Exit Interviews for Small Businesses

3 min read  |   7 March, 2022   By Claire Lee


Saying goodbye to employees is inevitable, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy.

There are multiple reasons why an employee may leave his/her position, including termination, redundancy, resignation, and the end of a contract. Today, redundancy is particularly common – in April 2020, it was reported that about 320,000 New Zealanders could lose their jobs because of COVID-19.

Despite the condition under which employment has ended, it’s vitally important that businesses deliver a consistent, compliant and positive goodbye. This can be done with a solid offboarding process that handles exiting employees gracefully. A large part of a good onboarding process involves an exit interview.

Why are exit interviews important?

Exit interviews are just as important as initial job interviews. They serve as information gathering tools where employers can gain a deeper understanding of the business though the eyes of someone in the coalface and capture sentiment as they walk out of the door.

Exit interviews can help determine the pulse of a workforce, the effectiveness of day-to-day processes and management styles, individual contribution and employee experience. Below are 3 reasons why exit interviews should never be skipped.

  1. Departing employees are likely to be more genuine when giving both positive and negative feedback and divulge truthful feelings about their time at the company.
  2. Feedback can help a business identify their strengths, weaknesses and room for growth.
  3. A well-structured exit interview will leave a positive lasting impression on an employee which benefits the employer brand. It also opens a space for the employee to feel comfortable returning to the company in the future, if they wish.

What an exit interview should entail

Exit interviews can fill in a lot of gaps about why the individual is leaving. Below are some questions that should be asked in the case of a resignation.

  • How long have you been considering your resignation?
  • What’s the reason behind your decision to leave your position?
  • If you have already accepted another position, what do you find attractive about your new role?
  • What did you like and dislike about your role, and what would you change?
  • How would you describe your relationship with your manager/supervisor? What could your supervisor/manager do to improve their leadership style?
  • What’s your impression of the company culture and work environment?
  • Do you feel your professional growth and development was supported?
  • Do you feel your wellbeing was supported?
  • Is there anything else you care to share about your time at our company, and any further feedback/suggestions about the way we do things?

When should exit interviews be conducted?

The offboarding process can be broken down in 10 steps. These are:

  1. Communicate the employees’ departure to the team
  2. Transfer the employee’s knowledge to their successor
  3. Recover company assets (mobile phones, laptops, equipment)
  4. Update your  company directory
  5. Revoke systems access
  6. Complete final pay process
  7. Perform an exit survey or interview
  8. Provide letters of reference and exiting documentation
  9. Thank the exiting employee and make sure they feel appreciated for their contribution
  10. Engage the former employee in an alumni group if applicable

As shown above, the exit interview should take place after a number of other steps have been completed and ticked off, so that there is no unfinished business to attend to.

Using exit interviews as a compliance tool

Exit interviews can reveal issues relating to compliance and risk management. By asking the right questions, an employer can uncover unfavourable claims such as discrimination, workplace harassment, etc. which can lead to legal action and bad publicity. Dealing with such matters before the employee departs lessens the risk that the individual takes further action later down the line. Using exit interviews as a preventative measure protects the business as well as the employee.

Should exit interviews take place when the employer terminates employment?

Whether it’s necessary for exit interviews to take place in the case of involuntary termination (i.e. the employer has ended the employment) is contentious. For one, the employment may have ended because the employee in question was underperforming or breached their contract, in which many of the necessary conversations about the employment may have already taken place before the employee’s last day.

The subject is also sensitive in the redundancy scenario. If a business has had to layoff an employee, conducting an exit interview may appear crass. However, if the redundancy is dealt with respectfully, and the employee in question is given the option to fill out a short questionnaire on their way out (rather than sit through an exit interview) the business may still learn something valuable, and the employee may feel empowered.

Ultimately, exit interviews are a good opportunity for businesses to squeeze out some last-minute feedback from departing employees with the view to improving how they do things.

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Author: Claire Lee

Claire is a Marketing Executive at Breathe, and loves all things related to creating marketing campaigns and content.

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