Exit Interviews - Its not You, Its Me

By: Chris Young

With the rising emphasis on employee retention and reducing organizational turnover costs, more and more organizations are using exit interviews as a means to better understand why employees choose to jump ship. An organization will subsequently use this information to help improve any existing employee retention program it may have.

The typical exit interview involves the employee's direct supervisor, HR manager, or both, questioning the employee as to his or her motives for leaving the organization. The idea is that the insights gained from the exit interview can be used to improve the chances of retaining current employees as well as new hires in the future. This approach is great in theory; however in practice it has some serious shortcomings.

An important question that must be asked is how candid is a departing employee likely to be with his or her employer. It is understandable that an employee is likely to be less than forthcoming with any negative comments he or she has about a manager or the organization. The reason for this is simple: the employee may have to rely on his or her former employer as a job reference in the near future and will seek to avoid burning any bridges a prospective employer may have to cross in his/her decision to hire the departed employee. The result is an interview where the departing employee essentially tells the organization: It's not you, it's me.

It's not you, it's me - five words immortalized by Seinfield character George Castanza. In a most memorable episode George's girlfriend tells him she wants to break up. When asked why she replies "It's not you, it's me." George of course flies off the handle claiming that he invented that very breakup line, and that if anyone is to blame, it is most definitely him.

This scene is essentially an exit interview set in the context of a typical relationship. George's girlfriend no longer wants to be with him, so to make it easier for both parties she uses the line it's not you, it's me. The end result is that George never really learns why he was broken up with.

This is the primary downfall of relying on the information gathered in an exit interview. It is, by human nature, difficult to tell another individual the reasons for terminating a relationship. Because of this many departing employees offer vague or roundabout answers to questions about their former employer. Instead of giving the real reason for their departure, an exiting employee might give reasons such as: a desire for a career change, the need for a substantial pay increase, or a desire to work closer to their home or family. In some cases these might be legitimate reasons for choosing to leave an organization, but many times what an employee is really saying is: the work wasn't challenging or stimulating enough, you couldn't pay me enough to put up with my supervisor any longer, or that my work environment was so unpleasant that and I couldn't stand thinking of coming to work one day longer.

In many cases there is a huge difference between what an employee says is the reason for his or her departure and the true reason that he or she is leaving. This disparity can be devastating for an organization that relies too heavily on what a departing employee claims are the reasons for his or her exit. The reasons one employee states for leaving do not necessarily translate to reasons that other employees may choose to leave. The truth is that what bothered one employee may not necessarily bother another in the least bit. Furthermore, correcting the complaints of one employee may adversely impact the work conditions of a dozen or more currently satisfied employees.

Another serious shortcoming of using exit interviews to improve employee retention and reduce turnover costs is that the information gathered is done after the employee has already left or chosen to leave the organization. Consider this: you take your car into a mechanic after the engine seizes up. The mechanic informs you that you failed to use the correct weight of oil needed to properly lubricate your particular engine. While this is likely information that you could use in the future were you to own another car with the same type of engine, it does little to remedy your current situation of owning a two ton paper weight or make up for the large financial loss you have incurred.

What if you had known in advance that your engine required a different weight of oil than most other engines on the market? Surely you would have purchased the correct oil to prevent the inevitable engine failure. At the same time however, if you were to rely on the mechanic's feedback about one particular engine and use the specially weighted oil in your spouse's car and any future car your family might own, you could well be setting yourself up another catastrophic engine failure. The point of the metaphor is that what works for one employee might not work for others and may actually repel them from your organization.

What if you were able to know in advance what would or wouldn't work in your efforts to retain individual employees in your organization? Wouldn't it stand to reason that your rate of employee retention would improve substantially?

You are probably saying to yourself, "That is great, but how exactly am I supposed to get that information?" Thankfully, The Rainmaker Group has some of the most powerful tools available to provide managers with this critical information about their employees. Through the use of a powerful set of personality assessments measuring an employee's behaviors, values, and personal talents a manager can obtain a wealth of information about each employee in three easy to understand reports.

With this information in hand a manager can better understand the factors important to retain each individual employee. This is the information an exit interview seeks to uncover except this time it is objective and forthcoming with the employee outlining the reasons her or she will stay with the organization as well as the reasons why he or she will be likely to leave. The great thing is that the information is all available in a timely manner that can be implemented immediately.

Are you ready to take your employee retention program to the next level? If you are relying on exit interviews to gain a better understanding of how to encourage high employee retention in your organization you can do much better. Don't let your organization fall prey to the old "it's not you, it's me" routine! Give us a call today and we'd be glad to show you a sample profile and discuss how we can help your organization develop a high retention workforce.

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