Employees leave their jobs for many reasons, and sometimes those reasons can provide valuable insight for the companies they are leaving. But, human resources departments “don’t always get the raw feedback from employees,” despite that being a valuable source of information that could improve the employee experience, according to Sarah Cole, Human Resources Coordinator at i-Sight.
Exit interviews give employees “an opportunity to be fairly blunt or transparent about potential motivators that caused them to start looking or actually decide to jump ship.”
Exit interviews should be conducted with every employee leaving the company, whether it’s voluntarily or involuntarily. The questions you ask will vary depending on what you want to learn. However, these 17 questions will always help you work toward a better workplace environment.
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These questions will help you understand why the employee is choosing to leave. By asking these questions, you can learn what prompted their exit, how long they thought about leaving and whether you could have prevented their resignation. This information can help you identify flight-risk employees and how to support them.
1. Why Are You Leaving the Company?
This question breaks the ice on the conversation about the employee’s termination of their time with your company. It can be a broad, general answer that helps you categorize employee data. There are two main categories of reasons for leaving a job: voluntary and involuntary, with specific circumstances under each.
Examples of voluntary termination might include:
- Took another position
- Going back to school
- Family responsibilities (e.g. pregnancy, childcare, elder care)
- Health issues
- Moving to another geographical location
- Dissatisfaction with the work environment
- Other personal reasons
On the other hand, your company might terminate an employee’s tenure. For involuntary termination, fill out your exit interview form with one of the following reasons:
- Position eliminated
- Lack of funds
- Policy violation
- Other reason to lay off the employee (explain)
If the employee is leaving your company for a position at another organization, ask if they’ll share why.
They might have been contacted by a recruiter and offered a better salary or more convenient work location. On the other hand, their circumstances at your company might have caused them to look for another role.
“Typically, there is a specific situation that pushed an individual to start looking and then ultimately to make the decision to leave,” says Maureen Joseph, Chief People Officer at GoodVets. She suggests asking “about financial incentives, benefits, etc. . . to get as specific as possible” about what drove the employee away.
3. Did You Share Your Concerns Before Deciding to Leave?
If the employee did share, follow up by asking, “Were you satisfied with the company’s response or did you need us to do more to resolve your concerns?”
“This points to company culture and the type of culture you are building. It also can point to manager effectiveness,” says Joseph. “If you want to build an environment where individuals feel safe to communicate honestly, it’s important to understand why an individual did or did not feel comfortable speaking up.”
4. What Could We Have Done to Get You to Stay?
The worst answer you could get for this question is “nothing.” That means that the employee was so fed up with the work environment and/or their role that the situation couldn’t be fixed.
However, if they offer tangible suggestions such as pay, better growth opportunities or a promotion, consider these when creating the next person’s contract. If they say something like “more recognition” or “better work-life balance,” figure out how to incorporate those into your workplace culture and management style.
5. Would You Ever Consider Returning to the Company?
Ask this question “to get a sense from the exiting employee what was lacking for them and what would make them feel sufficiently valued to. . . return,” says employment and HR attorney Janette Levey Frisch.
Maybe they wanted to move up but no positions were available for a promotion; in this case, if a higher position opened up, they might return to you. Or, they might not have gotten along with their manager but would return if that person had moved on.
On the other hand, if they’re leaving because they don’t like an aspect of the company culture or work environment, they probably wouldn’t consider coming back.
These questions reveal your company’s strengths and weaknesses as an employer. You’ll know what to keep doing in the future and what policies and processes should be revisited, especially if they’re brought up in multiple exit interviews.
6. How Does the Company Culture Compare to the Handbook?
Jake Penney, Head of HR at English Blinds, suggests asking the employee to “tell [you] how they would sum up [your] company ethos and culture as it applies within the workplace, rather than as it is written in the employee handbook, and how well they feel the company and management support this.”
HR doesn’t always know what’s going on “behind the scenes” in every department. This question will help you find out if your policies are being followed and your values are being upheld in practice.
Every great company needs a great handbook. Download our free employee handbook template to start drafting or modifying yours.
7. How Did You Feel About Going to Work Every Day?
Penney also suggests that one of your exit interview questions should “ask how they felt about coming to work each day; if they were neutral, switched off, anxious, keen to see their colleagues, stressed and so on.”
