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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small Business: Valuable exit interviews

Exit interviews can provide valuable insight for managers

Exit interviews can provide valuable insight for managers looking to understand why an employee is leaving the job and how they perceive the company. Credit: iStock

Turnover is natural. Employees leave for a variety of reasons, ranging from better opportunities to changing family commitments.

While employers may be unable to convince them to stay, conducting an exit interview and understanding why they're leaving and how they perceive the company can provide valuable insight.

"Exit interviews, when done properly, could be a valuable tool for employers to improve retention and increase employee satisfaction," explains Kimberly Malerba, chair of the employment-law practice group at Ruskin Moscou Faltischek in Uniondale.

The challenge is getting employees to answer honestly, she says, noting, "They may not be as truthful as you might hope, because they may look to the employer for a reference or for future employment."

Keep it confidential. Making them aware of the importance and purpose of these interviews could help, Malerba says. You can also offer to keep their answers confidential.

That's what ClearVision Optical, a Hauppauge-based designer and distributor of eyewear, does.

"I always encourage employees to be candid in an exit interview and stress that our conversation is confidential," says chief talent officer Mary Crisafulli. "I remind them that this is their opportunity to share their personal experience, which will, in turn, be able to help improve the company and their department."

When presented that way, Crisafulli said she believes "employees are very forthcoming and honest."

You can't force someone to do an exit interview, so you want to make them feel comfortable in responding honestly, says Malerba.

As in the interviewing process when hiring, you should ask a standard set of questions, she says. Avoid personal or inappropriate questions that might touch on protected characteristics, such as disability or pregnancy.

Linda Piacentini, vice president of human resources at Summit Security Services, a Uniondale security and investigative services firm that works with Ruskin, says the company asks a consistent set of questions, usually ending with, "Is there anything else you think is important for us to know that we haven't discussed?"

It's usually not the person's direct manager doing the exit interview but a third party from HR, notes Piacentini.

That's a good idea, says Christine Ippolito, a principal at Compass Workforce Solutions LLC, a Melville-based HR consulting firm. Employees may be more honest that way.

In addition to exit interviews, Compass conducts "organizational pulse" interviews for companies with their existing employees. No one individual's feedback is shared; instead the employer receives a report based on the aggregate feedback, she notes.

Try 'stay interviews.' "Generally we look for themes," notes Ippolito. "Is there something going on in the organization that comes up over and over again?"

Beverly Kaye, founder of Career Systems International, a Scranton, Pa.-based consulting firm, and co-author of "Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay" (Berrett-Koehler; $24.95), believes companies should conduct "stay interviews," preferably quarterly, to prevent exit interviews.

Ask questions such as, "What can we do to make your job more satisfying?" Kaye says. "You want to say, 'Look you're important to me. What can I do to keep you?' "

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