I recently read a blog about the case for exit interviews and as an employee retention speaker, I was fascinated by some of the thoughts which were from the Harvard Business Review. They emphasized that in a knowledge-based environment, data collected over time can be critical to managing your talent. I agree but I also disagree. The problem is that you don’t have time to amass data if you are losing talent. You need more real time data to stem the flow of talent from your organization which is why, to this employee retention expert, you need data before employees quit. So, although an exit interview may have SOME value, it is limited.
Another point brought up from an employee retention strategy perspective was that you should be transparent and that HR should tell the employee the information will be told to their supervisor. If you think you will get the sort of candid data you want, good luck with that approach. Most employees, if they have a problem with their former supervisor, are not going to bring up anything if it is not kept in confidence. Bringing up problems with their supervisor will kill any decent reference that a leaving employee hopes to get in the future from that boss.
Organizations conduct 360 degree surveys and keep those anonymous. Organizations do employee surveys and keep those anonymous. Why do you think that is? People won’t be candid for fear of the negative ramifications if their supervisor finds out. Exit interviews are not terribly different. If you want candor, the employee comments need to be kept confidential and factored into the other data HR is collecting to draw conclusions that will help the organization deal with issues and problematic supervisors. After all, the reality is that most people start to look for a new job because of things their supervisor does and HR needs to know what those things are. If you want to improve employee retention, organizations need to keep exit interview data confidential.
Ironically, I work closely with many HR people that move to new positions. In most cases, they are open with me that they don’t dare out their supervisor because they know that it can be the kiss of death to their career. If HR people feel this way, imagine how the average employee will feel that isn’t trusting in the first place. If you want to get good data from an exiting employee, it needs to be held in confidence and the employee needs to know that their input is anonymous. Absent that, good luck hearing the truth!