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Learn from Employee Exit Interviews

Jan 09, 2012

Take every opportunity to learn what you can from departing employees. Consider these pointers and sample questions.

ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension
I was recently encouraged by a phone call asking about questions to include in an employee exit interview. No one likes to lose a good employee. When one does leave, the employer should take every opportunity to learn what he/she can from the departing employee and do everything possible to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Ideally an exit interview is conducted in person, but sometimes that is not possible. Maybe the employee is not comfortable with an interview but would prefer to fill out a questionnaire. That is a decision to be made case by case. 
Similarly, an exit interview should never be mandatory. Do what you can to make the parties comfortable and invite them to participate by indicating how you are seeking their input to make things better for the next employee and the business. This is their chance to offer constructive feedback.
It is important to remember this is a chance for the employee to speak and the employer to learn. That means the interviewer needs to ask leading questions and then listen
Listening is probably the hardest part of this interview. Many people cannot stand silence so when there is a break or hesitation in the conversation, they feel compelled to speak. Fight that urge. Wait for responses. Give the person time to think and frame a response. They might finally respond with something like, “I don’t know,” but, on the other hand, they might give you really valuable information.
Don’t be defensive or take comments to personally. You asked for honest responses so accept them if given. The objective is to learn and improve your business as a place to work.
You should have your questions written out so you stay on track and learn as much as possible from the interview. You will probably get more honest responses if someone other than the employee’s direct supervisor conducts the interview. You might use a farm consultant or a senior manager for the interview.
The consultant who called me was looking at the following questions:
·                     How was your time at XYZ Dairy?
·                     What specifically did you do?  
o        Was this within your abilities?  
o        Do you feel you received the proper training?
·                     Were their protocols within what you have learned and within your ethics?
·                     What is the primary reason for leaving?
·                     Were there any procedures or policies that made your job difficult?
·                     Would you recommend a friend to work at XYZ Dairy?
·                     Were there some things about working on this farm that you especially liked or appreciated?
·                     Would you ever be interested in returning to work on this farm?  
o        If “yes”, why?  
o        If “no”, why?  
·                     Are there things you would suggest I [the one conducting the exit interview] should suggest over time to the farm that would make this a better place to work?
·                     Are there important parts of your job we should make sure are passed along to your replacement (skills or knowledge)?
·                     Is there anything else you would like to add?
These are just a few example questions, and it is likely they ended up combining some of those into more concise questions. Your questions may be different. If you want some ideas, a simple web search for “exit interviews” will connect you to many sites with good basic outlines for exit interviews and lots of sample questions you can use or adapt.
The last step in the interview is to thank the employee for their contributions to the farm and wish them well. If they were willing to give an exit interview, your relationship was probably pretty good. Maintain that relationship with a “thank you” and a handshake. You never know when your paths may cross again and how you may be of help to one another if you part as friends. 
Finally, do something with what you learn from the interview. You might hear some unpopular comments, but you asked the questions because you want to improve. Consider those responses that are less than complimentary and think about how accurate they might be and how they could be addressed to make the farm a better place to work. Celebrate and reinforce the positive comments.
Why not make your goal to be the farm employer of choice with potential applicants lined up waiting for an opening? You can be that employer if you take advantage of what you learn from employee exit interviews.
Chuck Schwartau has been with the University of Minnesota Extension Service for 31 years. As part of the Extension Dairy Team, he focuses on workforce development and management, dairy business organization and risk management. Contact him at cschwart@umn.edu or (507) 536-6301.
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