This question gives you insight into how the employee was emotionally affected by the issues they describe. Every person reacts differently to situations, and this employee may have had a reaction you didn’t anticipate. For example, they could have felt anxious because you moved to a new office or felt unmotivated because another team was praised more than theirs.
8. What Was Your Favorite Part About Working for Us?
Exit interviews don’t have to be all doom and gloom. You should also get the employee’s input about what you’re doing right.
By asking this question, says Joseph, you’re really answering “What kept this person (and others) engaged?” Use their answer to figure out how you can “make sure that an individual gets more of this in their day to day.”
9. What Was Your Least Favorite Part?
You might ask this and the previous question in two parts: best/worst aspect of the role and also of working at the organization in general. This can narrow your focus as you try to improve the next person’s experience.
An employee may have a unique situation or reason for leaving. However, “you are looking for trends” in the answers to this question, Joseph explains. “If you see trends or themes you need to solve the problem.”
10. What are Your Suggestions for Things We Can Do Better?
“This question will usually help you focus on the biggest reason someone is leaving,” Joseph says. “Asking the question in this way provides the individual an opportunity to give suggestions vs. just venting or complaining.”
Don’t be overwhelmed by an angry employee with lofty ideas or suggestions that the whole company should be overhauled. Focus on those with real, helpful insights, such as updates to policies or department restructuring that could have helped them in their role.
11. Why Did You Come to the Company Initially?
Dr. Matthew Marturano, Vice President of Orchid Holistic Search, suggests asking the employee what brought them to your organization in the first place. In addition, ask them if they actually experienced that benefit throughout their tenure.
For instance, they might say they joined the company because they wanted to work with a manager they knew, but were disappointed when that person moved on. Or, they came to you because of your reputation for great company culture, but didn’t feel it was a fit for them after experiencing it.
By answering these questions, the employee will share what they liked and didn’t like about their specific role or position. This information can help you craft a more accurate job description for their replacement, create new roles and/or redistribute responsibilities within their department or team.
12. Did You Have Enough Growth Opportunities?
A dead-end role is a surefire way to drive an employee away. Ask the employee if they felt they had room to grow at your company, both in their career path and in their skills.
If many exiting employees answer this question negatively, consider offering more professional development opportunities and promoting internally more often.
13. Did You Have Everything You Needed to Do Your Job Effectively?
“[This question] helps you figure out what to improve upon from a workplace environment,” says Joseph. Do employees have the “right technology, training, equipment, etc.”?
As an HR professional, you don’t always know what tools every department needs, especially with technology advancing so quickly. Exiting employees can offer insight into what their role requires so you can budget resources more effectively.
14. Did You Feel Recognized During Your Time Here?
Every employee wants to feel valued in their role. By asking this question, Joseph says, you can learn about your organization’s “engagement and culture. If an individual didn’t feel recognized or valued, chances are others don’t feel the same or your managers don’t know how to promote that type of environment.”
If you notice a trend of employees answering “no” to this question, find ways to promote individual recognition. Start with naming an employee-of-the-month or sending company-wide email shout-outs for good performance.
15. Did the Management Style Work for You?
Of all the exit interview questions, this is arguably the one you can action the most easily. If the employee says they were happy with their manager, encourage that manager to keep up the good work and ask others to follow suit. If they were unhappy, work with their manager to resolve issues.
In addition, Frisch suggests asking follow-up questions:
- If yes: What did you like about how you were managed?
- If no: What aspects of how you were managed did you find to be an issue (or in what way do you feel that the way you were managed could be improved)?
16. Were Your Teammates Supportive?
Cole suggests asking about the support the employee received from their team. Having support from their manager is top priority, but teamwork is important, too.
If the employee says “no,” ask or try to figure out why. Is your culture too competitive, causing employees to work in their own interest instead of the team’s? Was the employee harassed or bullied? Do teams lack communication?
17. What Suggestions Do You Have to Ensure Your Replacement’s Success?
Similar to the question about whether they were able to do their job efficiently, this question sheds light on how to equip the employee’s replacement. The employee might suggest a new technology or more or better training.
They might also suggest something about the workload, team dynamics or even the onboarding process. Even if the employee is leaving the company angry, these insights are valuable when choosing and acclimating the next person in their role.
“When employees are leaving your company, the reasons you really need to know about are the ones that are under your control,” says Marturano. The exit interview questions that highlight areas of improvement can help you make employee experience better and attract and retain great employes.