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  • Writer's pictureAbbey Salvas

Exit Interviews: What to Ask and Why it’s a DEI Issue

Originally posted on the Mattingly Solutions Blog.

In recent years, there has been an increase in employees leaving their jobs for new opportunities, labeled by some as the “Great Resignation” or the “Great Reorganization.” This trend has been a cause for concern for employers—replacing labor is not only costly, but can hurt morale as well.

For employers who seek to understand why people are leaving and what they can to do retain their talent have a great tool at their disposal: the exit interview.

What are exit interviews?

An exit interview is “a conversation between an organizational representative and a departing employee to determine the reasons that the latter is leaving the organization” (Gordon, 2011). In other words, taking the time to sit down with an employee that has decided to leave and asking why they’re leaving and what you can do better as an employer to avoid others following suit.

This feedback is crucially important for the workplace so that you can make real changes to improve retention in the future. These changes could include adjustments to company culture, in order to retain the talent you still have, but could also mean changing the job description for your next hire, in order to retain that new employee.

How do exit interviews relate to DEI?

Exit interviews provide first-hand insight into why employees choose to leave an organization and this is especially important when that individual is from a historically marginalized group. Feedback from these individuals can directly identify higher level DEI issues. Some examples could include:

  • A woman is leaving your organization and points out in her exit interview that she often feels like her voice isn’t being heard. Therefore, investments should be made into improving inclusion throughout the organization, but especially in her former work unit.

  • A person of color often feels that they are doing unpaid labor as it relates to DEI work at your organization. Based on this feedback, time and effort should be taken to identify ways to compensate for that work in the future.

The feedback from exit interviews can directly inform ways to retain diverse talent in the future.

Further, it is unfortunately common for organizations to see higher levels of turnover from marginalized groups. This is especially true during the “Great Resignation.”

While most people are seeking better compensation, studies have shown that reasons for leaving are different for some identity groups compared to others. For example, Black workers are more likely to leave their jobs due to a lack of career momentum compared to White workers. Further, one study showed that BIPOC employees left their job due to a lack of diversity, including in positions of leadership.

What DEI-related questions should you ask during exit interviews?

Before you start preparing questions for exit interviews, it’s important to lay the groundwork by following these best practices:

  • Communicate the purpose upfront

  • Choose someone the leaver trusts to conduct the exit interview.

  • Send questions in advance

  • Keep a very open format to the first part of the interview so the leaver can explore topics they wish to.

  • Take detailed notes

  • Implement the feedback

When choosing questions, it is best to cover a wide range of subject areas, while respecting the interviewee’s time and allowing them the opportunity to speak on those subjects most important to them. While some sources recommend 12-40 (!) questions* for these interviews, we recommend keeping things as short, simple, and open-ended as possible.

*A bank of open-source standard exit interview questions is linked here.

Here is a list of DEI-related exit interview questions we’d recommend asking:

  • Describe times where you felt like you belong at this organization. Describe times where you felt like you didn’t belong at this organization.

  • Would you recommend us as an employer to a member of a historically marginalized group? Why or why not?

  • How can we improve our climate so that you would be comfortable coming back to work for us in the future?

What are Stay Interviews?

Don’t just stop at exit interviews, though. Consider conducting similar “stay interviews” with top performers, especially those from underrepresented groups. Questions could include:

  • How can we improve the climate at [this organization] for everyone? For you specifically?

  • How can we give you more opportunities for growth?

  • If you were to consider leaving this organization, what are some reasons you would do so?

Looking to advance DEI through data-driven insights in your organization? Contact us at Plan to Action today to drive meaningful change, together.

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