As an HR professional, I’m torn on the benefits of exit interviews.
Because data are useful if you plan on doing something with them, but in my experience lots of organizations do absolutely nothing with the information received during exit interviews. The completed forms go in a file somewhere, only seeing the light of day when the latest questionnaire from Employee XYZ is shoved in with the rest.
Add to that inconsistent data-gathering processes (for example, some companies won’t collect information from involuntarily separated employees—it’s awkward, and who cares what they have to say—well you should, but I get it, it is awkward) and incomplete or nonexistent forms, and when it’s all said and done, a well-meaning leader might be left with a whole lot of nothing.
Nevertheless, honest feedback from employees about your company policies, procedures, leadership, and culture is invaluable for maintaining or creating a great workplace where people want to be (and which should, in turn, lead to better goods and services that more people want to buy).
So, no, I don’t think exit interviews are a complete waste of time. However, I can think of a few things that are so much better. For example:
Annual Climate or “Temperature” Surveys
Climate or temperature surveys will help you to stay in tune to the issues at the forefront of your employees’ minds as well as what’s working and not working in your organization. To make these surveys most effective, craft the questions carefully, provide employee anonymity, and make a practice of responding promptly and transparently to employee responses.
Open-Door Grievance Policies
An open-door policy provides employees somewhere to go when trouble is brewing and (equally important) an opportunity for leadership to become aware of and handle issues before they cause employees to resign.
A Supportive Leadership Team
Leadership that is known to be trustworthy and concerned about employees as people will gain the loyalty and trust of workers who in return who will gladly let management know when morale is taking a dip and why.
Here’s my point. It’s fine to ask departing employees why they’re leaving and “If they could change one thing about this company what would it be?” but it’s much, much better to talk to employees before they’re headed out the door. If you’ve waited until the termination meeting to begin asking employees for their opinions about their workplace, you’ve waited a little too long.