Think Exit Interviews Are Pointless? You’re Missing Out

Exit interviews are proven strategic opportunities for organizations to gather candid feedback about their cultures and work conditions. HR can use them to gain insight into why star performers are leaving, as well as identify the bright spots in their companies. However, due to false myths about exit interviews, some employees do not provide honest answers. Failing to acknowledge these misconceptions can contribute to high turnover and retention problems, so talent managers must find a way to debunk the myths to get the most useful data from exit interviews. Below are some of the most common myths about exit interviews and how HR can address them to show they are wrong:

The company will never change. This is a common myth typically paired with, “The company doesn’t really want to get better.” Many employees simply do not understand how much time, money and other resources are spent on the exit interview process to identify current and potential problems, so they continue to believe this false myth. To overcome this misconception, HR should tell employees that when they receive constructive criticism, they are able to use that information to initiate change. Let employees know that improvements may not happen overnight, and concerns often need to be raised by multiple people, but if everyone is open and honest, the message will get through.

Exit interviews occur too late — why bother speaking up now? While many employees may not feel they have a lot of opportunities to provide feedback, HR knows that senior management DOES want to hear what is going right or wrong with the company. It’s important to send a clear message to employees about the purpose of the exit interview: that it’s an opportunity to say all the things they’ve wanted to say but didn’t have the courage, time or outlet to do so. Most exiting employees will still care about the organization (and their former co-workers), so they should be encouraged to get grievances off their chests, as well as give ideas for improvements. Let them know that their honest feedback will be used to improve the future for their former co-workers.

You’ll burn bridges. This nonsensical myth was started by a recruiter in an online article many years ago. When sending exit interview invitations to departing employees, let them know that individual answers are not shared with hiring managers, they do not go into an individual’s personal file and they will not change the employee’s eligibility for re-hire in the future. Talent managers also may want to review their exit interview method — some employees may find it difficult to give honest answers in the face-to-face setting, but feel much freer to speak their minds in an online exit interview management system.

Honest feedback will be used against you. This myth scares departing employees by making them believe that if they say anything negative about their former direct supervisors, they will receive negative job references or be blackballed in the industry in the future. This can be addressed by communicating that honest feedback is welcome and confidential. Let employees know that exit interviews are generally looked at for overall trends, rather than on an individual basis, and when a large number of exit interviews are compiled and analyzed, HR then has the information it needs to make changes. Additionally, HR typically handles all future reference checks and does not discredit employees for giving negative feedback about their former supervisors.

While responding to exit interview myths can help encourage employees to give candid answers, the long-term solution includes creating a culture based on open communication and providing a comfortable exit interview method that fosters honesty from employees. Talent managers need to be true to their own word and actually make improvements based on exit data. Then they should let their employees know where the ideas for the great changes came from — the employees.

Beth N. Carvin is president and CEO at Nobscot Corp., an HR technology company that specializes in employee retention and development. Kerrie Main is Nobscot’s in-house journalist. They can be reached at