Everyone knows the drill: employee quits, HR or the manager asks questions about why they quit, a report with the reasons is drafted and distributed, then nothing happens.

When speaking at conferences and in-house management meetings, I like to poke fun at exit interviews. Favorite descriptors are “toe-tags because their already dead” or “autopsies except not as accurate”.

The turnover trend isn’t slowing down

Employee voluntary quits will soon reach an all-time high, making it clear that we are not stopping the turnover trend. I blame some of this on exit interviews because somewhere along the line, leadership decided that by circulating a list of the top reasons employees leave somehow makes a dent in reversing the turnover, whereas most of the time it’s a waste of time. Let me count the reasons why:

1. Employees don’t tell the truth, especially if their supervisor is conducting the exit interview
2. Studies tell us employees lose much of their credibility once they announce their upcoming exit
3. Exit interview forms are designed to capture reasons that have no apparent solution like “absences”
4. No one acts on the results
5. The most reported reason why employees leave has absolutely no solution…and that is better opportunity.

Now imagine this common drill. A team of management employees, maybe all from HR or not, gathers in a room for hours with flip charts to determine how to fix better opportunity. One group decides to focus on pay and lists all the ways to make employees appreciate their pay more. Another group says better opportunity is about career development so make a list about that. A third groups says no, better opportunity is about better commutes.

What does “better opportunity” mean?

The point is that the most frequent reason given in exit interviews for leaving is better opportunity and we have no idea what this means.

But belittling better opportunity is low-hanging fruit. The even greater reason why exit interviews fail to help is at their best they result in one-size-fits-all programs. We all know these: employee-of-the month awards to “fix” recognition, electronic chat boards to “fix” communications, in-house job fairs to “fix” career development…and my new favorite to pick on, a clock for your mantle that proudly displays the company logo.

Here’s the bad news: Each of these one-size-fits-all programs has a 24-hour shelf life, at best 48…because soon after employees have to return to their real jobs.

New idea for Exit Interviews

I’ve written here many times before that the primary reason employees stay or leave, or engage or disengage, is how much they trust their boss. So I say scrap the employee exit interview and try this instead. The next time an employee quits, ask the manager above the employee’s supervisor to conduct an exit interview with the supervisor. Here are questions I would ask:

1. As best you know, why is this employee leaving us?
2. Were you aware of this employee’s potential to leave for this reason?
3. How was this employee’s overall job performance?
4. Who trained this employee? Was the training effective?
5. Who provided great support for this employee? Who did not?
6. What lessons can you learn from this employee’s leaving?
7. What changes might you make to your supervisory style to retain others?

Now that’s an exit interview I can feel good about. If each supervisor realizes that one employee quit means my boss is going to quiz me about why…and what I can do to avoid future quits…then scrap the traditional employee exit interview. You’ll finally see an exit interview that works for turnover.