Blog Post

Conducting Effective Exit Interviews for Departing Employees

Richard P. Kusserow | October 2019

If done properly, exit interviews allow departing employees to describe experiences and identify issues for management that could otherwise remain unknown. Much of this information can provide early warnings that something may be wrong in the company’s operations or it may deter “whistle-blowing” to external authorities.

In some cases, the information might be used as an affirmative defense to litigation. Unfortunately, many organizations’ exit interview programs provide very limited benefits. The following tips can help make such programs more effective:

  1. Conduct a debriefing interview and do not just rely upon a written checklist to obtain information. A checklist for the employee to fill out as part of the exiting process is not likely to produce much information of value, as little attention is given to this information. As a result, many consider the whole process a waste of time, resources, and effort.
  2. The last day is never a good time to ask someone for information about their experience in the work place. The interviews should take place as far in advance of departure as possible to give management or the compliance office the opportunity to act upon information while the person is still an employee. It is important to deter the departing employee from going to an external attorney, the media, a government agency, or elsewhere with the impression that a problem is not being addressed. In serious cases, exit interviews can mitigate or even remove potential liabilities.
  3. It is important to establish who will be conducting exit interviews. If the departing employee is leaving because of their supervisor’s conduct, it is unlikely to be a productive exercise if that supervisor is the one conducting the exit interview. The debriefing is often left to HR professionals who can be overloaded with work and are not able to give proper attention to the debriefing, thereby limiting the effectiveness of the results.
  4. Exit interviews should include questions about the departing employee’s experience, especially where it involves compliance matters, discrimination, and harassment, etc. The debriefing should include very pointed questions about their work place experience with regards to compliance. For example, the company should ask whether the employee has observed any violations of law, regulations, the organization’s code of conduct, policies, or other wrongdoing. If there are, then the compliance officer has follow-up work to do.
  5. Open-ended questions, where the departing employee supplies the answer, are much more effective than having answers given from a predetermined list. Departing employees are typically reluctant to say or do anything that might prejudice their opportunities for future employment. The reliability and usefulness of the results is strongly affected by the skill of the interviewer and whether the employee trusts the interviewer.

About the Author

Richard P. Kusserow established Strategic Management Services, LLC, after retiring from being the DHHS Inspector General, and has assisted over 3,000 health care organizations and entities in developing, implementing and assessing compliance programs.

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