Exit interviews: do they work or are they just a tick box exercise?

Exit interviews have become a common practice in many organisations, with the goal of gathering valuable feedback from departing employees. However, the question remains: do they really work? Are employees truly honest during these interviews?

The honesty dilemma

For many employees, the idea of an exit interview brings up mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s a chance to voice concerns and provide constructive feedback. But are employees comfortable enough to share their honest opinions, or do they fear retaliation?

Have you had an exit interview before? Were you able to share your true thoughts and opinions? It’s a tricky balance. Speaking candidly could lead to improvements for future employees, but there’s always the risk that your honesty might backfire, affecting references or relationships in your professional network.

From the perspective of leaders and HR

As a leader or HR professional, it’s crucial to reflect on the purpose and execution of exit interviews. Are they just a tick box exercise, or do they truly provide valuable insights for the organisation?

Consider whether your company creates an environment where departing employees feel safe to be honest. Anonymity, confidentiality, and a non-judgemental approach can make a significant difference in the quality of the feedback received.

Making exit interviews effective

To get the most out of exit interviews, it’s essential to:

  1. Create a safe space: Ensure confidentiality and make it clear that honest feedback will not impact references or future opportunities.
  2. Ask the right questions: Focus on specific areas such as management, company culture, and work processes. Avoid yes/no questions to encourage more detailed responses.
  3. Act on the feedback: Show that the feedback is valued by making tangible changes. Share updates with your team to demonstrate that their input leads to real improvements.

Should you be honest as a departing employee?

As a departing employee, you might wonder whether to use this opportunity to voice any concerns or grievances. While it’s tempting to leave on a positive note, consider the potential benefits of providing honest feedback. It could lead to improvements that benefit your former colleagues and shape a better workplace for future employees.

However, if you fear negative consequences, it might be wise to temper your honesty or provide feedback through an anonymous channel if available.