • Risk mitigation for the company;
  • Goodwill and future employee referrals;
  • Knighted as one of the “Best Practices” by people who know things.

News flash: Employees hate exit interviews

Just like with Performance Management, the intent is good. Those are all valid objectives.

Still, there is no evidence that any of those are achieved through the prevalent processes. And most importantly, employees hate them. If they are reviled, then the chances for good, actionable data, closure, and goodwill are nil.

Let’s look at it from the employee view.

An HR rep, whom you may have met at your orientation 18 years ago, wants to go over a checklist and ask some questions about why you’re leaving. She’s taking notes. Suspicious.

As an employee, I’m wondering why no one bothered to ask me these questions over the past 18 years? It’s a little insulting to be asked why I’m leaving for the sake of good data and action planning. Is the implication that I was expendable, but heaven forbid anyone else ever fall victim to a bad manager and lack of recognition?

Why not an exit conversation?

She’s taking notes, so I’m sure not going to say what I really think, if I know what’s good for me. It’s my last day and all they want is my badge and to squeeze information out of me. Where’s my goodbye cake?

Instead of an exit interview, how about an exit conversation? It’s not the idea that’s broken, it’s the focus.

If you haven’t been asking your employees why they stay and what would keep them at least once a year, you’ve missed the point. Then an exit interview is just an awkward gesture of too little, too late. Nobody’s reason for leaving should ever be a surprise. If you want the data, use an exit survey that is confidential and preferably after they have left and had proper time to reflect. But only do this if you are actually going to take action on the data provided.

Why a “conversation” is a better approach

The exit conversation should not be conducted by HR. The exit check-out process and benefits information can be cold and clinical and handled by HR, but the conversation should be with someone of consequence in that employee’s career.

There is nothing sadder than handing in your badge and computer and walking out the door unnoticed.

So, if the exit conversation is not about the data and not about the check-out process, it needs to be about the employee and their contribution – a thank you, a celebration, an acknowledgment; a chance to reflect and offer feedback.

Now that doesn’t sound so worthless, does it?

This was originally published on PeopleResult’s Current blog.

This article is part of a series called Classic TLNT.