Exit Interviews: Open Acknowledgement by the Outgoing Employees


Dr. Lakshmi G.
Sr. Faculty Member
ICFAI National College


In the most straightforward terms, an exit interview is simply a means of determining the reasons why a departing employee has decided to leave an organization. In fact, it appears that many organizations take this definition literally. in a 1992 survey conducted by Human Resource Executive Magazine, 96% of HR managers agree that they conduct exit interviews with employees who are leaving voluntarily. (1) However, in most cases, the information collected is not put to any useful purpose. In fact, the same study showed that just 4% of companies conducting exit interviews conduct them in a structured and systematic way.(2) This situation does not appear to be much different than in 1975 and again in 1981 when several thorough reviews of exit survey practices indicated that the information gathered from exit interviews is rarely used. (3) It appears, then, that many organizations are failing to recognize the value of a systematic approach to collecting information from exiting employees, including:

1. Gathering and collating the data in a structured manner

2. Aggregating the results for the organization as a whole

3. Analysing the findings to identify consistent trends, patterns and themes

4. Using the results to determine and implement strategies to increase retention and reduce turnover.

As an alternative, there are a variety of third party methods available that can be used to interview departing employees in a more effective and efficient manner than the internal in-person interview. Given the proliferation of corporate Intranets, a Web-based method of data collection can be particularly useful in meeting this need. Some principles for the design and deployment of exit surveys will be provided in this Knowledge Byte following a review of the most recent thinking and analysis of employee turnover.


"The art of putting the right man in right place is perhaps the first in the science of management, but the art of finding a satisfactory position for the discontented is the most difficult" --- Talleyrand

An exit interview is a meeting between the departing employee and at least one representative from the company (either someone from the Human Resources Department or the functional head of the employee). Employees who are leaving the organization voluntarily are sources of priceless information. Exit interviews can be termed as confessional interviews by the departing employee. The outgoing employee must be one who has voluntarily resigned rather than getting laid off or fired. It is an effective HR tool that is used by organizations to find out from an outgoing employee the reasons behind his leaving the organization. Exit interviews can provide valuable insights to the employers to know how to retain their talented staff and improve their work culture as well as the workplace environment. Previously employee exit interviews were not conducted on a routine basis because according to the employers it is futile to ask the departing employee "Why do you go?" The employers were more focused on getting the position filled as soon as possible instead of determining how the vacancy could have been avoided. Their approach was based on the assumption that the market is full of unscrupulous, unmanageable and unappreciative workers. With the passage of time, the organizations have now started to realize the significance of exit interviews. The type of exit interview method to be used depends upon the discretion of the top management and the HR department of the organization. Some of the methods available for conducting these interviews are:

1. In-person Exit Interviews
2. Telephone Exit Interviews
3. Paper and Pencil Exit Interviews
4. Online Exit Interviews Management System


Exit interviews can provide vital clues on various organizational aspects like working conditions, interpersonal relations, pay packages, policies etc. An exit interview offers an opportunity to:

* find out the actual reasons for an employee's resignation
* gather trustworthy data on problem areas, in order to help the management take remedial actions
* retain a talented employee by finding the reasons of his dissatisfaction and agreeing on feasible solutions
* encourage good relations with the departed employee.


The definition of exit interview implies that exit interviews are conducted by the employer or the management to unearth the reasons for employee turnover. In case of in-person exit interview the company's representative may be either the functional head of the employee or someone from the HR department and not the employees' direct supervisor. In order to reap the benefits of exit interviews, the organizations' can hire an experienced third party, a consultant or a firm that specializes in conducting these sensitive interviews, the reason being that most outgoing employees may not want to offend the management at that sensitive time of saying good-bye.


The views of the employers regarding when and where to conduct the so called confessional interviews may be different. It is always advisable to conduct the exit interview as soon as the employee turns in his resignation papers. But the case will be different if the person has been handed over the pink slip. In such a situation, it is advisable to conduct the interview at a later date. The next important question is where to conduct these interviews? The interview environment should be positive and professional. The physical ambience should be given proper importance. The employers should avoid conducting the interviews in public places like coffee shops or canteens where they may be overheard by supervisors or other employees. It is always better to conduct them in the HR department's private office or in the premises of third party doing it. To provide flexibility to the employee some companies prefer to go for telephonic exit interviews so that the employee can avail the comfort of speaking from his own home. The next important question to consider is that who will decide whether or not to participate in an exit interview? The answer is that it will depend on the outgoing employee and not the employer. Some of the things that the employee must consider are whether he will benefit from an exit interview, will the HR department give importance to the employee's feedback etc.


