On the subject of ‘exit interviews’

Last weekend, I listened to Hannah Wilson’s interview with Maria Brosnan for The Pursuit of Wellbeing podcast – well worth 36 minutes of anyone’s time, I would suggest. Hannah talked about the process of ‘regaining your mojo’. At one stage of the discussion, she spoke of the power of exit interviews, and the importance of leaders seeking out, properly listening to and acting on what they learn from those who are moving on from their organisation.

I agree with Hannah on this, and I released this tweet:

The number of comments, retweets and likes took me by surprise! This is clearly a subject about which many people felt strongly. The comments ranged from anger and frustration that exit interviews were not offered/pointless/too late, to some positive responses describing the difference that effective exit interviews can make. I enjoyed reading all the tweets, a number of which made me thoughtful, and decided to write a blog to include some of the comments and suggestions that others might find helpful.

I taught in six schools over a thirty year period and never experienced an exit interview. And when I was a head, for the last ten of these years, I never conducted one – although I would have informal conversations with staff who told me they were considering leaving (for example, talking through what I should include in their reference) and usually met teaching and support staff to say goodbye and to wish them well on the day they left. But ‘exit interviews’ as such, didn’t seem to be ‘a thing’ at that time, and this wasn’t a phrase I was familiar with. If I were a head today, it’s certainly something I would want to build into our processes. I hope that, given the number of positive comments about how this can be done, and what makes it worthwhile, other leaders might have seen the tweets, or they might perhaps read this blog, and decide to do the same.

The comments on Twitter included the following:

“We need to conduct proper exit interviews everywhere. I’m sure there is lots to learn from across sectors and use as the necessary changes which make our organisations better for beneficiaries and those who work there.”

“I do exit interviews and they are really good. The difficulty is sometimes the person leaving cannot always be fully honest as issues may be with actual management. Anonymised opportunities are good if you want to look at your practices.”

“For change to happen we have to be able to hear what we don’t like but for some that will feel very threatening, possibly because they are worried for themselves/won’t know what or how to change.”

“Our exit interviews have been super helpful in improving but also celebrating aspects of school life.”

“Any good leader would want to hear fair criticism (both good and bad). It would help them improve the facts not just polish the ego. They may decide that they are on the right track anyway but at least see the different perspective.”

“It is so important to hear why a teacher is leaving and if there is anything that can be learnt from this to improve the school. It seems to me though, that a school leadership team that is truly open to this sort of feedback would already be open to regular feedback whilst the teacher is still in the school. We need to truly listen to staff throughout their time with us, not just when they leave. And if staff feel heard and able to contribute to improved working conditions, surely they are less likely to leave, unless it’s for positive reasons, such as gaining new and different experiences, promotion etc. We need a culture of open, honest, constructive feedback from all staff, regardless of experience, position etc. All working together to improve the quality of provision.” (over three tweets)

“Exit interviews are a core element of #SaferRecruitment – plus any school that is a charity should be using exit interviews in line with Charity Commission guidelines; it is listed as a Trustee responsibility.”

“We had a colleague leave us this week, on good terms, for an exciting role. Our SBM took the opportunity to trial an exit questionnaire, with the option of a follow-up meeting. Feedback was really useful and they felt that the survey enabled openness. We’ll do that again I think.”

“Absolutely this! But also, schools need to accept that they get stuff wrong and something should be done about it. Exit interviews can’t be just a box ticking exercise.”

“I was once offered an exit interview with the deputy head. I refused and said I would do one with a governor or not at all, which was then granted. I tried to give honest and helpful feedback that wasn’t just moaning. I loved the school and wanted to help. Same for most I imagine.”

“We do exit interviews. I find them really useful. Mainly they are hugely positive. Occasionally they highlight an issue, and we on occasion have made changes as a result. However, much more useful is having open dialogue day to day so you can improve and retain.”

“We have exit interviews with any member of staff who leaves. It is an opportunity to reflect if we could do anything better whilst celebrating the journey we have shared. Fortunately, all bar one, every interview has been insightful and celebratory.”

And some suggestions/ideas for the future, which I thought were interesting, included:

“I have had exit interviews and exit questionnaires. Personally I have found it easier to be honest and give my opinion in an exit questionnaire as it has less confrontation. Is it possible for this to be offered to people who don’t want to do the interview?”

“How about having a governor undertaking an exit interview? I think it’s important it’s not done by someone who would give the staff member a reference and they are interested in where a school might need to improve.”

“What would be more useful would be a system with the strength and maturity to listen to what is said and act upon it. That last bit is key. Listening is useless unless it causes change.”

“We have exit interviews but it’s also worth pursuing ‘stay interviews’ for those who have remained for 3 – 5 years. Why do people stay? What are the pull factors for your organisation?”

“We also need proper interviews when staff return from burnout. We need to delve into the culture that feeds attrition rates & burnout.”

“I also think it is worth, where possible, seeking feedback from people who leave a year or so later. This gives the person time reflect on their previous role/school and allows them to gain insights that they might not have seen when initially leaving.”

“In a previous workplace a ‘pre’ exit interview would happen, triggered by staff requesting time off for interviews or reference request. There should never be a situation where staff leaving is a surprise. Where it is a surprise it shows weak leadership or poor line management.”

And many thanks to Megan Dixon, who tweeted this link to a Harvard Business Review article on Making Exit Interviews Count.

Many thanks to everyone who shared their views.

6 thoughts on “On the subject of ‘exit interviews’

  1. Something we could easily work into our professional review process, I think? Thanks for commenting and sharing, Shirley. Hope to see you again (with Hannah?) soon…


  2. 5 questions for consideration:

    1. Growth & departure are always required, what would have made you stay longer?

    2. What will you copy from here?

    3. What would you change here?

    4. What would you say to a new starter here?

    5. What are you excited about there?

    Liked by 1 person

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