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Exit Interviews – An Unheralded Business Tool

Exit Interviews – An Unheralded Business Tool

by David Landau

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As good as your retention strategies may be, it is inevitable that on occasion there will be accounting staff who will leave your organisation; especially now, with job movement on the rise. The Australian Human Resource Institute 2015 Pulse survey on turnover and retention revealed that the average turnover rate is 16%, up 3% from 2012 and continues on an upward trend. One of the most invaluable tools you can implement to reduce the departure rates are exit interviews. They can serve as an effective way to identify issues in your organisation that you may not be aware of and thus determine the best solutions to improve staff retention. Unfortunately, the information gathered from exit interviews can often slip through the cracks and be simply filed away and not actioned. By embracing the ideal exit interview approach and actually implementing the necessary changes, you can reap the benefits of increased employee engagement with minimal turnover. So as an employer, how can you ensure you are getting the most out of your exit interviews?

The Value of Exit Interviews

There is no doubt that the advantages of exit interviews often go unheralded. Their key advantage is that they can cut through the fog of misconception by helping you understand why an employee wants to leave your organisation. Once that letter of resignation is handed in, your staff member is more likely to provide constructive criticism and feedback about their experience. This could relate to how your business operates, it’s culture and ethos, management styles, working hours, amount of training and development, remuneration or career progression and promotional opportunities, to name a few.

Having a different perspective on your organisation or accounting team can unveil issues that may not have been visible to you or others. You may need to revisit job descriptions and their specifications, or combat problems within the organisation such as lack of communication, discrimination, or policy breaches. After shining a light on any issues, it is then possible to build a process to rectify them, shaping the workplace improving morale and engagement, and ultimately reducing turnover as a result.

Exit interviews, depending on how they are conducted, can conclude the employment relationship in a professional manner, leaving the departing employee with a positive experience helping to ensure no bridges are burned. They can also identify certain trends and patterns over time as to the reasons why people are leaving the business. Perhaps turnover is higher in some areas of the accounting department more so than other teams? Is the salary you’re offering for some positions in line with accounting roles in other Sydney based organisations? Understanding the reasons for leaving and any recurring trends allows you the opportunity to do something about them and possibly improve your recruitment process.

A company’s ‘bottom line’ is underpinned by productivity and at the epicentre of this are its people. Enhance retention and you will raise performance, reduce absenteeism, eradicate the cost of recruiting and onboarding new employees, and potentially prevent litigation issues.

Running Effective Exit Interviews

As a specialist Sydney accounting recruiter, the main question I get asked about exit interviews is around who should run them. Exit interviews are typically conducted by someone who is not involved day to day, such as a person from Human Resources. HR is often seen as a trusted advisor, experienced in the process and with an impartial and objective approach.

For smaller organisations without an HR department, try to outsource the task to either another manager in a different division or C level director. If there are no other options and the responsibility falls on your shoulders, you have no alternative but to conduct the meeting yourself.  Should that be the case, leave your emotions and any personal prejudices at the door before starting the meeting.

To ensure exit interviews yield the full benefits available, it is important to create a safe, non-threatening environment, as well as a comfortable place to engage in meaningful dialogue. In general, I would have to say that a one on one approach is definitely the best format to avoid any possible intimidation.

Having a well-defined format assures the employee that they are free to present their opinions. During the exit interview, use open questions to get the best and most useful responses. These can cover matters relating to (but not limited to):

  • The main reason for their departure.
  • Any additional reasons for them deciding to leave.
  • What the employee’s perception of their job description is and how closely it relates to the job’s expectations when starting the position. Have these responsibilities shifted since the beginning of their tenure?
  • Their thoughts on career growth and opportunities, the availability of training provided as well as rewards and remuneration.
  • Ascertain opinions on company culture and working conditions such as working hours and workload. Do they feel they have a good work/life balance?
  • Relationship with direct manager, team and other colleagues.
  • Conflicts or problems that arose during the course of their time in the role.
  • Recommended solutions and improvements to the business.

Where exit interviews fail a company is when they are treated with apathy and ambivalence. Once the interview has taken place, it’s essential to take action where appropriate, especially as the departing employee has probably spoken to one or more of their colleagues on their reasons for leaving. That action will be different depending on what has been uncovered and its seriousness, but the first step would be to speak with other members of your accounting team to see if they feel the same way. If the turnover in your team is higher than you would like, perhaps there is a pattern that can be identified on why your staff are leaving?

It’s important to remember that you shouldn’t jump in and immediately try to find a solution to the issues just because you have received constructive feedback. It’s best to keep an open mind and initiate changes only if it is right for the business. To start the process, openly sharing the information with your broader accounting leadership team is a good start. Take the feedback and think strategically about an action plan to foster positive outcomes that will improve your staff tenure and reduce your resignations.

Final Thoughts

Exit interviews are a great vehicle to understand the causes as to why employees are leaving and can reveal underlying issues that may not have been obvious. Companies who are ahead of the game will use the feedback from exit interviews to set in motion solutions that can improve their operations, management, culture, and business as a whole.

The greatest by-product of these changes, however, is having a team of people who are further committed to their role and not looking to move elsewhere. This is the key reason why it is worthwhile for you to build an exit interview process that reaps effective results that will improve tenure and ultimately reduce the number of interviews you will need to do when replacing the departing employee!

If you’re looking to discuss your recruitment strategies call one of our Sydney Accounting Recruitment experts today.

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