How to Use Exit Interviews to Assess Your Compliance Program

June 29, 2022

Exit interviews are an indispensable ingredient for efficient workplace culture. Employees walk out the door for several reasons and an exit interview is the most effective yardstick to determine the “whys” behind it. 

Understanding why employees leave is critical – especially if your company wants to discover crippling workplace issues that may otherwise lurk in the background and damage the workplace culture. The issues that surface during an exit interview are invaluable tools to help strengthen your compliance program so you can curb the plague of similar issues in the future. 

Let’s take a deep dive into how exactly exit interviews help fill the gaps left behind in your compliance program. 

What Does An Exit Interview Entail

Simply put, an exit interview is a formal meeting that takes place between the soon-to-be-former employee and the interviewer, who is most likely from the HR team or a professional third party. The goal of this interview is to gather valuable information and identify game-changing patterns to put the company back on an ethical road and fix the workplace glitches that cause the best talent to walk out the company’s door. 

Exit interviews can be an emotional rollercoaster and demand only the most skilled and experienced interviewer to hold the process together. For instance, if the interviewer is not empathetic and untrained in active listening, they might take offense to an employee who is brutally honest about their experience. 

Choosing the interviewer from the HR team is a common practice. However, a neutral manager or a supervisor who the employee trusts can be a good choice. Outsourcing the exit interview process to a professional third party, on the other hand, can bring several advantages. They offer 100% anonymity, the interviewer is highly trained and knows exactly the lanes they must maneuver the interview into. In addition, they also help gather efficient data, systematic trends, and fail-proof fixes for your compliance system.

Should Exit Interviews Be Voluntary or Mandatory?

From a legal vantage point, an employee is free to decline an exit interview. However, most companies require exit interviews as an integral element of the out-processing procedure. 

There are many reasons employees hesitate to “talk” during exit interviews. For instance, some departing employees rely on former team members and managers for valuable references. This discourages them from divulging concerns they may have faced during their employment especially if the departing employee has yet to secure employment elsewhere. 

The best way to encourage more employees to participate would be to stress the confidentiality of the interview. It’s also critical to encourage them to be as honest as possible. It is the interviewer’s responsibility to help an employee understand the goal of the interview – to find out the positives and negatives of the company which can help make the office a better place for current employees. Interviewers must also continue to stress how the information from the interview will be put to use without compromising the departing employee. 

Why Monitoring and Auditing Matters

If your company’s compliance program is the “syllabus” for an ethical workforce, the exit interview is the ultimate test. 

Brooks C. Holtom, an HR management specialist at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business in Washington, D.C., conducted interesting research on the efficiency of exit interviews.

He went through the exit interview statements left by the employees of a government agency and a retail bank and followed up with 125 of the former employees. These statements were collected over one year. The result? About 70% of the departing employees gave the same reason for quitting. In addition, there was a 90% overlap when Holtom analyzed the top three reasons for these employees to leave. 

The information churned out from exit interviews is extremely valuable and has the potential to change the workplace culture for the better. It is critical to monitor and evaluate exit interview results regularly to spot common trends among all the reported concerns. Here is the exit interview data that should be reported to the company’s compliance committee and board:

  • The number of exit interviews conducted
  • The number of investigations completed
  • A summary of issues reported

A Quick Exit Interview Checklist

It is a great practice to extract the results of exit interviews and merge them with the strategies designed to strengthen the company’s compliance program. Here’s a quick roadmap you can follow:

  • Interviews should be conducted soon after the employee announces their decision to leave. For instance, if an employee provides a two-week notice, the interview can be scheduled one week after the announcement. This provides more room for the employee to open up since they’re still invested in the company and haven’t been entirely preoccupied with leaving. 
  • To avoid interruptions or distractions, interviews must take place where the conversation cannot be overheard.
  • Using open-ended questions to extract valuable answers is more effective than a predetermined list. 
  • Include questions centered around the soon-to-be-former employee’s experience – especially navigating into compliance matters, workplace harassment, and discrimination. 
  • Ask the employee if they noticed any violations of laws, the Code of Conduct, regulations, and policies. 
  • Should a legal, regulatory, or management concern surface, it is critical to work on resolving it before the employee walks out. When you take a quick, corrective action while the interviewee is still an employee, there are high chances you can prevent them from taking their concerns to the media, court, or a government agency. 
  • It’s equally important to give the employee a chance to vent. 

Exit Interviews Mirror the Effectiveness of Your Compliance Program

Running an excellent exit interview is only half of the goal achieved. The other half comes in when you begin to “hunt” the insights and patterns hidden in the information these interviews leave behind. 

Whether you want to encourage a valuable speak-up culture using an anonymous ethics hotline, upgrade your exit interview strategies to generate valuable insights, or bring in compliance training for real results, ComplianeLine can be your partner in growth for a strong, ethical, and happy workforce.