5 Reasons You Can’t Trust Exit Interviews

Like many professionals in the high-tech industry, I have had the opportunity to work for several different companies in my career and have seen many friends and colleagues change jobs to work at competitive firms. As I reflect on those times, I have been blessed to have been able to take positions with more responsibility and opportunity. However, I found it odd that several colleagues changed firms for opportunities that were very similar in responsibility and for only slightly better pay. It seemed obvious that something had to be seriously wrong when an employee leaves the known to venture out into the unknown without incentive to do so. What is so incredible about these situations are the relatively ineffectiveness of the exit interview to actually uncover why an employee would leave. My observations are that there are 5 major reasons that the cause of employee departure goes totally undiscovered.

#1 – “I’m only the only one who feels this way.”

There are certainly more than a few employees that fall into this category. They feel the reason they are leaving is not worth mentioning because they may be the only one that feels this way. They feel isolated, and do not want to get into an uncomfortable discussion, and feel it would be best just to leave without discussion.

#2 –“HR can’t or won’t do anything about it anyway.”

In these cases HR may in the past have demonstrated an inability to tackle serious challenges and are more “yes” men and women to senior management. Few companies put the employees before the bottom line, and so HR has a very limited ability to affect change. Employees recognize this and decide it wouldn’t do any good to bring up the negative anyway. So “let’s just get this over with”.

#3 – “No one will believe my manager is this bad!”

Some managers are well liked and respected by colleagues (including HR) and those they work for, but have abysmally poor management styles and relationships with their direct reports. They have created a harsh and unhealthy subculture. The employee is so overwhelmed by the dysfunction, they feel the only course is escape.

#4 – “Why burn a bridge?”

The fear of the unknown still plagues many employees at the stage of leaving. And even though the culture was bad enough to want to leave, few employees have the confidence to know that they will not need to come back to the company they are leaving. I mean just think about it. They were totally convinced that coming to your firm was the right idea and look how that turned out. Who’s to say this new place isn’t worse? So rather than bring up that their manager is an egotistical jerk, or the culture is horrible they decide to gracefully and quietly exit.

#5 – We want to believe what they say

Down deep none of us enjoys hearing criticism and will latch on to the positive rather than explore the negative about ourselves. If someone tells us that they have their own personal issues that are causing them to leave, rather than look at the situation objectively and drill deeper, we are content leave it there. The truth about what is hurting our corporate culture walks right out the door along with the employee.

What to do

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For a company to mature and grow and hit peak efficiency, it must learn to attract and keep its key talent, and keeping key talent is a top down action. Realize that every time a talented person walks out the door, the entire company, not just that department loses. The goal is to keep talented employees from sitting down in the exit interview chair. It starts at the top.

Employee turnover is a threat to the company and must be treated seriously. Establishing a healthy organization is crucial to keeping your key talent, not trying to talk them out of a decision to leave once they have made it.

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