The “Real” Reasons Why HR Still Does Exit Interviews

The exit interview process is much like most organization’s employee referral process.

You believe you should have a process. You design the process. It’s going to be great! It starts out great. At some point, soon after starting the process, it dies a slow horrible death!

Exit interviews are something every HR pro believes are important, but very few actually do a great job at. The problem with most exit interview processes is that they are very HR dependent and take a ton of follow through.

3 reasons HR wants to do exit interviews

Another major problem is that while our executives say they want the data from the interviews, rarely do they believe what they are given. Most chalk up bad exit interviews to disgruntled employees and discount the entire process.

So, why do we give Exit Interviews? I’ll give you three “real” reasons HR wants to do exit interviews:

  1. We want to know where you’re going! Yep, HR folks love to gossip and we want to be the first ones to know where you’re going and why.
  2. We’re trying to get your current manager fired! You know what’s really frustrating in HR? Having to hire over and over again for the same bad managers!
  3. We need data to look strategic — but we’ll never really make any changes based on what we find. What? Everyone is leaving us because our competition across the street is providing more flexibility. Yeah, well, they suck and you suck if you go to work for them!

Chalk this up to data that our executives say they want, but they really don’t!

No easy fixes in exit interviews

What they want to hear is that the problem behind why our people are leaving us are easy fixes. When they find out they’re leaving because of their bad leadership, every person who fills out an exit interview immediately becomes a piece of garbage in their eyes.

How do you fix this?

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Do you ever deliver specific exit interview data immediately after one person leaves that seems similar to why another person leaves? Basically, you never get credit for that being real data. Exit interview data only becomes “real” when it’s based on many data points put together. The problem with that is it takes most organizations a while to get that much data, and usually at that point, it starts to become vanilla.

Individual exit interview feedback can be powerful, but only if it is coming from a top player and you can get everyone involved to agree this is a top performer before the data comes in. At least at that point, you have a fighting chance to get top management to listen and not discount the feedback.

A great employee leaving is significant

Let’s face it — we all know most of our issues. We just hate it when our past employees throw those in our face when we think we’ve been working hard to correct them. That kind of feedback is hard to accept, and we tend to discredit it way too fast.

Don’t allow yourself to believe data isn’t statistically significant unless you have a lot of it. One great employee leaving is significant, and you need to listen to why. Just know the uphill battle you’ll face in actually creating the leadership change necessary to address it.

This was originally published on The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


17 Comments on “The “Real” Reasons Why HR Still Does Exit Interviews

  1. “We trying to get your current manager fired!”

    Yes, that does sound like something Human Resources would say.

  2. The first cutbacks should always happen in “Human Racehorses”. Biggest waste of capital in any industry I’ve worked in.

  3. Don’t believe it.
    Everyone has all the answers about getting hired or fired except the hiring
    companies and their HR departments. They haven’t a clue. When someone asks, “Tell me about yourself!”, they’re not interested in anything other than what you may offer them for the next time they ask the question. They don’t care.

    Exit interviews are of NO value to anyone except the HR department. Read that to mean, Reason 3. It is self serving and just walk out the door. The dismissal has already taken place or will take place.
    It is because of this that I started my own blog, “Bad Business Management in the 21st Century”; to dispel all of these bogus ideas about how to answer these questions.

    The blog is on Kindle Publishing at;

  4. You quitting. Tell the HR department….no thanks. The HR folks cannot legally hold your last check because you don’t want to do an interview.

  5. None of these people are at the groceries stores and Wal-Mart or working for “I heart Nick Carter” or The Backstreet Boys, they need their wives fired and their managers and their website programmers.

  6. Exit interviews are a joke. If you can’t affect change while you are part of an organization, you’re not going to do it when you’re headed out the door. If HR and company management didn’t value your input while you were still invested in the job they sure as hell don’t care when you’ve already “defected.”

    1. Agreed. Once an employee is leaving, the question before a departing employee takes any action in their soon-to-be-former workplace should be, “How will this directly benefit me?” If you can’t come up with an answer for the question about something, don’t do that thing. Exit interviews do not benefit the departing employee in any way, so no point in wasting time with it.

  7. Hmm…I seem to be the lone dissenting voice in this. I do exit interviews whenever I can. I don’t do them with terminated employees, ’cause what would be the point, but I do them with people who are choosing to leave to pursue other opportunities. Those interviews have been invaluable in understanding the management styles and atmosphere created by our leaders. Unlike many, I actually have a decent voice in the company, so when I say “we have a problem with this manager” the owner and COO actually listen, and we do something about it. By that I mean we can train or assist the manager to be better at what they do, not that we are looking to fire anybody.

    People sometimes don’t feel comfortable speaking freely about their supervisors or co-workers while they think they still have something to lose, but once they know they can speak freely without feeling like there will be a consequence, they let us know what’s going on. And for those who say “what’s the point when they’re already out the door” the answer is simple: if it prevents someone else from having to endure the same thing, it’s worth it. Bad-mouth HR all you like, but I’m here to balance the needs of the company with the best interests of the staff, so there are times when I’m getting an unrelenting crap-storm from both sides. If you think it’s easy or useless, go ahead an step into my shoes any time you like.

    1. Seems to me your approach is too little too late. If people ‘don’t feel comfortable speaking freely…’ that’s a problem. You might approach this issue by letting your employees do performance evaluations on their managers and/or supervisors.

  8. This is a cynical, jaded perspective.

    If you need to be told “no”, go to HR – that’s what companies are trying to avoid.

    1. Most HR *professionals* I know know how to keep their mouth shut. Gossip is simply unprofessional.
    2. If HR is “trying to get a manager fired” it’s based on something, not out of bordom or revenge. They are trying to make the company better. Turnover costs money and if one manager is churning through people it’s best for the people and the organization of HR performs this vital function. Glad they are working to improve the organization; addition through subtraction is valid.
    3. “never” make changes is too strong. Good is often the enemy of great so turning the ship – when the influence HR wields is shrinking is difficult.

    The exit interview has merit when the audience – HR and/or senior management – come to the table to REALLY listen without an agenda.

    Maybe I’m swinging the pendulum too far to the optimist’s side, but if you don’t believe in the potential of change, improvement and real learning, then what are you doing in HR in the first place?

  9. I do exit interviews when I can but being in a retail company I often know about someone’s departure after the fact. Good thing our termination forms are coded so we can see trends. But when I get a notice of resignation I kindly ask why & investigate w/ managers. The truth will come out sooner or later but I think the real struggle is fostering a relationship w/ our employees that encourages them to talk to me about issues before we get to the exiting part. It’s an uphill battle many times.

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