Exit Interviews: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How
Kellie G. Olah, CVPM, SPHR, SHRM-CP
Veterinary Business Advisors, Inc.
One of the most valuable assets at your veterinary practice is the people you employ, with skilled ones having the ability to boost the quality of service you provide to clients and their animal companions. Sometimes, though, these employees leave, doing so for a variety of reasons. This can present challenges for your practice, but it also offers a silver lining opportunity if you conduct an exit interview to gather insights from that departing team member.
To help your practice extract maximum value out of these interviews, we’ll share insights into the who, what, when, where, why, and how of it all—starting with the “why.”
Employees often have deep insights into what works well at your practice—and what doesn’t. They may not have felt comfortable sharing their thoughts while working at the organization but may feel freer to have an honest conversation once they will be leaving.
Through these exit interviews, you can glean information about why this particular employee is leaving and then use what you learn to improve working conditions and boost productivity and retention—which in turn can save your practice money. After all, it isn’t cheap to recruit, hire, and train new employees.
Reasons why people leave can range from their salary and benefits to being recruited by another company that appeals to them, experiencing problems with management and/or other employees, and so forth. Some people may be reluctant to share issues of concern, even on their way out, while others will be happy to have the opportunity. So, it’s important to prepare an approach for either possibility.
You can also take what you learn from exit interviews to look for patterns. If one person admits she is leaving because of a particular manager, it may be a personality conflict. If four out of the last five people who left mention that same manager, that’s an entirely different situation.
People involved in the exit interview will include the employee who is leaving the practice, along with the person or people conducting the interview and collecting data. This raises the question of who the interviewer(s) should be. Many companies assume this is a human resources function and so they have their HR manager conduct the interview. Although this can elicit helpful information, this person will almost certainly focus on HR issues—salary, benefits, and so forth—and may miss out on the bigger scope.
Having a direct supervisor conduct the interview can create a comfortable atmosphere, given that the employee and supervisor had an open and positive relationship. However, if the employee is leaving—in part or in full—because of that supervisor, that approach can be fraught with difficulties.
Some experts suggest having the supervisor’s supervisor (or, if part of a large company, even one level above that) conduct the interviews. At a small practice, this may mean the practice owner would be the one to hold them. For some exiting employees, this could feel intimidating. For others, though, it could be viewed as a sign that their feedback is being taken seriously.
Still other companies use a consultant to conduct exit interviews. This costs money, which some practices may not want to spend. On the positive side, employees may feel more comfortable giving authentic feedback to a neutral party. Plus, an experienced consultant has the ability to draw out valuable insights and provide reliable information to the practice. Some companies have in-house exit interviews conducted, following them up with consultant-led ones.
As you can see, there is no one right answer. Think about your practice and make a savvy choice, continuing to improve upon the interviewing process whenever possible.
The first part of the process is to schedule and hold the exit interview (more about when and where next). Explain how the purpose of the interview is to get feedback from the exiting employee to improve working conditions and otherwise meet employee needs in better ways in the future.
It makes sense to have a set of questions to use but allow for flexibility. For example, you could start by asking why the person is leaving the practice. Here are two contrasting responses you could get:
- I got a better job.
- I’m going to take a break from the workforce to spend more time with my young children.
You would follow up quite differently with each of these. With response one, you might use these follow-up questions:
- What makes this a better job (salary, benefits, flexibility, etc.)?
- When did you start looking for a new job? What was the triggering event?
- Why did you choose to accept the new job that you did? What is more appealing to you there?
With response two, if you wanted to retain this employee, you might decide to ask if there is a way you could restructure this person’s job to allow them to have more family time while still working at your practice. Is a part-time position available?
Other questions, in general, to ask can include:
- Did we provide you with what you needed to do your job well?
- Did you receive helpful and clear feedback from us?
- What else could we have provided you (training, equipment, and so forth)?
- What are your impressions about our practice’s culture?
- If you could change some things about our culture or working conditions, what would they be?
- What would have helped you to stay at our practice?
- Were you happy (or at least satisfied) with management here? If not, why not?
- Would you consider returning here if the opportunity arose? Why or why not?
People conducting the exit interviews must be open to feedback and respectful and listen well.
In general, it makes sense to conduct the exit interview a few days before the employee will be done at the practice. If held when the person gives notice—perhaps two weeks or a month before actually leaving—then the employee may be somewhat reluctant to share less than wonderful feedback about the practice. After all, they would still be working with the people they may criticize for a period of time.
Conversely, it’s best to avoid the last day. For some exiting employees, all they’ll be thinking about is what lies ahead and so they may not give the interview their full attention. Other employees—perhaps emotionally touched by a going away party given that day—may only give wonderful feedback, thus preventing the practice from receiving constructive criticism.
Exit interviews should be held, ideally in person, in a place that’s both convenient and private. Locations could range from a private office where the conversation won’t be overheard to a restaurant where a reasonably uninterrupted conversation could take place over lunch.
How should data collected be used?
After gathering information from exit interviews, members of the practice’s management should analyze what was shared to see if changes should be made to better meet the needs of current employees. Are there, for example, voluntary benefits that you should add to your practice’s menu of choices? Should your practice offer more training opportunities? Seek out ways to build in some flex time?
After you make changes, update your employee manual appropriately and monitor the effects that changes made have on employee satisfaction, productivity, retention and so forth. Composite insights can be used in the practice’s strategic planning and recruiting strategies going forward and otherwise be factored in when making decisions that can affect employee satisfaction, productivity, and retention.
Sidebar: Stay Interviews
Valuable as exit interviews can be, they are still a look into a rear-view mirror. This is feedback from employees who will no longer be part of your practice. So, also consider “stay interviews” where you interview the best of your current employees. This allows you to keep a finger on your practice’s pulse. How satisfied are these employees? What issues are the most important to them? Have any of them considered seeking greener pastures? If so, when and why? Are any of them being recruited by other practices or organizations?
This gives you an opportunity to compare what you’ve learned from exit interviews with what current star employees tell you. How will this impact the changes you make at your practice? How can you use what you learn to recruit, hire, train, and retain employees in the future to strengthen your practice?