How to break up – professionally
Exit interviews can provide valuable insights for companies
Breaking up is never easy to do — especially when it’s a professional relationship. Yet understanding the reasons why employees resign is one of the most valuable tools in an organisation’s arsenal. Here are three reasons why a good exit interview is worth its weight in gold.
Local and international headlines have seen their share of high-profile resignations recently. Kenya Airlines’ head of marketing resigned, while the finance sector was hit by four Skye Bank executive directors resigning. In Nigeria, the banking sector has faced a high staff turnover for some time, with researchers questioning managerial styles.
Breaking up can be hard to do — which is why the vast majority of Top Employers take the time to understand resignations. “Employee exits can be an important strategic tool that many organisations overlook,” says Billy Elliott, country manager: Africa for the Top Employers Institute (TEI).
The TEI, which recognises excellence in the conditions employers create for their people globally, helps organisations stay on top of current HR best practices. Its research has revealed that in Africa, 88% of certified Top Employers have a formally defined channel in place whereby HR officers conduct exit interviews with all employees, and an additional 12% have a formal channel in place using a specialist external party to conduct a more in-depth qualitative exit interview.
As the adage goes: “People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. When you figure out which it is, you’ll know what to do.” This may be hard to do, because it can be difficult to face uncomfortable truths, believes Elliott. But if a company loses good talent, it can be costly not to understand the reasons.
With this in mind, says Elliott, there are three key reasons why an exit interview is worth its weight in gold.
1. A rare opportunity for free and honest feedback
“In today’s knowledge economy, skilled employees are the asset that drives organisational success. Thus companies must learn from them — why they stay, why they leave, and how the organisation needs to change. A thoughtful exit interview process can create a constant flow of feedback on all three fronts,” argue Everett Spain and Boris Groysberg in the Harvard Business Review.
“Exit management should be seen as an area for growth and learning — a rare opportunity for a company to get free and honest insight,” adds Elliott. “If there is a pattern in the reasons for employees leaving, it may indicate something has to give.”
DHL vice president of Human Resources for Sub-Saharan Africa, Paul Clegg, concurs. A certified Top Employer in 12 African countries, DHL prides itself on having a culture of appreciation and openness, that contributes to a generally low staff turnover, and this extends to the exit interview process. Says Clegg: “We analyse feedback from our exit interviews to determine trends and perform root cause analysis. We have a culture of continuous improvement at DHL and we use the exit interview as an additional channel to gain feedback on what we’re doing well as well as to further identify areas that require improvement. The single most important aspect of the exit interview is seeing if we can prevent similar terminations from occurring again.”
According to Elliott, 73% of Top Employers on the continent report on exit management KPIs (key performance indicators). Of these KPIs, the most frequently used are 1) tracking the number of years the employee worked for the organisation and 2) obtaining specific reasons why the employee is leaving. These reasons are then compared to previous years so that trends can be analysed.
2. A good exit interview can give you a competitive advantage
An exit interview should be aimed at establishing the reasons for the employee leaving the organisation. These insights should be fed into retention strategies. Knowing why an employee is leaving can also generate useful insights into the market and competitor offerings.
According to Spain and Groysberg, the opportunity to learn about HR benchmarks (salary, benefits) of competing organisations and seeing how your organisation stacks up against other employers in terms of time off, ability to advance, different benefits, and pay packages, etcetera, is one of six key outcomes that a good exit interview should strive for.
Top Employer British American Tobacco South Africa ensures that data from their exit interviews is fed directly into the business strategy, explains talent manager Riana Ohlson. “We aim to conduct exit interviews with all employees who resign. The exit interview is conducted by an HR officer in order to determine what the reason for leaving is, as well as to provide us with meaningful insights into retention opportunities for the future. These exit interviews also shed light on our competitive landscape.”
In order to gain these insights, however, it’s crucial to follow a few golden rules. To improve the quality and veracity of the exit interview process, the TEI recommends that the interview not be carried out by the employee’s immediate superior and, and where possible, be anonymous. The TEI reports that 63% of Top Employers in Africa have a formally defined channel in place to use anonymous questionnaires for exit interviews.
“An anonymous exit interview can provide deeper insights, as it gives the employee the freedom to express their true concerns without feeling that he or she will burn their bridges when leaving,” explains Elliott. “It can take place in the form of a questionnaire or be conducted by a third party.”
3. A good exit interview is the first step in recruiting future staff
An exit interview is not always the end of the road with an employee. In fact, it can be an opportunity to learn to do better. HR expert Susan Heathfield writes in The Balance that it’s crucial to commit to taking the employee’s feedback on board and end the interview graciously; in that way they leave the organisation more likely to be an ambassador than a critic.
Andre Muller, Head of HR at Top Employer Pernod-Ricard, says: “We believe that we create ambassadors for life when people join our business, and place enormous importance on the exit process being treated as professionally as the on-boarding process. As a result people often want to come back after they have left,” he says.
“In a rapidly changing HR environment, employers need all the understanding they can get,” concludes Elliott. “Exit interviews open a valuable door to that insight. And a good employer will take care to ensure that the quality of the exit interview is high. It is no coincidence that 98% of Top Employers on the continent ask HR to evaluate the quality of the exit management process.”