How to conduct an employee exit interview

TL;DR: Exit interviews are among the most important (and underused) offboarding tools — especially when paired with employee exit surveys. Effective exit interviews are well structured and allow you to gather unique insights into the employee experience and leverage that data to improve the work environment and increase retention.

What is an employee exit interview and what is its purpose?

Too much employee turnover can ruin your company’s culture and cost you a lot of money: Be prepared to spend between half and two times an employee’s annual salary to replace each person who leaves. Granted, some staff turnover is just part of running a business, especially since the pandemic made millions of people rethink their goals and priorities (some call it “The Great Resignation”). Yet, it doesn’t mean you should just watch it happen.

Your company may be among the many that aren’t leveraging data from running employee exit surveys and conducting exit interviews to improve your organization and decrease turnover. Or maybe you’re not running exit interviews and surveys at all. And it’s about time you bring these practices into your offboarding process and make the most of their potential for providing powerful insights.

An exit interview is a conversation with an employee who is leaving your company — no matter if it’s a voluntary dismissal or not. The interview is used to collect data on the employee experience in your organization and employee expectations. You should then turn this data into action to improve retention and your culture. Besides, exit interviews (especially if paired with exit surveys) are your best tool to turn departing employees into advocates. This means they could recommend your company to other potential employees, talk positively about your brand, send more business your way, and even become clients.

Here’s the catch: Just doing employee exit interviews because you know you should will not bring you results unless you follow through on the insights uncovered. But well-structured, goal-oriented employee exit interviews will give you the data you need to take action. And besides turning former employees into advocates, this kind of action can increase employee retention and improve company culture and employee engagement. It’s a win-win — and well worth the time investment to get started with this process.

Exit interviews can help you to:

  • Uncover systemic issues and negative trends (which, if acted upon, can reduce future turnover);
  • Discover leadership issues — and root them out with appropriate training;
  • Improve your managers’ listening skills;
  • Think of new solutions and initiatives to improve the organization and employee satisfaction;
  • Proactively show your people that you care about their opinion and that the company wants to evolve;
  • Close the relationship with employees who are leaving constructively and on a positive note;
  • Gain valuable information on other organizations’ benchmarks and what might make a person choose them over your company.

And if you’re asking yourself, “Do I really need to run both exit interviews and exit surveys in combination?”: This is a very valid question. And our answer is: The level of insights people share in surveys and when talking to someone else will differ from person to person. Some employees will feel more comfortable opening up to another human being, while others will reveal more in the survey.

Whichever the case, interviews allow you to dive deeper into answers and survey trends by asking for more clarity on any topics and adding a couple of follow-up questions if you need more input (just don’t go over the top). Finally, exit interviews are also important to end the employee–employer relationship on a positive, humane note.

Conducting employee exit interviews and leveraging this data is easier than you might think. Keep reading this playbook to know all you need to do, step by step.

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Wann Sie dieses Playbook verwenden sollten

When to use
this playbook

Whenever an employee decides to leave the business, use this playbook to gather information about their experience working at the company. 

As with employee exit surveys, which we recommend running before the exit interview, this playbook should be an ongoing initiative in your company.

The purpose is to continuously analyze the data surfaced in employee exit interviews (and surveys, if you add that to your process), discussing and implementing actions for organizational improvement.

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Was Sie für dieses Playbook benötigen

What you’ll need for
this playbook

A commitment to improving your offboarding processes and employee experience

You clearly already have that — otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this playbook!

A system for conducting structured interviews

Consider setting up a system to run your company’s interviews and conducting well-structured exit interviews. Although you can use paper or a Google Doc, a platform like Leapsome can help you schedule meetings, follow agendas, take notes (private or shared), and set action items — all synchronized with everyone’s calendars and integrated with Slack.

P.S. It’s a best practice to also set clear agendas for meetings like 1:1s, team meetings, and OKR check-ins.

