Use exit interviews to help employees be happier than Amazonians

Ask departing employees certain questions to uncover bad morale or other issues

By Liz Skinner

Aug 21, 2015 @ 12:01 am EST

Bloomberg News

The compelling New York Times article that depicts a stressful and brutal work life at the consumer-focused Amazon is a great reminder to all business owners to make sure they're in touch with employee sentiment.

One effective way company heads can keep tabs on the work environment below them is for their firms to conduct exit interviews with departing workers.

Exit interviews are an effective business tool because workers are more willing to share problems they have experienced or witnessed when they don't have to come back to work the next day, consultants said.

“Firms might be able to get feedback from departing employees that will help with any new employees they're bringing on as a replacement, or help with morale in general,” said Mary Dunlap, a certified financial planner and human resources consultant who runs an eponymous firm.

In order to garner the most useful information, the person who conducts the exit interview should not be the immediate boss of the employee, she said. Possibly another manager or senior executive at the firm who didn't work as closely with the individual leaving or a human-resources person could better handle the interview.

Another option is to hire an outside consultant to conduct exit interviews.


Some issues Ms. Dunlap has seen come up in exit interviews she's completed include a lack of training as well as problems with a particular employee being especially demanding and engaging in “one-sided conversations,” she said.

Kevin Roof, chief operating officer at Roof Advisory Group, said his eight-person firm doesn't have much turnover, but it has performed exit interviews for the past six years.

“We find it very useful and find individuals are very open and sharing,” he said.

As a result of interviews with outgoing administrative employees who said they would have liked more personal interaction with clients, Roof Advisory Group has created a client service adviser role, which has some administrative duties and enhanced client responsibilities.

The firm, which has about $400 million in client assets, also uses the exit interview to review with the outgoing employee rules regarding the noncompete agreement they signed, Mr. Roof said.

Ms. Dunlap isn't sure how many firms conduct exit interviews, but suspects many owners and senior executives are too busy to make sure they are happening. And, depending why employees leave, it can be quite emotional.

But in most cases, the intelligence gathered in final thoughts from those who've worked hard for a firm and are simply moving on can be invaluable.

How to conducting an exit interview:

• Schedule it as close as possible to the employee's final hours working at the firm.

• The interviewer should not be an immediate boss; if possible it should be conducted by someone in human resources or an outside consultant.

• Questions should be open-ended and address some of the suspected reasons the person is leaving. Don't outright ask “Why?” such as “Why are you leaving?”

• Ask about how the person feels they were treated by coworkers and their supervisor.

• Question the departing employee about whether they felt their work was recognized and appreciated, and whether they felt the firm offered room for personal advancement.

• Ask about morale at the firm and whether everyone did a similar amount of work.

• Analyze the comments provided, look for patterns from other departing employees and consider changes.

• Keep confidential the comments garnered from exit interviews.

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