Article Date: 6/1/2012

staff management

Through exit interviews, departing employees can tell you how to hang on to those who remain.

Bob Levoy, O.D., Roslyn, N.Y.

Unless a staff member is leaving due to relocation, retirement or illness, he or she rarely tells an employer the real reason for leaving. The purpose of exit interviews is to obtain this information, identify any workplace deficiencies that must be “fixed” and, if possible, avoid losing him or her or other staff members for the same reason(s).

I have long recommended exit interviews with departing employees — regardless of the reason for their resignation. Even if a staff member tells you he or she is leaving for a higher salary, shorter commute, or better hours, a little digging can often uncover other reasons for their departure. Asking the simple question, “Is that the real reason you’re leaving?” often reveals other reasons, such as workloads, personality conflicts, office policy issues, or other matters about which that you might otherwise never learn.

Six solid benefits

When conducted properly, exit interviews offer the following six benefits:

► They provide an opportunity to make peace with disgruntled staff members who might otherwise leave with a grudge or worse, vengeful intentions.

► Exit interviews are typically viewed by current staff members as a sign of a positive workplace culture and a sign that management is open-minded and listens to criticism.

► Exit interviews provide valuable feedback on how to improve the recruitment and retention of new employees.

► Resignations are too often readily accepted — without discussion or testing a staff member’s determination to really leave. Sometimes, an exit interview provides the chance to retain a valuable staff member by providing a final safety net.

► High-performance staff members often leave because they are denied an opportunity to learn new skills, assume additional responsibilities or grow and develop. If this is happening in your practice, you need to know about it and respond accordingly.

► Departing employees become ambassadors, good or bad, for your practice. Making sure they have an opportunity to provide feedback — and letting them know you genuinely care about improving the workplace, will help ensure they have positive feelings about your practice.

The best interview format

Exit interviews can be conducted in person or in written form. One drawback to the face-to-face format is that employees might not give their most thoughtful answers on the spur of the moment. On the other hand, the written form of the exit interview doesn’t allow for follow-up questions. For the best of both worlds, consider asking employees to complete a questionnaire and then discuss the answers in a face-to-face meeting or by phone a day or so later.

Departing Employee Comments

The following are some verbatim comments from departing employees who completed written exit interviews in a variety of professional practices.

► “The doctors need to appreciate us more and not put us down in front of patients. This is very degrading.”

► “At this time, I would not recommend this practice to any of my friends as a place to work.”

► “I found it difficult to go to the office manager for help because I never had the sense that she was there to support me.”

► “We used to have holiday parties and gifts. We never see anything like this anymore. Work should be a little fun — not so stressful.”

► “My job has become boring and monotonous.”

► “It’s like pulling teeth to get badly needed new equipment in this office.”

► “My benefits are fine, but my salary is way below what other offices are paying. I haven’t had a raise in three years.”

► “The workload has increased, and we’re short-handed. It creates stress for everyone. The doctor’s response is “Deal with it!”

► “Some staff members are not carrying their weight, and management doesn’t seem to notice or care.”

► “We work really hard and give 100% and get nothing in return. I would not recommend working here to anybody.”

► “There’s a lot more I would like to say. When could we talk?”

Suggestion: If a written survey is used, limit the questions to about 10. If the exit interview is conducted in person, limit the questions to five or so. If the person’s first answer is vague or superficial, probe for further information by asking, “Why do you say that?” or “That’s an interesting point. Tell me about that.”

The following exit interview questions, which can be used in a written questionnaire or a face-to-face interview, were gathered from a wide variety of professional practices. Keeping in mind that you should limit the number of questions, choose those that are most relevant to your practice and the circumstances surrounding the employee’s departure.

► What did you like most about working in this practice? What did you like least?

► Why are you leaving at this particular time?

► Are there other reasons for your leaving?

► Did anything trigger your decision to leave?

► What, if anything, has been frustrating/difficult/upsetting to you during your time with us?

► Were you satisfied with your salary and benefits?

► What training would you have liked or needed that you did not get — and what effect would this have had on your employment here?

► What do you hope your next job offers that was lacking in this job?

► What do you think about the working conditions in this office?

► Do you think your work was supervised/managed effectively during your employment? If not, why not?

► How would you describe the “culture” of this practice?

► What suggestions would you make to improve office policies, working conditions, amenities, etc.?

► Would you recommend this practice as a good place to work to others? If not, why?

► If you were in charge of managing this practice, what would you do differently?

► What can we do to make this position better for the next staff member?

► Do you feel we have we been fair and consistent in our dealings with staff members?

► What suggestions can you offer (on a confidential basis) to make our office a better place to work?

One last chance

At times, it may become obvious that a staff member who has decided to leave is really heart-broken at the prospect of leaving, but feels there is no alternative. For example, she may love the job, the work environment and co-workers, but has decided to leave because of a rigid nine-to-five workday with no flexibility for her childcare responsibilities.

In these situations, an alert and proactive exit interviewer may be able to find a way to adjust the person’s hours and keep him or her on the job.

In her book, HR From the Heart: Inspiring Stories and Strategies for Building the People Side of Great Business (AMACOM, 2003), co-author Libby Sartain, former senior vice president of human resources at Yahoo, Inc., recommends always asking valued employees who have decided to leave, “Is there anything we could have done to keep you here?” The answer often uncovers a problem that can be fixed.

Tested tips

Use the following tested tips to make the exit interview process more effective:

► Make it known that exit interviews are optional. Employees should participate willingly.

► Make sure interviews are conducted in privacy.

► Allot 20-to-30 minutes for the exit interview.

► To encourage honesty, assure departing employees that what they say will not in any way be held against them.

► In managing the interview, listen rather than talk. Give the staff member time to answer. Coax and reassure when appropriate — rather than pressure the person. The objective is to elicit feedback and the departing staff member’s perspective on the practice.

► Don’t discourage employees from speaking candidly by arguing about their criticisms or sounding defensive. Just listen and respond with friendly, neutral comments like “You’ve given us some valuable insights,” or “Thank you for sharing this information.”

► Give employees the option to discuss their departure with you at a later date if they prefer. It may be beneficial to contact a former employee weeks or even months after their departure. The reason: The longer they’re away from your practice, the more candid they’re likely to be.

► Another option: If employees are uncomfortable providing frank verbal feedback, consider giving them a postage-paid envelope, and ask them to mail back the filled-out questionnaire.

► If, for any reason, you don’t have the expertise or inclination to conduct exit interviews yourself, consider having them done externally. Departing employees may be more candid with a third party. By the same token, third-party interviewers often do a better job because they’re able to be more objective.

Gain a new perspective

Exit interviews can give you a clear picture of your office from an employee’s perspective. They provide the feedback necessary to make beneficial changes to improve staff retention and productivity. OM

Dr. Levoy is the author of seven books including 201 Secrets of a High Performance Optometric Practice (recently reprinted and available at ) and 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices. Contact him at, or to comment on this article, e-mail OM at

Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: June 2012, page(s): 62 - 64