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Monday, May 12, 2008

Exiting an Employee

I am a head-hunter. I like to think I am a good head-hunter (we are all deluded in some way, I suppose) and I try and help my clients and my candidates get the job (I do get a fee when I do that properly).

However, I have, myself, only ever worked in small organizations and there is one subject I would love to find further information on: resignation and exit interview (from large firms: I work with banks).

-Resignation is typically done to the direct line manager. To what extend does HR get involved, other than administratively?

-What are Exit Interviews for? I did extensive research (i.e. I read your WHOLE BLOG) and the one post you made on it is a little ambivalent. Now this question is really for my intellectual curiosity. My real question is: Should the employee be honest as to the reasons why he is leaving? Arguably in my position they are not fundamentally unhappy about the position they are about to leave (I called them, not the other way around) and so we will assume that the frustrations they have with their role are relatively minor.

Resignations are a fact of life. In fact, a certain level of turnover is good for business--the thing HR cares about is not so much that someone is terminating, but that the right person terminates.

You see, there is good voluntary turnover and bad voluntary turnover. We're interested in decreasing the bad voluntary turnover and increasing the good voluntary turnover.

Once someone has resigned, though, you are right, it's pretty much administrative. (That is, in my never to be humble opinion, how it should be. I am not a fan of counter offers and think they should only be offered in the rarest of circumstances. My question when someone wants to make a counter offer is, "why weren't you paying the person that much to begin with?" Of course, the answer is usually something involving poor compensation structures, but I digress.)

So, why do we want to do exit interviews? Well, because they are thrilling and break up the monotony of filling out forms all day. (Oh wait, exit interviews are paperwork. Sigh, I'll have to think of something else that's exciting. I know, I know, EEO investigations!)

Exit interviews. First of all, we know people lie. "This was just too fabulous of an opportunity to pass up, although it pains me to leave because I love it here so much," means, "I've been networking like mad and stalking headhunters for the past year because I'm dying to get out of this nightmare." That is fine. We know that.

We also know that the the main reason people leave their jobs is their managers. If you love your manager, you'll put up with a lot more. Because I know people won't be forthcoming (in most situations) about their true feelings regarding their managers, what I'm looking for more is trends. How many people are leaving in that particular department? How do they compare to other departments.

Questions that I want to know the answer to, but don't generally get a straight answer to, are what company are you going to, and what is your new salary going to be? This can help HR know who our competition is, and if our pay structures are competitive.

You state that because you called them, not the other way around, they must be happy with their jobs. Well, yes and no. An object at rest prefers to remain at rest. It's much easier to retain someone than it is to recruit someone new for that very reason. And it's much easier for someone to stay in a job then it is to find a new one. And how did you get their names anyway? If you are cold calling, well, that's one thing. But, generally when I've been contacted by headhunters and I've turned them down, they've always asked me the same question, "Do you know anyone who might be interested?"

Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes the answer is no. But, if I hand over a name of someone (by the way, I always ask the person first), it's because I know they are interested in changing jobs. If they weren't interested, you wouldn't have their names, in that scenario.

Should an employee be honest? Absolutely. Should he be cruel and burn bridges? Never. Why are you leaving? Opportunity, more money, better hours, closer to home, can all be true answers, even if your manager is also driving you up the wall.

We do gain valuable information. And I think a second level answer is more revealing than a first level. Almost everyone will say they are leaving for a new opportunity. The second level question is what makes this a better opportunity than what you have here? Salary, promotional opportunities, management experience, varied industry experience, etc all help HR to develop succession planning tools and development plans that can meet the company's goals, as well as help employees to be fulfilled.

And you say you are in banking. Do you have a job available that only involves blogging, but pays a lot? I'm very interested.


Andy Lester said...

It seems to me that the only bit of actual information that you hope to get is the destination and salary of the employee. Everything else you've acknowledged as unlikely to be truthful in the interview.

As to trends, "How many people are leaving in that particular department? How do they compare to other departments," you have the raw data without ever talking to the ex-employee.

The big problem with the exit interview is that there's nothing for the ex-employee to gain from going through the charade. It's an awkward conversation, the horse has already left the barn, and the truth about why he's leaving only benefits the company, not the employee. On the other hand, the ex-employee DOES risk giving honest feedback about what a crappy company/manager/salary he had, and that information will likely get back to the target of the scorn.

Ex-employees need to simply say "I have no other comments to make, and I wish you all well" and keep it at that.

Just another HR lady... said...

This is not really a comment on the post, but I was reading recently about "Retention Interviews" which are similar to an exit interview, but is intended to gather information from active employees. (not an employee survey)

Has anyone ever implemented or conducted "retention interviews"? I'm just curious as to the reaction from employees, I would think it would have to be handled very delicately.

Evil HR Lady said...

I love the idea of retention interviews, although I've never really seen the idea put into practice. I don't know quite how you could get employees to actually open up without fear that there would be retribution.

The Office Newb said...

A company I previously worked for once did an anonymous retention survey. We were given an open form, told to fill it out, print it out (without names) and place it in a sealed envelope in the HR manager's office.

I, and several of my co-workers, spent hours writing honest, constructive feedback about the problems in the company and what we thought could be done better. We were told that the CEO was going to read every survey and compile the results.

Four months later the findings were presented to us at a company meeting and we were basically told that our concerns were not valid and that nothing would change.

As an employee, I think retention surveys are great, but only if upper management is really willing to listen, acknowledge and address the concerns of its employees.