Hinweise & Tipps
  • Decide the method that best fits your work model and that the interviewee would be most comfortable with. Some people may prefer in-person interviews, while others may feel more comfortable with virtual interactions.
  • Running regular pulse surveys and engagement surveys to gather employee feedback throughout the employment lifecycle can prevent turnover in the first place.
  • Don’t share meeting notes with anyone else. These should be stored with aggregated data and not identify an employee.
  • Your employee exit interviews might uncover uncomfortable truths. Be open and willing to listen. Don’t forget that the goal is to better your company and provide current and future employees with a better experience — which will likely increase retention.
  • Some companies choose to only conduct exit interviews for specific roles. The choice is yours and may vary according to a company’s size, structure, and capacity of the People Ops team. But keep in mind that the fewer people you interview, the fewer insights you’ll gain.
  • It’s a good idea to compare aggregate data from exit interviews with employee engagement survey results. Discrepancies may hint that your people don’t feel comfortable enough to give sincere answers while still employed by the company.
  • Some companies also choose exit interviews to gather industry benchmarks, especially if an employee is leaving to work with a competitor. You may ask a few questions, but don’t be pushy or invasive. Remember: this is not an interrogation, and if you want honest feedback, the other person must feel comfortable and safe.
  • Although some people may have dealt with interpersonal struggles, don’t make this about office gossip. You may even agree with an opinion they have about someone else’s conduct, but try to remain neutral. An employee exit interview is supposed to be a constructive conversation.

How to run this People Ops Playbook:

Wie Sie dieses People Ops Playbook durchführen:

1. Inform your people

As with exit surveys, employee exit interviews shouldn’t catch your people (especially those leaving) by surprise. Communicate to them that you’re setting up the process to improve the company and employee experience, preferably during an all-hands meeting or standup.

We recommend also including exit interviews in your employee handbook, which all of your colleagues — including new joiners — should have access to. The idea of handing information on leaving the company to people who are just joining may seem strange, but it’s actually a display of transparency and a people-centric culture.

If your organization values transparency, all offboarding steps should be part of your onboarding documentation. Also, you’ll be communicating that you care about their thoughts and continuously improving as an employer.

2. Define the interview’s questions

A structured interview is a must, but choosing exit interview questions can be challenging. Fear not: We’ve prepared a free template with best-practice questions to choose from for employee exit interviews

And don’t include all these questions in your interview’s agenda. Leaving a job is already a stressful moment, and you should keep this meeting brief and smooth for the departing employee.

Things to consider when choosing questions: 

  • Standardize questions and don’t change them unless you have a good reason to. Otherwise, you won’t benefit from the insights gained from aggregate data.
  • Always keep your organization in mind. What’s the style of your organization? What kind of communication do you have with your people? The questions you choose should reflect your company’s voice.
  • What are your company’s core values, and can you build questions around them? If, for instance, your company values teamwork above all else, give special consideration to teamwork-related questions.

3. Define the interviewer(s)

There’s not a single right way for all companies — the decision of who should conduct an exit interview can be pretty individual. 

A survey with respondents from 210 organizations in 35 countries revealed that, among the companies that had an exit interview program (75%), 70.9% had interviews conducted by HR/People Ops. 19% chose the former employee’s direct supervisor for the talk, 8.9%  had the immediate supervisor’s manager run an exit interview, and 1% worked with external consultants as interviewers. The researchers found that “interviews conducted by second- or third-line managers are most likely to lead to action.” As it can be challenging to gain honest insights in interviews run by direct managers, many companies choose more neutral parties.

However, you may still conclude that an interview conducted by the person’s direct manager would be more in tune with your company culture. Whichever your decision is, be mindful of your employee’s privacy and don’t put them in an uncomfortable situation.

4. Define a timeline

To create the ideal timeline for your company, consider the following:

  • Will you conduct exit surveys? Ideally, people should have enough time to decompress between answering their exit survey and having their exit interviews. Even for voluntary turnover, these processes can cause some anxiety.
  • It’s not a good idea to conduct an exit interview right after someone quits — after all, this can be an emotionally charged time. 

