Exit Interviews, Recruitment, Retention … and Resignation


If you were suffering from a recurring medical complaint you’d seek medical advice. The doctor would examine you, maybe run several tests, and finally arrive at a diagnosis. He would then recommend a course of treatment to address the complaint. 

Why are symptoms not treated with the same seriousness in an organisation? Often resignations are an easy symptom to spot. But most fail to investigate, diagnose and treat the symptom.

HR professionals will tell you that recruitment and retention are amongst their biggest challenges. Organisations will invest in developing and promoting innovative strategies that recruit and retain the talent that the businesses needs in order to grow. 

Little consideration is given to resignations and the rich source of data that speaking with leavers, can provide.

Although a degree of labour-turnover can be healthy for an organisation, as it provides an opportunity to restructureand introduce new approaches to a team, it however comes at a cost. 

£30,000, according to a 2014 study undertaken by Oxford Economics and reported by ACAS. The largest element of this figure is attributed to lost productivity. Other costs may be included such as advertising, managing the recruitment process, interviewing candidates, making an offer and preparing on-boarding and induction plans.

The figure is high and does not reflect the fact that the cost will differ depending on the role being replaced. Replacing a CEO will be considerably more expensive than replacing an Administrative Assistant. When calculating recruitment and replacement costs I prefer to use a more conservative figure of between £5,000 - £8,000.

Many HR professionals within largeorganisations will agree that many fail to fully seize and harvest the insights that a departing employee can offer. Once an employee resigns, they tend to become a “non-person”. Organisations see resignations as somehow being a failure; the individual is leaving, therefore they quickly become part of the past. 

Organisations spend considerable amounts of time and money investigating methods that can increase employee engagement and introducing strategies that will assist recruitment and improve retention. Yet, by comparison, very little time and money is invested in ascertaining that the company benefits from the “lessons that can be learned” from a soon to be ex-employee.

An exit interview is sometimes undertaken but it often tends to be little more than a “box ticking” exercise with the main concern being that the soon to be ex-employee is not leaving for a reason that could result in a Tribunal claim; discrimination, harassment or constructive dismissal.

Exit interviews are best undertaken by parties external to the business, by somebody who is skilled in asking the right questions in the right way. The quality of data that can be gathered is likely to have greater value if obtained by somebody who does not work for the organisation.

The interviewee is more likely to be open and honest and provide meaningful information, with examples, when speaking with an external party. There is also a greater opportunity for a skilled practitioner to ask probing questions that get under the skin of what the real reasons for leaving may be.

Exit interviews are best undertaken whilst the employee is still employed, during their last two weeks of employment. They should be voluntary, be undertaken off site and cover several areas that have been pre-agreed with the employer. They should ideally all provide the opportunity for “free-styling”. A comprehensive report, with identified trends, and accompanying recommendations should be provided. 

Using an external provider to conduct exit interviews will help employers capture more accurate data about why people are leaving, as individuals are more willing to be truthful when there is reassurance of anonymity.” Source - CIPD  “Employee Turnover and Retention” fact-sheet published in December 2017.

If the insights that the exit interview provides leads to changes within the organisation that results in one employee who otherwise might have resigned, that’s a saving of £5,000 - £8,000.

Returning to my first paragraph. I’ve repeated it here with additions: 

If you were suffering from a recurring medical complaint or condition (resignations) you would seek advice from your doctor (a third-party expert). They would examine you, maybe run a number of tests (conduct comprehensive and detailed exit interviews) and arrive at a diagnosis (identification of issues to consider). A course of treatment to address the complaint or condition (that would amend or complement existing HR strategies) would then be recommended.

Put in that context, and there is a compelling case for viewing exit interviews as being an integral part of an organisations retention strategy.


Colin Lock, Managing Director UK

Mdina International