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Welcome to episode 26 of the Rethink HR podcast, brought to you by bettHR.

In today’s episode, we walk through exit interviews—why they are so important in any talent market, why they haven’t worked in the past, and how you can create an exit experience that matches with your company’s ideal employee experience and gets you great feedback about your culture.

Exit interviews are something that so many of us have stopped doing or have stopped paying attention to the results because frankly, we haven’t been asking the right or relevant questions as our employees leave the organization. Historically, we’ve basically set-up a process (if we’ve even upkept it), that doesn’t help or support gathering information about the employee’s experience while they were at the company, versus trying to find out why they’re leaving.

And while many of our current exiting employees may not be voluntary, they are still able to participate if done correctly and delicately—as they do have helpful information to share as well.

It all comes down to asking the right questions in the right way, to help your exiting employees feel comfortable and helpful in providing feedback in a way that still allows them to exit peacefully and on good terms.

In this episode, I share several exit survey questions that work—and walk through WHY they work, so you can look at your own experience and culture needs, to determine the best questions for you to ask as employees exit your organization and become alumni.

Listen in, to learn more!

In This Episode

  • Why exit interviews and surveys are so important, even in today’s talent market.
  • How exit interviews have failed us in the past and why you’ve likely been doing it wrong.
  • How to create helpful and meaningful exit surveys to capture real feedback from your exiting employees.
  • In-depth exit interview questions you can use for your own surveys, and why they work so you can create your own relevant questions going forward.


Exit interviews can be so helpful, but you have to ask the right questions! #HR Click To Tweet

Melissa Anzman (00:00):
Most of you, as I mentioned, have likely stopped doing this because he didn't find the answers helpful or useful. And you may have felt like people were giving you some BS for lack of a better word. They weren't truthful or transparent when you serve them in the past, because frankly you've asked terrible questions. I'm Melissa Anzman, HR practitioner turned CEO of a thriving employee experience company, but it wasn't all that long ago that I worked as an HR business partner, responsible for increasing employee engagement at companies nationwide. And I struggled to move the needle even after trying everything under the sun, fast forward pass, many fail tactics and lessons learned. And you'll see how I've been able to crack the code and replicated at companies of all sizes for creating true engagement and doing HR work that matters work that changes the lives of leaders, HR professionals, and employees. By focusing on the employee experience, I created the rethink HR podcast to give you actionable step by step strategies to help you make an impact.

Melissa Anzman (01:07):
If you're an HR leader or one on the rise, who's looking to stop spinning your wheels, doing the same tired activities that aren't driving results, or you want to have a career. You love your in the right place. Let's get started. Exit interviews is one of those things that you've probably tried. It didn't "work." So you've given up or not put in the effort in it or you haven't revisited. And now you're left saying, Oh, why do I even need to bother with exit interviews is especially right now when you have so many other competing priorities that are likely feeling a little bit more important than asking people why they're leaving, or as they're leaving, asking them more about their experience. Now, when an employee is ready to leave the organization by choice, there's usually a mix of emotions and there's still some of that going on.

Melissa Anzman (02:04):
So I don't want to forget that. Yes times are tight. Talent. Times are tight. People are being laid off more or furloughed more, but people are still choosing to leave. An exit interviews are really important tool that you have in your HR toolbox to understand the overall employees experience. If you do them properly, whether it is a choice leave or a forced leave. So I'm going to talk a little bit about the differences of how to implement this depending on that situation. But let's start with the idea of an employee leaving on their own. We cause when that happens, when they choose a different job or a different life or a different location or whatever, their personal choices to leave their company, they've hit a point in their employee experience where they're negative in experiences with your company have been reached to their limit so that they're ready to leave.

Melissa Anzman (03:02):
So what I mean by that is the whole thing about employee experience from my perspective is every type of interaction that they have with the company your employees have with the company, I should say either is a positive, neutral, or a negative experience and neutral experiences add into it, dropped column oriented, the positive column, but those negative experiences build up. And as soon as they hit a certain level, that means the employee is ready to leave your company because employees don't just leave on a whim. They don't just get enticed by more money. Sure. It's nice. And sometimes that may happen, but they have to be at a point where they're ready to, you know what, I'm, I'm looking for something else. I'm looking for something more here. And that happens when they're negative experiences with the company hit a certain bank point. Now that's going to be different for each individual.