Some experts say that “the most productive moment to conduct the initial EI [exit interview] is halfway between the announcement of an intention to leave and the actual departure.” This way, emotions can cool down, but wouldn’t be so late that the employee may be fully disengaged.

Others advocate for exit interviews after the person has already left the company (e.g., one month later). The arguments are that the person may be more relaxed and more open to being candid, especially if they have already requested and received reference letters from your company.

5. Schedule and conduct the exit interview

As with exit surveys, respecting people’s privacy is fundamental. Let them know that their results will only be shared with the company as anonymized, aggregated data — and, of course, honor that.

If using a people enablement platform like Leapsome, you’ll be able to easily schedule the interview while keeping the agenda and notes in the same place.

Interviewers should be prepared to listen, above all. This is not the time to persuade someone to stay or to present arguments against someone’s opinions.

It’s helpful to ask additional questions for clarification. You should try to get to the core of topics, but don’t make it an interrogation, don’t invalidate the soon-to-be former employee’s experience and reasons behind their decision to leave.

Follow-up best practices for conducting an employee exit interview

(Continuously) dig into the data

As you conduct exit surveys with more people, you’ll have more consolidated data that might help you spot trends that weren’t so clear before. Working with exit interview data to improve the employee experience and increase employee retention is not a one-time thing.

Develop an action plan

Conducting exit interviews without committing to change is just lip service and not a good employer branding idea. Consider scheduling recurring meetings with other stakeholders — these can be C-level executives, founders, people ops colleagues, or other people interested in supporting these initiatives. Have a clear agenda, share positives and negatives from exit interview data, and brainstorm solutions and changes. 

And don’t try to focus on multiple topics at once. Work on a few areas for improvement at a time, starting with the most critical. Usually, those will be issues pertaining to the lowest scores or most negative sentiment analysis.

As an example, you might find out that many people left because of a lack of career opportunities and progression. Here, focus on creating development frameworks for your company’s various departments, with transparent information and average timelines to achieve the next level.

Keep your people in the loop

Transparent communication drives engagement, and that includes sharing the good and the bad. Although sharing the results of every meeting and discussion on exit interview analysis would likely be tiring for all, consider sharing a roundup with trends and, most importantly, initiatives and results of these actions. You can do this in an all-hands meeting, or you can share a simple presentation with simple graphs and key points with your people, making it clear that you’re happy to answer questions that may arise.

⭐️ Exit interviews shouldn’t be your only structured meetings. Whether you’re fully remote, hybrid, or in the office, scheduling focused meetings can help you improve alignment and engagement across your organization. OKR check-in meetings are a great example — make sure to read our step-by-step playbook on this topic.

And don’t forget to download your free template for employee exit interviews. 😉

Establish a smooth exit interview process with Leapsome

Leapsome is the only platform that closes the loop between performance management, employee engagement, and learning.

When conducting exit interviews with employees, it’s crucial to have a clear structure. This way, you can continuously gather the information you need to take action for improving company culture and employee retention. This video will teach you how setting up a meeting template is made easy with Leapsome.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Are exit interviews mandatory?

Many companies don’t conduct exit interviews, or interview without leveraging the data collected. Although no company must run these interviews, we highly recommend that you incorporate this best practice into your offboarding process.

As for the employees, it’s understandable that, depending on the circumstances (especially if they were fired), a person may not feel comfortable with an exit interview. If that happens, be understanding. Unless circumstances are extraordinary and this conversation is essential for a particular case, there’s no need to make an exit process even harder for someone who doesn’t want to participate in an interview.

How to ask for an exit interview?

Once exit interviews become an essential part of your offboarding process (and given that your people have this information), you can simply send a meeting invite via a meeting tool with calendar integration or another method of your preference (e.g., email).

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