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The Exit Interview: What It Is and Why You Should Do It


Attracting and retaining talent is a challenge for many public sector organizations, especially in light of an aging workforce and an upsurge of retirees. One effective method to uncover the reasons employees jump ship, be it to the private sector or elsewhere in the public sector, is the exit interview.

What is an exit interview?
When an employee leaves your organization to pursue another opportunity it’s a good idea to conduct an exit interview. An exit interview is a meeting between the departing employee and employer, most often with the Human Resources department, that is used to determine why the employee is leaving and learn about his or her experience in the organization, both positive and negative. In turn, the information should propel organizational improvement.

Why should you conduct and partake in exit interviews?
From a management perspective, exit interviews are a valuable tool for shaping recruitment and retention strategies, to help your organization maintain a well-trained workforce. Is a difficult manager poisoning the workplace? A plan can be implemented to mitigate the problem going forward. Do employees need more recognition in a thankless work environment? Uncovering such issues is key to organizational change. While public sector employers may not be able to significantly increase pay, which commonly drives employees to seek new opportunities, they can likely address management-related issues or offer new hires other perks in lieu of compensation.

Of course, exit interviews are not foolproof. In fact, many see them as a waste of time. Former employees may not share information candidly or may be hesitant to share personal reasons for leaving their position, in which case it’s best not to push for an exit interview.

For employees resigning on good terms, partaking in an exit interview is a great way to leave on good terms. On the other hand, if your reason for leaving is a result of, say lackluster leadership or a negative workplace culture, airing your concerns in a professional manner could help these issues be addressed, ultimately improving the working situation your colleagues after your departure. Even if you don’t think highly of your former employer, putting your differences aside to help improve the productivity of an organization entrusted with public dollars is magnanimous. Constructive and tactful criticism with suggestions for improvement is key.

So, while not without their flaws, exit interviews are one of the few tools through which employers can gain feedback surrounding resignations, which is a valuable in a sector where there is pressure to minimize employee turnover.

Have you participated in or conducted an exit interview? Did it provide useful information or a means for positive change in your organization?

Brittany Renken is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Christina Smith

Good post, Brittany! I love participating in exit interviews – I think they are great learning opportunities for both the employee and the manager. I was very sad that a previous job I had did not have an opportunity for an exit interview for anyone when he/she left the organization.

Christine Burke

I have participated in and run exit interviews. As an interviewer side, this is an important opportunity to calm down disgruntled employees. You should reiterate that you wish them the best and give them the opportunity to talk candidly about their experiences to help improve the organization and find potential issues. As an interviewee, I would steer clear of discussing money. Staying positive is important! You don’t want to burn bridges and lose a good reference.

Wander Cedeño

Exit interviews are tricky and can lead to unintended consequences to those that stay in the former workplace. Thanks for the tips!

Mark Hammer

Just think about how much money organizations spend on consultants for advice based on only a superficial understanding of the organization. A departing employee (and as Mitchell & Lee have amply demonstrated, it is often for reasons the organization can’t do anything about) can have insights into the way that the organization – or at least the chunks they are familiar with – does its work. The implied connotations of any comment they provide while still working there (“Are they criticizing my competence?”) can inhibit useful feedback. Exit interviews present an excellent opportunity to identify what the organization is doing *right*, in the experience of those who have to live it each day, and what could be working better if only this little part was tweaked.

Departing employees are not a “retention problem”; they are your management consultants.