Melissa Anzman (03:55):
And of course there's all those various factors weighing in, but that's the basic concept here. So when an employee is ready to leave an organization, we're super bummed to see them go even more. So if they're a key talent or top performer, but we also know that people are going to leave for various reasons. And it's something that we should expect and plan for. Even in a tight market, people are going to leave. And right now your top talent is going to have offers. They are going to be able to find a different place to work. Should they choose to? So just remember that it's something we need to plan for. Also, I want you to think back as a fellow human being to a job that you've exited from, it happens. It's super awkward for the person leaving and maybe all those around them when they're leaving too.

Melissa Anzman (04:51):
So I can't tell you the number of times, I've heard terrible, horrible resignation stories. And of course I've experienced a few myself, particularly back in my job, jumping days, so to speak. So once you've worked up the courage to resign as an employee and tell your boss about it, from their perspective, there's a huge relief or a weight lifted off their shoulders, coupled with the intent to do great things until they exit the organization. Most people want to leave their current company on really good terms. And then it becomes awkward. You give your notice and the people around you get strange. The people that you've thought of his friends don't know how to act your bosses, ignoring you or talking badly behind your back. You may have been told not to share the news yet with your coworkers, clients and so on. And people just sort of stopped talking to you.

Melissa Anzman (05:49):
They stopped sharing things with you. It's like you've instantly become the office Parana. So instead of leaving your positive company experiences in tact and trying to leave on good terms, because you, as soon as you decided to move forward, we want to quickly forget that horribleness, that terrible feeling you're then left with even more negative experiences and a bad taste in your mouth about the company. And as an alumni, you are not going to think highly or recommend your previous company going forward. So instead of being treated like adults and colleagues that have been the way it's been for however many years, that employee's been there, we tend to feel personally slighted when somebody resigns and we let it hurt our feelings and getting it gets in the way of creating long lasting, positive experiences, they will talk your employees, your former employees as alumni are going to talk and they are going to share externally outside of their company about how they left your company, their thoughts on it, their experience, your reputation is shaped by these experiences as well.

Melissa Anzman (07:14):
And these are the people, especially your high talent who otherwise would have recommended your company or now are going to tell them to run the other way, or maybe they were considering of boomeranging back at some point, but now they're going to run toward your competitor. And they may be decided at that point to share their experiences on glass door. And they may not be as positive as they would have been the week before. And yet we still don't lead our employees out of the organization. In addition manner, we don't show them the respect and kindness for carrying the company torch for however long or short they've been with us. And this holds true for those that we have to lay off. This holds true, not just for those who are making the choice of leaving the organization, but it's also

Speaker 3 (08:06):
True for those who

Melissa Anzman (08:09):
Are leaving without their own option. So we've just look at them like maybe they're the next contestant eliminated on something like project runway or the voice and they're out. And that's just it. And this is where something like exit interviews at a minimum combined with common decency, my friends will help your employees transition into alumni gracefully and with their positive employee experiences, being the strongest touch points and memories of their time at your company. So if you look at it through the employee experience framework, we know that we have to look at the know, feel, act, and touch. So when we look at the know for exit interviews, I want you to think about what do I need to do to leave on good terms and how do I transition out of the company? That's what your employee is thinking. They've just given their resignation and they want to know like, what do I need to do to make this a good goodbye from a feeling perspective, they are relieved to be moving on and excited about what's next.

Melissa Anzman (09:16):
And overall, looking back with positivity now that's true if it's been a self resignation, but if this is more of a forced resignation, they are feeling super upset. Probably uncertain, overwhelmed, scared. There's a whole different set of feelings there. So hang on there. The next is act. So we want our employees to transition knowledge and work efficiently. And on the other side, if they are laid off, we want them to feel like a respected alumni member of our company. And then from the touch points perspective, they want a personal touch and then have sort of some sort of electronic touch for surveys. So they want someone to talk to them and then they kind of want to just be left alone. So let's get back to like the inner exit interview process specifically. So most of you, as I mentioned, have likely stopped doing this because he didn't find the answers awful or useful.

Melissa Anzman (10:15):
And you may have felt like people were giving you some BS for lack of a better word. They weren't truthful or transparent when you serve them in the past, because frankly you've asked terrible questions. And that's probably true. Like as a whole, we have done a horrible job as a function at creating and delivering exit surveys that have any sort of things, or frankly, even caring what happens when someone leaves the organization. Because, you know, we think of them as no longer being our problem cause they're leaving. But if we consider the entire experience, they become even more important after they leave the whole alumni factor of your external reputation of driving top talent into the company of just having positive experiences to look back on become really, really important. There are ambassadors in the world. Now the problem with many exit interviews that I've seen over the years is the questions that are asked are come completely unhelpful for the employee.

