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How to Avoid the Exit Interview Guilt Trip

Dec 12, 2022
How to Avoid the Exit Interview Guilt Trip
What is an exit interview?

An exit interview is conducted by organisations when an employee either chooses to resign or is mutually let go by the business. It’s usually conducted by HR or Talent Acquisition and is used as an opportunity to understand the employee's experience with the business. 

It can also be used in academia - depending on the institution. Exit interviews can be a great way for organisations to have a “full-cycle” feedback process, and ultimately utilise the information to improve certain areas of the organisation, depending on the feedback given.

What can this look like for different organisations?

Exit interviews can vary depending on the organisation’s size and also how long an employee has been with a business. For consistency, organisations should offer exit interviews to all employees leaving. 

However, it’s natural that exit interviews for employees who have been with the business for a longer period may go through a more thorough process, as it would be natural to assume that an employee with a 5-year tenure would have more feedback than an individual with a 6-month tenure. An exit interview can be as simple as a few questions lasting 15-20 minutes, or it could be as lengthy as 45 minutes to an hour. 

Why are they essential?

Exit interviews are essential for three key reasons:

  • Respect: When an employee has given you any period working for you, the respectful thing to do is give them a platform to exit the business with nothing left “unsaid”. Ultimately, we spend the majority of our lives at work, and organisations have a duty to offer all employees - regardless of whether they’re leaving or not, with respect!
  • Feedback: Name something more valuable than direct feedback from employees? It’s impossible! First-hand feedback is so important for business growth and improvement, and an exit interview is a platform for employees to offer feedback that can be actioned. Especially if you’re repeatedly receiving this feedback, it can be a great indicator that it’s time to make a change. The feedback doesn’t have to all be negative, either. Positive feedback can reinforce that what you’re doing is right - so then do more of it!
  • Brand reputation: When an employee leaves - they are no doubt going to talk about their experiences with you as an organisation in the future. Having a smooth, positive exit will only improve your brand reputation in the market. An exit interview doesn’t necessarily mean something bad - people move on for all kinds of reasons. Supporting this and being a positive brand is paramount.
They are challenging for both the employee and the business

However, it’s important to note that not all exit interviews will be smooth sailing, and, there may be some difficult conversations that happen in this process. They can be challenging for the business but equally challenging for the employee in question. 

They may have certain gripes that are raised in an exit interview, or things may come to light that could come as a surprise to the employer. Recognising that exit interviews can be challenging will enable you to prepare for them better. 

The line between personal and professional

This is where the “guilt trip” can start to creep up on you. Especially in circumstances where this is a long-term employee, the line between professional and personal naturally becomes blurred over time. 

It is physically impossible to have a separated, somewhat neutral relationship. However, when it comes to exit interviews - the line between personal and professional needs to be redefined somehow, which can be difficult to do. 

Tips for running a non-biased, balanced exit interview
  • Set the tone and agenda first: Most exit interviews will be around 30 minutes long and consist of 8-10 questions. Make this known and explain the process so it’s clear to everybody involved. 
  • Stick to the facts: Don’t ask questions that just require a yes or no answer to keep it “factual” - instead allow for elaboration but keep your opinion out of it. Accept whatever answer is given, write it down and try not to engage in a debate. 
  • Have a mediator or second person present: If you anticipate that this will be a challenging exit interview, have a second person present to be a witness and also a mediator. This may sound extreme - but it’s to protect both employee and employer from a “he said she said” situation. 
  • Keep it positive: In some cases, this may be tough, but finishing the exit interview on a positive note should be the aim. Always thank the employee for the time they gave to the organisation and try to be as neutral as possible. 
  • Remember it’s not a direct attack on you: If the employee has specific views or opinions on the organisation that is negative, don’t take it as a direct attack - as it rarely is one person or thing that causes someone to leave.

In summary, exit interviews are essential for every business. Use them to benefit you, try to stay neutral, and remember that feeling guilt is normal - but not necessarily something you should take to heart.

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