How to properly manage an exit interview

An exit interview can be a rich source of objective feedback when managed properly.

Even with the best staff retention measures in place it’s a fact of life that at some stage employees will want to move on. Given the transient nature of Hong Kong’s employment market, there can be a variety of reasons why people choose to leave – a change in direction, a desire for improved work/life balance, or better pay and/or promotion prospects.

Whatever the case, whenever an employee tenders their resignation, firms can take advantage of the learning opportunities. Yes, it is difficult to lose good people, and even the loss of mediocre talent brings with it the potential for workplace disruption and additional recruitment costs. However it is worth knowing why they chose to leave. Your business can use this knowledge to improve retention rates.

The best way to identify reasons for staff leaving is through a formal exit interview. It is never easy to hear criticism of your organisation or human resources policies but it’s good medicine even if it tastes bad. It is a chance to identify areas of vulnerability, be it a lack of a career path, uncompetitive pay rates or failure to offer flexible work arrangements.

While an exit interview can dish up valuable insights, the process needs to be conducted in the appropriate manner. We look at four key issues to bear in mind when speaking with employees who are moving on.

Keep it professional

Your (now) ex-employee has already moved on, and there is nothing to be gained from finger-pointing or personal barbs. Removing emotion from the conversation paves the way for a frank discussion about why the employee has decided to leave. Remember, this information is highly useful to your firm so keep things on a professional keel.

Keep it short and to the point

In addition to discussing why the person chose to leave, talk about what changes could have been made to keep them on board. It may be that the decision to resign was beyond your control. But if factors like below-market salaries are mentioned, it could be time to review your remuneration policies.

Don’t burn bridges

It’s not uncommon for employees in Hong Kong to quickly realise that the grass isn’t so green on the other side after all, and after a short stint with a different employer they may get back in touch to discuss resuming a role with you. Alternatively, they could be leaving to work for a major supplier or network partner – and former employees can be wonderful advocates for your firm as long as you don’t burn bridges.

Request mutual discretion

Part of a professional outlook is resisting the urge to bad-mouth former employees. Make it part of your firm-wide culture to not disparage departing employees – this makes it easier to ask ex-staff members not to criticise you or your firm with your remaining employees.

The bottom line is that constructive criticism isn’t always easy to take. However an exit interview lets you access the views of departing staff, who are likely to be more open and frank than employees who remain with you. This sort of feedback could be a critical opportunity for improving your future retention rates.