Before You Go, Let’s Talk

When I arrived at Dan’s office, his door was closed. That’s odd I thought. As I peaked in, I found him somewhere between a scowl and a grimace.

“You look terrible. What’s up?”

“I feel as if I’ve been punched in the gut and want to throw up,” he replied. After he told me the reason, I could relate to his visceral reaction. One of Dan’s good employees had given a two-week notice.

It doesn’t matter if you can relate to or even support why they are leaving. Maybe they’re tired of a long commute. Perhaps they’re thinking about retirement, and a larger company lured them away with a better retirement plan; or they want to go out on their own. All that matters are the feelings of betrayal, sadness and frustration causing that rotten feeling in your gut.

Though hard to remember at the time, keep in mind that this situation also provides you and your company with some unique opportunities.
The first opportunity is to use this forced change in personnel to evaluate the roles within your company and make any needed changes. Often, job descriptions are built around a person rather than the tasks that need doing. Use this time to revisit and revise ALL your job descriptions. Then you can hire exactly whom you need.

The second opportunity is to do an exit interview with the departing employee. An exit interview can supply candid responses which help you find out why someone is leaving, and a way to figure out why someone else should want to stay. In short, the interview can reveal what is working or not working in your company and can give you ideas on how to reduce turnover.

There are differing opinions on when to conduct an exit interview, from right after the announcement, to just before the employee leaves, to after they have left. Because the exit interview may end up saving the relationship, I suggest doing it before they leave and after you get over being upset.

The interview should be conducted with the supervisor and/or the owner. It can take 30 to 90 minutes and is best done privately and face-to-face. The key to obtaining good information is to treat the departing employee with respect and to keep the meeting friendly and relaxed.

Some questions you may want to ask are:

  • If you ran this company, what things would you change?
  • Was there anything we could have changed in the last six months that would have prevented you from looking for another job?
  • Describe your relationship with your supervisor and how it could be improved.
  • Did we utilize all your skills and experience? What else could you have contributed?
  • How could we improve our training, orientation, incentive and performance appraisal programs?
  • Are you leaving because you feel you cannot continue to work with one of the other employees?
  • Why didn’t you leave sooner?
  • Are you leaving for salary and benefits you couldn’t get here?
  • Would you recommend this company as a place to work? If so, or not, why?

The information you glean can give you lots of ideas on how to improve your personnel practices, from identifying training needs, to evaluating incentive programs and pay packages. It may push you to stop procrastinating about an issue concerning a supervisor, manager or other employee, or it might let you know what counteroffer you could make to retain the employee. However, keep in mind that the reason for leaving often has little to do with wages, and all to do with how someone feels they are being treated.

The interview offers you the opportunity to let the employee know that if their new position doesn’t work out, you would welcome them back. Some folks feel that if someone leaves, that’s it. But, my rule is that an employee gets to leave and come back once. Going to another business is a great way to create future long-term employees — they have to leave to appreciate what they have. If it’s an employee you truly value, stay in touch. Let them know you’ve addressed the issues that drove them away.

Use the tool of an exit interview to turn the pain of losing a valuable employee into a valuable experience for you and your company. For some other great ideas on keeping your people, check out the book Love ’Em or Lose ’Em, by B. Kay and S. Jordan-Evans.