Melissa Anzman (11:22):
And for you, they ask things like, why are you leaving the company? I mean, are you kidding me with that question? I remember being asked that question when I was leaving a job and the response in my head was, are you kidding me with this? I have been talking for months as to why I'm unhappy and now you care why I'm leaving. Why didn't you care then? And also, if you really want to know, let me share a list of 16 things that have Hal happened and add it up over time and so on. And what was my response, even as blunt and outspoken, as I usually am. I chose in the multiple choice survey for other opportunities. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to share information with you that is that broad sweeping and really not helpful. I mean, why would an employee when you didn't care about it before, be open to sharing why they're leaving now.

Melissa Anzman (12:25):
And what's a reasonable answer to that from the employee who wants to leave on good terms that would have like minimal blow back to them. Generally, employees don't want to burn bridges down when they leave and they're approaching these surveys with that mindset. So how is someone supposed to say your company sucks? Or my boss has just put me over the edge or you're not listening to me or your culture is not matching what you said. It was with a super broad question of why are you leaving? And what good is it to that employee to share information in that way? Some of the other frequently asked questions that I've seen or some that I should say have been suggested by these really expensive consulting companies are things like this. And the thing is, is the inner thought answers that go along with these are like terribly worded questions.

Melissa Anzman (13:24):
So it's like, why did you start looking for another job when I realized that this place is awful, or my boss is a complete jerk would be my answer, or what does your new position offer that influenced your decision to leave my thought more money, more opportunities to advance my career and flexibility. Oh yeah. And top of the list is it's not here. Another one is what could we have done better? My thought everything. Why are you asking me to do my job for you? I told my boss and HR, what the issues were. You never did anything to fix it. Come on. Another one. Is, would you ever consider returning to the company? My thought dude, at this point, peace out. Did you feel you were equipped to do your job? Well, I had to wait six weeks to get the CFO's approval to get a working laptop, a new another, how would you describe the culture of your company?

Melissa Anzman (14:30):
My thought bad. And then finally, can you provide more information such as specific examples? Yeah, no, thanks. I mean, I kept it clean here because we've all had sort of those thoughts or those experiences or an exit employee had the guts to say them directly to you more power to them when you ask those questions w while they were organizing, exiting the organization. But instead we need to ask thoughtful questions that keep the framework and employee concerns top of mind, while providing us with input that we can take action on. So I'm going to share some better questions that you can incorporate into your exit interviews. So one is which of our total rewards or benefits did you take most advantage of during your time here? Now, why this question works? Is it specific to one thing with a small scope and a direct question?

Melissa Anzman (15:32):
It allows the employee to move from their feelings about leaving and focus on something that they used on a benefit that you've provided. And you can capture feedback about your total rewards program at the same time. Also, there's no blow back for them on that. Okay. So that's going to be a theme for each question. They can answer it respectfully and truthfully giving you feedback that you actually want to know that's meaningful, that you can address through experience, but it's not at the detriment of how they want to leave the company on good terms. Another question is, were there areas in which you felt communication was lacking from senior leadership now, why this works? It helps you find gaps while at a senior enough level that they won't feel as connected as they would to their manager. So we're elevating this question, not like a, did your manager mess up, but we're saying at the senior level, so you can say in the C suite or from the CEO, if you want, or from the CHRs, what have you you're going to elevate the conversation and that's going to feel comfortable for everybody, except for those who are leaving, who report directly to the C suite.

Melissa Anzman (16:48):
Okay. Another question is what was most or least helpful piece of feedback you received during your tenure? So why this works is people remember something that sticks with them such as helpful or hurtful feedback. And this is going to help you understand your feedback norms and the microcultures throughout your organization. I mean, really think about this from your own life. Do you remember a good, a great piece of feedback you've gotten or one that destroyed your confidence? Of course you did. And so when we asked this, we're asking, like, what did you learn about yourself? We're trying to understand, what did you learn about yourself? What feedback, how good or bad was feedback given to you, how ongoing and so on, but we're not doing it in a way that puts your employee in a defensive manner. We're asking them generally, what has stuck with you from a feedback perspective?

Melissa Anzman (17:44):
Another question is, in what ways did you feel that your career aspirations were supported and nurtured during your time here? Now, why this works is we're asking for specifics regarding what's important for their employees career aspirations. And we'll, we're also going to get a sense of what's working and perhaps what's broken in our learning and development program. So again, we're adding this back to our employee, we're saying, what did you learn here? Did you feel empowered to do that? And if so, what, how did you go about that? And then you're going to be able to open it up for more feedback that way. The next question is what leadership skills do you think need improvement at the company? So why this works is this is not about their direct manager, okay? This is more about their experience and the culture as a whole. So by elevating it and making it more broad, have leadership skills need improvement.

