It never ceases to surprise me how many organisations fail to conduct exit interviews. When an employee gives notice they intend to leave, many companies make no effort to find out what are the underlying reason(s). By the time an employee has decided to leave, it is probably then too late to change their minds. However, valuable information about the culture, and the efficiency, of an organisation can be obtained from an exit interview. There is much to be gained from these interviews because employees leaving have little to lose by giving their feedback. The interview should be a friendly, two-way conversation with the use of ‘open' questions to give the departing employee the opportunity to ‘offload' and it should never be intimidating.

I have a client, Maryam, who consults me because she is being bullied by her manager. She feels her boss is constantly waiting for her to make a mistake and keeps on giving her tasks for which she has not received any training. When she complains, she is told "you should know what to do and if you don't, then maybe you should leave!" She has now made the decision to leave and one of her colleagues tells her although that manager is known for intimidating behaviour and people leave, nothing is ever done about it.

So Maryam has left, but her employer did not bother to find out her reasons. If they had been taking an interest in her department, they would have seen the pattern of high staff turnover. Unfortunately, sometimes the personnel department does know the reason but does not know what to do with the information because the bully is part of the management team!

Here are some examples of some questions that can be used at exit interviews:

1. What is your primary reason for leaving?

2. What could have been rectified to prevent the situation developing and have provided a basis for you to stay with us?

3. What specific suggestions would you have as to how the organisation could manage such issues better in the future?

4. How do you feel about the organisation in the light of your experience?

5. What has been good/enjoyable/satisfying for you during your time with us?

6. What has been frustrating/difficult/upsetting to you in your time with the company?

7. Did you ever experience any bullying or intimidation on grounds of religion, gender, nationality or ethnic group?

8. How would you describe the culture or ‘feel' of the organisation?

9. How well do you think the appraisal system worked for you?

10. What would you say about how well you felt motivated, and could that have been improved?

11. What can you say about the way you were managed? On a day-to-day basis? And on a month-to-month basis?

12. How could the organisation cut stress levels among employees where stress is perceived as an issue?

13. What things did the organisation or management do to make your job more difficult/frustrating/non-productive?

14. How can the organisation gather and make better use of the views and experience of its employees?

15. What do you feel the organisation can do to retain its best people (and not lose any more like you?)

16. Would you consider working for us again if the situation were improved?

17. What is your new employer offering you that we are not?

Confidentiality is all-important when conducting an exit interview, and it is desirable there is trust on both sides so the information provided can be used in a constructive way. The interview should be conducted in private and reassurances given that disclosures about colleagues will not be directly referred to in any subsequent actions.

It must be in the best interest of any organisation to conduct these interviews so they can learn more about the culture within their own workplace. They don't have to go very far to find out what is going on ‘behind closed doors' and it is extraordinary these opportunities are missed.

The author is a BBC guest-broadcaster and motivational speaker. She is CEO of an international stress management and employee well-being consultancy based in London. Contact them for proven stress strategies -

Key Points

  1. Find out the reason for any employee leaving
  2. Always arrange a confidential exit interview
  3. Knowing the culture of your organisation is essential