Exit Lines

Finding ''Good'' In Goodbye

Exit interviews are the norm at many big companies. As far back as 1994, employment agency Robert Half International surveyed 150 executives from some of the nation's biggest companies, and 94 percent of them said exit interviews could provide useful information. A stunning 76 percent said the information collected at these interviews could be used to improve departmental operations or company policies.

"There's no good reason not to do an exit interview," says Allan Weitzman, a Boca Raton, Florida, employment lawyer with Proskauer Rose LLP. "Even if you've fired an employee for theft, we recommend holding an exit interview."

In its simplest form, an exit interview is a private session with the departing employee. It's partly done for housekeeping reasons--collecting any keys or ID badges, as well as explaining what, if any, benefits will continue. But an exit interview also provides closure to the employee's time with the company. See the worker out the door with a smile on his face, and that ex-employee may become a goodwill ambassador for your business.

"It only takes 15 minutes, and it will leave the employee feeling better about his overall employment experience with you," says Dave St. John, a principal with FSJ Services Inc., an Atlanta human resources consulting firm. "Exit interviews are a way to cement long-term relationships."

Who should do the interview? If possible, conduct the interview yourself, or have a senior staff member do it. "Approach this as important work," St. John says. "A good policy is to rotate the assignment among different managers so you get varying interpretations of the [exiting parties'] feedback."

Go into every exit interview with a script--and plan to ask at least these questions of resigning employees:

1. Who is your new employer?

2. Why are you leaving?

3. What could we be doing better in your department and in the business as a whole?

4. What problems exist that we might not know about?

5. What's your opinion of our compensation and benefits package?

In addition, when the employee is resigning, get in writing that the departure is voluntary. "That can be very helpful if a court case comes up later," says Weitzman.

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This article was originally published in the September 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Exit Lines.

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