Melissa Anzman (18:45):
This is going to allow that exiting employee to share more information and specific fix without feeling like they're going to get blow back on or for their manager. And finally, what was the most meaningful way you received recognition over the past year? So why this works is you can drill into the relationship and connection between the employee and company, and it also sheds light into your recognition norms. Now, these are sample questions. There are millions of questions that you can ask. I wouldn't, I'd keep it to five, maybe 10 at most, that may be applicable to you as to what you need to discover throughout your exit survey, to be effective HR people to create an effective experience, but I'd like you to start by understanding how important exit surveys are. Now. Obviously, if your employees are exiting through a layoff, you want to be a lot more careful about this.

Melissa Anzman (19:46):
You want to use a little bit more of a kid glove. And what I mean by that is it's not their choice. It's unexpected, their emotions are going to be really high. They're going to feel very, very overwhelmed and scared and probably upset. And while we do want to know about their experience, we want to make sure that we're asking the right questions in the right moment. So during the conversation, we don't want to ask them questions about their experience here. We want to just sort of make the conversation as painless as possible for such a hard conversation, topic of a layoff. But yeah. Do you have the opportunity to still get feedback maybe a little bit down the road, maybe a week later, maybe a month later, whatever's right for your company. Because exit surveys work best when they're done via survey tool, when they are not a one in one conversation, because people have no reason to shed light and truth to a human being, especially when it's HR, especially when they don't have a relationship with that person.

Melissa Anzman (20:56):
And so doing it as an aggregated anonymous online survey, sort of like you say, your engagement surveys are, which I hope because you say they are. That means they really are done that way, but you're going to have that tool help get the information. And I always like asking questions and leaving a space for direct feedback. At the end of taking these very specific non blow Bacchae new word, friends types of surveys, they may feel more open to give you specifics in a verbatim. And so capture those as well. But the whole point here is to make sure that you're getting the right feedback that matters to your overall employee experience, blueprint, what really matters to your company and culture while also creating a positive, external experience. Now, exit surveys are just one way to do this. You absolutely need to take a look at how you deal with how you manage your employees, who are exiting the company.

Melissa Anzman (21:58):
Now, if it's a self resignation versus a force, one, those processes will be different. And I'm happy to do some episodes around them specifically, if you want. So just email me and let me know that that's something you're interested in, but at a minimum, we have to remember that these employees that are leaving regardless of choice, are going to become our ambassadors externally. We want that experience to be as positive as can be, which means we are not going to turn them into office Puranas we are not going to get our own feelings, hurt about it. We are going to wish them light and love as they leave. And we are going to help them set themselves up for success in their next role, and walk away with a positive experience at our company, while also making sure that we capture feedback that we can implement and apply to improve our own staying employee experience along the way.

Melissa Anzman (22:59):
Now, the next and final thing that I get asked is when should I ask my employees or former employees to take an exit survey? Now the answer here is a day or two after they've given their notice. You want to send an email to them with their link to take the survey. Now you're thinking, Oh, I really want to wait until their last day or until they're gone. And I've even heard companies sending the exit survey to their personal email address, which is just don't do that. That's terrible. If you deliver the survey while the news is still new, while they have already sort of in their mind, or in the excitement phase of moving on to what's and working actively toward handing off their work and considering how they want to leave, you are going to be at a better stage to get good feedback then on their last day and they are checked out, okay, because at that point, there's really zero reason for an employee to share anything.

Melissa Anzman (24:04):
And they may have had a bad two weeks or a bad month or however long their notice period is, and they may not want to share anything at that point. So two to three days after their resignation has been given is when I recommend sending your exit interview on for employees who have self resigned, hope this was helpful. Can't wait to hear all about the exit interviews and exit surveys that you are doing. And some of the awesome responses that you've been getting this podcast is brought to you by better microsites with your HR budgets being cut and you being on the hunt for ways to do more with less. Why not consider a total rewards or benefits microsite to not only increase your employee experience, but also deliver increased value at half the cost. We all know that your off the shelf benefit administration website is extremely user unfriendly, lacking customization, easy to find information, a crazy firewall, and the missing search function all at an extremely high cost, better microsites are a hundred percent designed based on what your employees need to know your branding and your information, improving the speed in which your employees can find that critical benefit information while seamlessly connecting with your enrollment vendor.

Melissa Anzman (25:27):
And it's ready to quit. We need just about six weeks to get you up and rolling just in time for annual enrollment, learn more about better microsites at better.com/microsites. That's bettHR.com/microsites. Thank you so much for tuning in for this episode of the rethink HR podcast. For more information, including show notes and resources, please go to RethinkHRPodcast.com/26.

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