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In this week's post, Melanie Haniph, an HR Leader whose work spans across all HR disciplines, shares her thoughts on an important, but often overlooked topic in HR - the exit interview. This topic is particularly relevant now, as organizations struggle to engage their employees, many of whom are working remotely, and juggling more than ever before.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the labor market has been in turmoil, with many businesses pursuing hour and wage reductions, furloughs, and layoffs. According to the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of workers say they or someone in their household has lost a job or wages because of COVID-19. In addition, a disproportionate number of women are leaving the workforce, and this trend shows little signs of stopping. According to a new McKinsey study, one in four women are considering downshifting their careers or leaving the workforce completely. Childcare availability and other COVID-related stressors are among the top reasons.

While there are many reasons employees may leave your organization, conducting an exit interview provides you with one last chance to understand those reasons and use them to improve retention among existing employees. Try these seven questions in your next exit interview to gain new insights about your workforce and how you can better support current employees during COVID:

What was the biggest factor that led to your leaving?

You should always aim to understand why an employee is leaving. Many employees will point to something specific about the company or their position, while others may have personal situations requiring a career change. Particularly during COVID, employees may be struggling with the aftermath of a family illness or death, child remote learning challenges, or changes in their work-life priorities.

What has been your experience with remote work?

Working from home has impacted just about everyone. Asking departing employees about their remote working experience can help you understand how the shift to remote work—and the support they received from the company during the process—may have impacted their decision to look for a new role. It’s also possible that employees who were not considering a move before the pandemic may have found that remote working provided an opportunity to reflect and consider their career options.

What are some important changes that might have prevented you from leaving?

A 2019 Work Institute study found that 77 percent of voluntary turnover is due to reasons that could have been prevented, for example, a lack of development opportunities, poor work relationships, or less competitive compensation and benefits. Ask this question to understand what the organization could have done proactively to prevent the employee from wanting to leave.

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your overall work experience here?

While exit interviews tend to focus heavily on specific events or factors that led to an employee leaving, you should also try to understand how departing employees view their whole experience with your company. Asking this question can provide you with insights about what they liked, didn’t like, as well as the factors that kept them in the organization for the time they were there.

What should we do differently or better to keep employees?

This question provides employees with an opportunity to provide feedback on everything from company culture and leadership to benefits that support employees during COVID. When given a chance to give advice, they can make suggestions related to their own experiences in the company, as well as actions they think the company should take to retain other employees.

Under what circumstances would you consider returning to work here?

Laid-off or furloughed employees aren’t the only ones who can return after an absence. One study found that one-third of employees have returned to a previous employer after leaving for some time, and another 41 percent said they were open to doing so. Asking this question will help you understand which factors would motivate departing employees to return, especially those whose resignations were highly regretted.

What’s next for you? How does your next role differ from this one?

Whether an employee is making a lateral move, moving for a promotion, or taking time off from their career, it’s critical to understand where your former employees are headed. For those moving to another company, asking them about the characteristics of their new role can help you understand what may have been missing from their current one.

While losing a good employee is something every organization will experience at some point, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from it. Conducting comprehensive exit interviews during these challenging times can deliver fresh ideas to help you retain and support your employees during COVID.

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