Exit Interviews: Useful or Waste of Time for Small Business Owners?

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Over the last three years, John has been an integral part of your small business, helping grow it from a tiny number of people working from home to a moderately successful corporation just starting to really get noticed. Yesterday, he announced that he was quitting. For a small business like yours, without much time to spare, is giving him an exit interview really worth it?

Yes. It is definitely worth conducting an exit interview, and here's why.

You Need to Know What's Happening

The first thing to figure out is why John's leaving, and this is where HR solutions come in. By and large, most employees at small businesses are hard workers who are willing to put in extra time and effort to make things succeed--and if they give up for any reason, you need to know why. Here are some of the most likely reasons:

  • It's not you, it's me. The employee who's leaving might have medical or personal reasons for no longer wanting to stay at your workplace. A family crisis, a change in religious beliefs, or an outstanding job offer from another company could all convince someone that it's time to step out... and if so, then your business doesn't need to make any changes, because it's unlikely anything you did would have mattered.
  • There was a problem. This is more likely to be the case. There was something that prompted an employee to finally say that enough was enough, and you want to find out what it was. Maybe they simply couldn't get along with someone else in the office, faced an oddly hostile environment, or didn't get the support they needed to do their job. This applies to remote workers, too, who need to be managed properly in order to do their best.

Small businesses are in a unique position because they can actually make changes when an exit interview is given. Employee separation is rarely fun, but it is educational, especially if you can get them to reveal the real reason they're leaving. These days, businesses are increasingly turning to interviews done by third-parties a few weeks after the employee leaves--this gives time for emotions to fade and supplies an unbiased source of data.

Using the Data to Grow

However, exit interviews will be a waste of time if you're not willing to make changes based on what you hear. In fact, this is a common complaint among lower-level employees--they feel like their words (and, by extension, they themselves) don't matter to the company, and that their superiors aren't actually interested in changes. As much as you may not want to hear this, sometimes management is to blame.

You want to avoid this as much as possible--if you stop listening to your employees, then you stop being innovative, and few things are more likely to send your business downhill than hiring top talent and then refusing to listen. HR solutions are about solving problems, not letting you toss issues into the garbage bin.

After all, the real goal of exit interviews is learning whatever you can to keep the rest of your team around. Larger corporations can deal with the loss of several individuals--small businesses don't have that luxury, and every person who leaves can and will make a significant dent in your operations. If you're seeing the signs that multiple employees want to quit, you need to fix things immediately.

An exit interview when an employee separates isn't always easy for a small business, but it is an important part of your growth strategy--and absolutely worth conducting properly.

Margaret Jacoby, SPHR, is the founder and president of MJ Management Solutions, a human resources consulting firm that provides small businesses with a wide range of virtual and onsite HR solutions to meet their immediate and long-term needs. From ensuring legal compliance to writing customized employee handbooks to conducting sexual harassment training, businesses depend on our expertise and cost-effective human resources services to help them thrive. This article first appeared on the MJ Management Solutions blog.

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