Ask a Manager said...

I do retention surveys, although I've never called them that. It's not formal, I just make a point of having an occasional closed-door, one-on-one conversation with valued employees, in which I close my door and ask them how things are going and really probe around for info -- and I tell them we can talk off the record, that when we know about problems we can often (although not always) fix them, that whatever they say won't come back to haunt them, etc. I've received insanely valuable info this way. HOWEVER, this only works because employees know this is all really true -- they've seen problems addressed, and they've heard from their friends at work that it's okay to share this stuff and you won't be penalized for it. If you tried it without having that cultural backdrop, I don't think you'd get much candor.

What's tricky for us is doing it a way that doesn't undermine the person's manager -- which means maintaining very friendly, accessible, and honest relationships all year long, not just during this one conversation. Otherwise it seems like you're going around the manager's back.

Bill said...

Some HR people like the exit interview because they do think that they will get some dirt on the line manager for use in some future political exercise

Rich DiGirolamo said...

Maybe you need to start having entrance interviews; why not meet with people when they are hired and ask them why they ultimately accepted the job. Then on that glorious Exit Interview day you can see if you, the employer, and they, the employee, really were a match made in heaven or one in hell.

HR Godess said...

I've done many exit interviews that have given me very valuable information. For instance, I ask "If there is one thing you would have liked to see the company change, what would it be?" You'd be surprised at the answers. Some of it was easy to implement, while others were more personal such as not liking their manager and having them fired.

It really depends on what kind of employee is leaving. Is it an employee who showed up every day, gave it their all and was a good contributing member of the team? If the answer is yes, chances are you'll get some good feedback. If it's a person who had sub-par performance, an attendance problem and liked to gossip and create problems, you're not likely to get any decent feedback.

I agree with ask a manager, if you develop good repoor with employees and you can be trusted (meaning confidential conversations remain just that), you can get valuable feedback on a regular basis and often, won't get caught off guard by someone leaving the company.

Andres V Acosta said...

Amen, Sistah! Exit interviews are a mixed bag, usually they're just administrative, but they occasionally give you some much needed info.

For Just-Another-HR-Lady, I'm still a little vague on the difference between a "retention interview" and an "employee survey"; paper versus in-person?

Rick said...

I like Rich's contribution to this discussion. The exit interview should serve two distinct purposes: (1) Was the departing employee's experience positive and did it fulfill the goals he or she established when he or she came aboard? And (2) Where could the company improve?

Obviously, the second question is the harder one if the person is willing to answer it in the first place. If the exit interview is not mandatory, and the employee decides to not interview, take that as a message that things might not be all that rosy inside the company. Unfortunately, the company then has to figure out - on its own - what's wrong if the answer is not readily apparent.

Anonymous said...

What if there was a unasociated website that you could invite exiting employees to publicly rate the comany and their managers anonomosly. Granded you could be airing a lot of dirty laundry in a very public setting but you could counter that by inviting current employees (the happy ones)to rate the company and managers too. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Exit interviews and surveys are only meant to make you believe that the company is willing to take ur opinions into account and change whatever u tell them they could do just rethoric

Just another HR lady... said...

Thanks everyone for your thoughts on Retention Interviews, as I have never done them I just wanted to hear some other perspectives.

Hi Andre..To my understanding (Keep in mind, I've just read about them, not actually done them), a retention interview is a face-to-face individual discussion with a current employee, rather than an anonymous "tick the box" written survey of the group.

Ask a Manager...I like your way of thinking, I guess I do hold informal employee discussions already just to stay "in the know", and yes, I do gather some great information that way. Perhaps informally is a better way to handle gathering this type of info rather than actually doing formal individual meetings with all employees? I also currently meet formally with new hires at the 3-month and 6-month marks just to see "how things are going", so my folks are fairly used to these types of discussions with me.

Thanks all.

Leroy Grinchy said...

I agree with most of the above. I feel kind of forced to give the exit interview in order to not burn bridges. However, I realize that this will not help me in any way. If the company is truly a nice place that is flexible to actually take feedback to help others, I'd give honest answers.

I have yet to find such a place. Therefore, I only answer in a kind manner no matter how bad the manager and company is. This seems nice even if it is useless to the company. If I say anything bad even if it is true and ought to be changed, I feel it might be used against me if I ask for a recommendation. So just be nice on the exit interview and non-specific and you'll do fine.

Anonymous said...

I learned this lesson in high school. I had a really bad math teacher...I won't go into the details of why as it is not relevant to this discussion. The end of the year came and we had to do evaluations. My classmates and I would always complain about the teacher and planned to let it out on the evaluation. Well, we get the evaluation form and it asks for our name. I put my name and give my honest feedback (in a constructive way, of course). Turn it in and next thing I know my mom is asking me about it...he had gone to talk to her asking what's wrong with me. Good thing I never needed to use him as a reference.

I did recently leave a job where I was very unhappy (and had plenty to say about it). When taking the exit interview, it asked, "Would you recommend this company to your friends as a good place to work?" You were given the choices, "Yes! Definitely", "Yes, with reservations", and "No", then asked to explain. I couldn't bring myself to lie and say "Yes, Definitely." I didn't want to answer "No" and burn bridges. And I didn't want to answer "Yes, with reservations" because I'd be compelled to explain my very big reservations (basically management, the organizational culture, and the way business was done would have to change). I left the question blank.