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The One Question to Ask in an Exit Interview

Use the exit interview as a chance to learn why employees leave.
COLLABORATORS Sharlyn Lauby, Lauren Weber
The key exit interview question
photo by Justin Lambert, Getty Images

Exit interviews can provide management with insights that prevent future turnover, notes Lauren Weber (@laurenweberWSJ) in the Wall Street Journal. But the key to mining the exit interview for those insights is asking the right question.

That one question, Sharlyn Lauby (@sharlyn_lauby), president of the HR consulting firm ITM Group, tells Weber, is not the standard “Why are you leaving?” but rather “What made you start looking for another job in the first place?”

“By finding out what spurred valued staffers to look elsewhere,” Weber writes, “managers can get to the real reasons employees feel disengaged or unhappy. Revelations about bad bosses or other organizational dysfunction — both topics that workers are discouraged to bring up in exit conversations so as not to burn bridges — may emerge in the process of recounting why the workers agreed to take that call from a recruiter or clicked on a link to a job posted by a friend on Facebook or Twitter.

“Such insights could lead a company to take meaningful action, such as offering more management training or addressing other problems driving workers away.”

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THE PLUS

There’s a hitch, of course: As Weber points out, it’s common to fear you’ll “burn bridges” in an exit interview if you’re too honest. On her HR Bartender blog, Lauby suggests that “if you really want employees to provide open, honest, and unfiltered feedback, consider engaging a neutral third party to conduct the interview.” She also recommends waiting to conduct the interview. “I’ve seen many situations where departing employees were upset with the company or their manager. A couple weeks later, they still aren’t happy, but they’re able to talk about it with less emotion.”

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