An exit interview is a meeting between an outgoing employee and at least one representative from the company (mainly from the company's Human Resources Department). The organizations are conducting exit interviews to gather data for improving working conditions, to find out the underlying reasons for employee turnover and also for retaining talented employees. This article focuses on the concept of exit interviews, its purpose, who should conduct, how to conduct, when and where to conduct and also how to use the data collected from exit interviews for the benefit of the organization.

A website (www.globalcompliance.com/exit-interviews.html) explains a situation reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual employee turnover rate for all areas of business in 2004 was around 37%. The most talented and the productive employees are regarded as the stars that drive the success of any organization and the failure to retain the same costs small employers thousands of dollars a year in the form of knowledge and experience. In case of large organizations, the price is even steeper costing millions of dollars. After identifying the apparent costs, the small as well as large companies are taking proactive steps to reduce employee turnover and retain talented workforce. Learning and understanding why employees prefer to stay or leave the organization is imperative to the success of any business. Many corporate are using exit interviews as a tool to gather important information from the outgoing employees. In order to prevent employees from following their colleagues out the door, the organizations can utilize the valuable information collected through exit interviews.

The solution provided by the same website (i.e., www.globalcompliance.com/exit-interviews.html) says that the organizations can go for outsourcing the entire exit interview process. This will make the employees feel more comfortable while providing the information. This in turn increases the quantity, quality and meticulousness of the information gathered. In this regard, Global Compliance TM provides Exit Interview services to help out the organizations in collecting information from the employees as they depart. This is being done by conducting interviews via telephone, utilizing a live interview technique or an interactive voice response (IVR) system or through web interface. Thus, by proper documentation of feedback obtained from the departing employees, the organization can identify and resolve key issues that may be influencing employee retention and at the same time control costs associated with employee turnover and training.


Exit interviews should be used as a tool to build a lasting relationship with the outgoing employees. These can serve as an eye-opener for the employers as they will come to know what their employees think about them.  It is very much important for the organizations to find out why their employees leave the organization and since an employee's genuine reasons for leaving can be exposed in exit interviews, the employers must take proper care while deciding the format of exit interview. The exit interview design should contain as many open-ended questions as probable so that the employee can express his views regarding the reasons of leaving the organization, his commitment towards the work, his expectations from the job as well as from the organization, the work culture, the management style of his seniors, the training provided by the organization, his career prospects, the working environment, the pay package provided by the company etc.
Though the employer might have a lot of questions in mind, it is advisable not to ask questions related to personal life of the employee. Some of the questions which the employer might want to ask are as follows:

Why did you join this organization?

* What are the areas that you like and dislike in this organization?

* Why are you leaving?

* If the reason behind leaving is employment, then what prompted you to look for a new job?

* Do you think that our training modules were helpful in doing your job?

* Do you think that there should be any change in the employment practices followed by the organization?

Although these are some of the questions which are useful in getting the appropriate feedback from the departing employee, but the list is not exhaustive as the organizations need to ask questions according to their requirements, so they can prepare their own questionnaire by keeping in mind their own features and experiences.


The purpose of conducting exit interviews will be fruitful when it is aimed at encouraging the retention of valued employees. Everybody from the top level management to the immediate supervisor must be involved in the process of exit interview to achieve the objective. Exit interview is a medium which can be used to find out how the company is being perceived by its human resources. The information gathered through these interviews is otherwise difficult or impossible to find out. They help avoid costly lawsuits down the road, caused by discontented employees. They also help to assess the key areas of the company like pay packages, training and development, recruitment, infrastructure, supervision, HR policies etc. The company can start the process of retaining the talented employees in the initial stage itself. A company has the liberty to choose from a range of strategies available which they consider to be best suited for their organization.

* Talented worker should be given the freedom to choose his work schedule as ideas can be generated at any time. For example, Hewlett Packard has initiated this strategy.

* The corporate houses can offer incentive packages to selected individuals.

* It is the need of the hour to maintain a personal touch with the potential targets. Regular training sessions can be conducted to help the employees to achieve goals on their personalized career graphs. Example: It has been adopted by Maruti Udyog Ltd.

* Positive and constructive feedback can be provided on a regular basis.

* Retention of talented employees can be enhanced by improving the process of socializing the new employee into the corporate culture.

* The senior management must play the role of a leader by demonstrating their own sense of commitment to the organization.

* The management must establish the practice of fair treatment of all the employees so as to foster a positive work environment.

Thus, the proper implementation of feedback obtained from exit interviews is not only valuable for the departing employees but also for the organization as a whole. Exit interview is an important HR tool for employee retention. In spite of its merits, some experts are of the opinion that an exit interview is a mere waste of time.

The main reasons for leaving

In traditional internal face-to-face exit interviews, "better pay" and "better job opportunity" are often the main reasons cited for leaving the organization. However, relying on the information gathered in this way can be misleading, since, in this type of interview situation, employees are often reluctant to identify the true causes for their decision to resign and tend to provide more "socially acceptable" reasons for leaving.

