The Illusion of Exit Interviews

By Wriju Ray, COO, IDfy

Wriju Ray, COO, IDfy

IDfy is India’s leading ‘integrated people decisioning platform’, providing end-to end HR solutions by leveraging predictive analytics, cloud-based technology, and automation within the shortest turnaround time, assisting companies to take informed business decisions.  It provides services such as People Authentication, H.R. Analytics, Exit interview analysis, Customer Analytics, and so on.

Exit interviews, as we all know, involve feedback taken from an employee before leaving the company, considered for organisational improvement. Exit interviews are most effective when the data is accurate.The trouble with exit interviews is that very few people speak the truth. Some find it hard to believe that their feedback would remain anonymous. Others probably want to set the record straight and perhaps even get back at a few individuals in the organisation. Nonetheless, organisations spend a lot of time and effort conducting exit interviews and often base decisions on this data. It follows that we really should try and get the exit interview process right.

There are two things to bear in mind while designing an exit interview:

1. What outcome do you desire from the exit interview?
2. How do you obtain reliable and unbiased feedback?

1. What outcome do you desire from the exit interview?

One hopes to find out if there is something wrong with the organisation that is making people leave. This can lead to tangible action that may improve employee retention or it may help define the kind of people one needs to hire. But if you simply ask the leaver the question, ‘Why are you leaving’, expect to hear the following types of tripe:

• That, it was compensation: Everybody feels that they are underpaid. As an employer you probably cannot afford to pay everybody amazing salaries. Even if the leaver is truly leaving due to low salary there is very little that you have actually learnt from this answer.
• Lack of growth within the organisation: Well, what does growth really mean? Promotions aren’t often the same thing as growth, for while you may be higher up than before, your role can still be quite narrow. The point is, growth means different things to different people.
• That it was for better opportunities: This is the most useless of all answers.
• That it was for personal reasons: Really?
• That it was due to someone within the organisation? Very interesting feedback, but are they being spiteful?
• That they didn’t fit in with the team or the organisational culture: Same as above.
• That it was a planned career move: Really?

Which brings me back to the question: what are we really trying to find out from the exit interviews? It is possible to find out salaries for comparable roles in the industry through other means. There will always be some people leaving the organisation due to personal reasons. Ensuring that people you want to retain have a great career path is something you should do anyway. Perhaps what organisations can do with exit interviews is find out about: (i) people: how individuals manage others or how team dynamics affect someone, and (ii) serious organisational issues such as business malpractices or harassment.

2. How do you obtain reliable and unbiased feedback?

Studies have shown that there is little correlation between what employees say at the point of leaving and what they say later on. Problem is, leavers are often trying to manage the impression that they leave behind when they are about to leave or have just left. There are several strategies that one may employ to solve this problem:

• Obtain part of the feedback anonymously. However, the leaver should truly believe that the survey is anonymous.
• Ask for examples and evidence: One should attempt to obtain as many data points as possible. Evidence and data points can be cross-checked with other people in the organisation (as well as other sources of data such as Performance Systems) and will help create a more complete picture of what actually happened.
• Ask about what the leaver liked in the organisation: One would then be able to infer what they didn’t like.
• Ask about what the leaver would like to change about the job they just left.


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