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Recruitment from Unlikely Sources: Exit Interviews

Exit Interviews as an Employee Retention Tool
Brijith Vijayan/123RF.com

When you think of recruitment sources for your institution, exit interviews rarely come to mind. These are employees on their way out – not their way in. What possible value can the information provided during their exit interview give the recruitment side of HR? In fact, exit interviews provide a wealth of information that can help reduce turnover and create potential prospects for rehire.

Turnover is costly in more ways than financial for healthcare providers. With higher than national averages for staff loss in many categories, churn can have a direct impact on patient care and outcomes. A recent survey put overall hospital turnover at 19.1%, with nursing staff at 17.2% – both above the national average of 15%. The same study puts 93% of healthcare turnover as voluntary. With the majority of employees leaving of their own volition, leveraging the information gleaned at exit interviews is critical.

Capitalizing on exit interviews

To get the most out of exit interviews, HR Professionals need to reassure staff members the information is only being sought to improve conditions overall. Guarantees must be made their information will be held in the strictest possible confidence.

For some employees, leaving quietly without making a fuss makes gaining insight through the exit interview process difficult. Many soon-to-be-ex employees worry any comments made on their way out the door will affect references they need in the future. To be effective, you’ll need to tell staff their comments are critically important to improve conditions for their soon-to-be-former colleagues, and will not affect their references in any way.

While you may not be able to convince the employee to share as they’re leaving, request to talk to them in the near future – possibly after they’ve settled into their new job – to see if they’d be more willing to share their experiences and what caused them to leave.

Some employees are happy to discuss in great detail why they’re leaving. For many HR professionals, these are the more challenging interviews, but in fact, they are the most profitable. They provide information that’s actionable. If an exiting employee’s claims are legitimate, institutions can affect change. Without that information, however, churn remains a mystery and turnover rates increase.

Taking action on information learned

The data can help you reduce turnover: higher wages being offered elsewhere; better scheduling options; more autonomy. Look for patterns and recurring themes. Armed with the data that, say 9 of your last 10 resignations were the result of salary issues, HR can make the business case to raise wages to management.  If scheduling is at issue, HR can work with management teams (and interested employees) to rethink how hours and shifts can be allocated. There are solutions to the majority of problems, once uncovered.

In some cases, data will suggest a problem in a specific department or under a particular manager, and this, too, opens the door to correction. For managers with high turnover, training and development may be appropriate. In other instances, reporting responsibility can be shifted. There are many ways to resolve problem areas, but only if you know where they are.

Priority exit interviews

If one specific department shows higher rates of churn than others, those employees who plan to leave or have recently left should be targeted as priority exit interview candidates. You may have missed the opportunity to do so recently, but don’t let that deter you. If analysis shows higher rates in specific areas, take the time to call ex-employees and ask if they’d be willing to share specifics about their reason for leaving. At worst, they’ll say no; at best, you may gain insight into problems that can be resolved.

Would you consider part time?

Many staff members leave full-time work for family reasons – the birth of a child typically highest on the list. While they may be looking at shifting work/life balance in the short-term, the exit interview is an excellent time to offer suggestions on keeping their careers current with a much reduced schedule.

Can you offer part-time work, even on weekends only, when a spouse may be home to tend to the little ones? Can you offer on-call work, so those recently off the full-time rolls can participate occasionally, as needed? They may not have an answer at the exit interview itself, but follow up soon after they leave to reinstate your offer. You can help them keep their skills current as you develop a contingent workforce.

Can we call you in a soon?

If a staff member is leaving for greener pastures, data suggests they may not be as happy where they land as anticipated. Up to 30% of new hires will leave a job in the first 90 days. What looked like a better opportunity often isn’t, but many employees who leave an institution are uncomfortable coming back – even when they’re wanted.

Ask the employee to leave the door open during their exit interview for a call down the road – perhaps 30 to 90 days in the future. You could let the employee know you’d love the chance to check in with them in the future to see how the new job is going and if they’d consider returning. A smart way to lure them back may even be to reinstate seniority if they come back within a specific amount of time. For those staff members who find the grass wasn’t greener, the embarrassment of having to ask for their job back is eliminated, and the institution gains an employee who can hit the ground running.

Exit interviews may not top the list of HR’s ‘fun things to do,’ but the potential information and opportunities these meetings hold cannot be over emphasized. Take the time to perform them: act on the information you find, and keep the door open for future rehires of top talent.

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About Riia O'Donnell

Riia O’Donnell has over 20 year’s hands-on experience in all aspects of the Human Resource function. Beginning as a recruiter, she grew to lead in all areas of HR, including employee training and development, legal compliance, benefits administration, compensation evaluation, and staff management. She has been a contributing writer for a wealth of HR, training, and small business websites for the past 7 years. Connect with Riia on Twitter at @RiiaOD.