Exit Interviews Matter

February 5, 2012 11:53 PM

By Chuck Schwartau

Feedback to enhance the work environment

No one likes to lose a good employee. However, when someone does leave, the employer should take every opportunity to learn what he or she can from the departing employee and 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. Make this decision on a case-by-case basis.

Similarly, exit interviews should never be mandatory. Do what you can to make the parties comfortable and invite them to participate by indicating that you are seeking their input to make things better for the next employee and the business. This is their chance to offer constructive feedback.

Listening Is the Hardest Part. It is important to remember that during an exit interview the employee has the floor to speak and the employer should learn. That means the interviewer needs to ask leading questions, which should be written out so the conversation stays on track, and then listen.

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 "I don’t know," but on the other hand, their answer might provide valuable information.

Seek Honesty. Don’t be defensive or take comments too personally. You asked for honest responses, so accept them if given. The objective is to learn and improve the work environment on your farm.

You will probably get more honest responses if someone other than the employee’s direct supervisor conducts the interview. You might have a farm consultant or a senior manager conduct the interview.

Thank the Employee. The last step in the interview is to thank employees for their contributions to the farm and offer a handshake. If they were willing to give an exit interview, your relationship was probably pretty good. You never know when your paths might cross again, so it’s best to part as friends.

Follow Through. Last but not least, do something with what you learn from the exit interview. You might hear some unpopular comments, but you asked the questions because you want to improve. Consider the responses that are less than complimentary and think about how accurate they might be and how they could be addressed to make your 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 during employee exit interviews.
Chuck Schwartau is a University of Minnesota regional Extension educator focusing on dairy management.

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