Gain valuable insights into staffing issuesDoes your nonprofit conduct exit interviews? If not, you could be missing out on a useful talent management strategy. Exit interviews are a powerful opportunity to hear directly from outgoing employees and gain valuable insights into critical staffing issues, including:
- Day-to-day realities of the job, such as workload, expectations, interactions with colleagues and managers' strengths and weaknesses
- Challenges and opportunities related to employee satisfaction and retention
- Information about other organizations' benefits, helping you find out how your nonprofit compares
Here, consider the basics of exit interviews.
Whether you choose to offer exit interviews to every employee who leaves your organization or only a select few, bear in mind that an employee's participation in an exit interview should be voluntary.
Exit interviews can be done in person, by phone, in writing or through an online survey. Some managers feel face-to-face interviews are the best way to create rapport and get well-rounded answers to questions, especially where highly valued employees are concerned. Others think phone interviews are more effective since being a step removed from the interviewer may elicit greater honestly. Still others prefer input in writing, feeling that this allows employees to be more forthcoming.
Regardless of how the exit interview is conducted, treat outgoing employees with respect and be sure to thank them for their work. This helps create goodwill and furthers the possibility that the employee will leave with positive feelings about the organization.
Experts have varying opinions about when to conduct exit interviews. If the employee is resigning voluntarily, some suggest doing it halfway between the announcement of that decision and the departure date or on the departure date itself. Others suggest waiting until after the employee has left the company, whether it's a few weeks or a month, because the gap in time could lead to a more relaxed conversation and greater insights.
Setting the right tone is critical to an in-person or phone interview. Interviewers should be friendly, patient and listen more than they talk. The goal is to ask open-ended questions and gather useful information, not to judge or criticize. The interviewer should conduct the conversation with care, keeping the following tips in mind:
- Don't try to "fix" issues that might surface during the conversation.
- Don't raise issues that weren't a problem before, such as implying that the person's age is a factor in his or her departure.
- Be prepared for difficult questions or statements that might pop up in the interview.
- If a departing worker raises a potential legal concern, such as discrimination or harassment, investigate the issue immediately. If need be, consult a legal adviser.
Also, to help ensure that the conversation is as honest as possible, consider having someone other than the employee's direct supervisor conduct the interview. You might ask the supervisor's boss, a human resources representative or a neutral third party to lead the conversation.
Some organizations have a standardized list of questions to ask outgoing employees, making it easy to compare responses and spot trends — which can be especially valuable if turnover is high. The downside is that standardized questions don't necessarily yield surprising insights. Conversely, while unstructured interviews set the stage for unanticipated responses and insights, they might make consolidating data from numerous exit interviews more difficult.
Depending on your situation, you might consider a mix of the two: standard questions that everyone is asked and more open-ended questions that allow for unexpected responses.
Typical topics to address during an exit interview include:
- The reason for leaving, including anything a new job offers that the previous job didn't
- Insights into workload, colleagues and supervisors
- Individual or organizational policies that helped or hindered getting the job done
- Whether adequate training, feedback and support were provided
- Whether the job was fulfilling and/or challenging
- Whether management was sensitive to concerns and provided fair and timely responses
- Satisfaction with pay, benefits and prospects for advancement
- How working conditions in the organization might be improved
- Any other suggestions for improvement
Of course, gathering information in an exit interview is just the beginning. If your goal truly is to improve employee retention, the next step is to review findings with management and find ways to create meaningful, positive change.
Minnesota Council of Nonprofits: Conducting exit interviews
The Chronicle of Philanthropy: How exit interviews can help charities improve conditions for their remaining employees by Marilyn Dickey (2004)
Harvard Business Review: Making exit interviews count by Everett Spain and Boris Groysberg (2016)