This is not to suggest that pay has no influence over an employee's decision to leave. Rather, this issue emphasizes the need to be sensitive to both "push" and "pull" factors that may have influenced the employee's decision.

In order to collect the most effective information from departing employees, employers need to recognizes the need to provide departing employees with a forum that makes them comfortable revealing the full range of factors that led to their resignation and encourages them to give an honest critique of the expectations, conditions and requirements of their jobs.  With the use of an exit survey system that effectively canvasses the opinions and attitudes of departing employees, a wide range of operational, organizational and personal variables affecting the decision to leave are likely to be uncovered.  It is this information that is essential to highlighting the areas of perceived deficiency in the organization's working environment and can then be used to plan effective retention strategies and actions.

When exit interviews are conducted in this way and summarized across a wide range of organizations and job types, the main reasons for leaving can be categorized into five primary "themes"

Career opportunities, including:

* Perceived opportunity for advancement
* Presence and/or clarity of development plan.

Enjoyment of the work, including:

* How well work utilizes skills
* "Fit" with job
* Work/life balance.

Corporate leadership, including:

* Clarity and strength of vision and mission
* Management style
* Overall perception of leadership
* Level of respect and support received.

Availability of training, including:

* Opportunity to learn new skills/develop new talents
* Corporate commitment to training and development
* Keeping up with latest technology.

Compensation/rewards, including:

* Base/variable pay
* Benefits
* Recognition of contributions
* Communication regarding performance.

Based on this analysis of the reasons for leaving and in conjunction with the unfolding model of turnover, it should be recognized that, in many cases, the organization has at least some influence over the employee's decision to voluntarily give up a job.  In fact, when all reasons for leaving are categorized in terms of (1) the employer's impact on the decision to stay or go and (2) the employee's own level of control over the decision, more than 50% of the reasons for leaving are within the control of both the employer and the employee.  These reasons for leaving include both the longer-term concerns and problems that can lead to a gradual decrease in satisfaction as well as the more immediate work-oriented "shocks" that can prompt previously-satisfied employees to rethink their commitment to the organization and, ultimately, leave their jobs.

From this analysis, it is clear that organizations should seriously consider what strategies and policies are in place to reduce turnover and retain valuable employees. Since a large proportion of turnover appears to be avoidable, it is imperative for organizations to determine how best to intervene and thereby prevent


Employee exit interview is one of the effective ways by which the organization can retain its best employees. As per the above discussion, it can be said that by proper documentation of feedback obtained from exit interviews, the organization can identify and resolve key issues that may be helpful in retaining valuable human capital. A well-designed plan of exit interview has the potential to become a valuable tool to help retain the talented workforce. Thus, it has been truly said

"The Exit Interview is an opportunity
shake hands and leave friends and not enemies"**

As quoted by Radha Mohan Chebolu in the article "Exit Interviews: A Potential Tool for Talent Retention" published in HRM Review, December 2004



1.  Diganta, (2006), "Why Do You Go? How exit interviews can be used for retaining employees", HRM Review, December, pp.54.

2. Chebolu Radha Mohan, (2004), "Exit Interviews: A Potential Tool For Talent Retention", HRM Review, December, pp.28.

3. Mallikarjunan K., (2004), "Exit Interviews: Effective HR Tool", HRM Review, December, pp.35.

4. March, J. G. & Simon, H. A. (1958). Organizations, New York: Wiley; Hom, P. W. & Griffeth, R. W. (1995). Employee Turnover, Cincinnati: South-Western.

5. Morrell, K,. Loan-Clarke, J. & Wilkinson, A. (2001). Unweaving Leaving: The Use of Models in the Management of Employee Turnover. Research Series Paper 2001: 1. Loughborough University.

6. Mitchell, T. R., Holtom, B. C. & Lee, T. W. (ND). How to Keep Your Best Employees: The Development of an Effective Attachment Policy. Academy of Management Executive 15, (4): 96-109.

7. Kammeyer, J. D., Wanberg, C. R., Glomb & Ahlburg, D. (ND). Turnover Processes in a Temporal Context: It's About Time

8. Morrell, K. Loan-Clarke, J. & Wilkinson, A. (2001). Unweaving Leaving: The Use of Models in the Management of Employee Turnover. Research Series Paper 2001: 1. Loughborough University.

9. Kammeyer, J. D., Wanberg, C. R., Glomb & Ahlburg, D. (ND). Turnover Processes in a Temporal Context: It's About Time

Dr. Lakshmi G.
Sr. Faculty Member
ICFAI National College

Source: E-mail February 2, 2010


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