How to handle exit interviews

The exit interview is now common practice in social services,
writes Nathalie Towner. The information
that the person leaving often passes on can be used to improve
working practices for those who remain. It’s important to be able
to listen to good and bad news and identify areas that need
changing. The interviewer will gain valuable knowledge on how to
improve recruitment and retention and can then make sure their
service doesn’t lose good social workers unnecessarily.

What is an exit interview?
An exit interview is a face-to-face meeting between someone who has
resigned and a member of the human resources team or a line
manager. “It’s basically a two-way discussion to find out their
main reason for leaving,” says Maria Brooks, recruitment officer
for children, schools and families at Hertfordshire Council.
Ideally the interview will be held very soon after the worker has
resigned in case it is possible to resolve a problem and persuade
someone to stay.

Why are they leaving?
The interviewer will obviously ask the person leaving how they
found their job. “It is important to be clear on this, as it will
let us know how effective our employment policies are for
recruiting and retaining staff,” says Geoff Ward, head of personnel
for Nottinghamshire social services. “It can be very sensitive as
there are all sorts of reasons why people leave: it can be personal
or simply about career development.” The interviewer should also
ask general questions about the department, as this will help them
find out if there are any problems within the team causing people
to leave.

Improving prospects
A key part of the process is identifying factors that will
persuade people to stay. The interviewer will ask how the person
leaving feels about pay, benefits and annual leave. “The benefits
package used to come up a lot, so we introduced a retention scheme
which recognises the stressful work social workers do,” says
Brooks. Lack of career progression is another common reason for
people moving on. “Last year we had senior social workers leaving
as they felt they had reached the top of their grade and couldn’t
progress,” says Brooks. “As a result we implemented a progression
scheme and we now have a level four social worker.”

Analysing data
The exit interview is also an opportunity to collect
information on rival employers. “We are interested in what the
competition has to offer,” says Ward. Authorities can also use exit
interviews to comply with race legislation, as they have a duty to
conduct racial monitoring for when people leave as well as

Be sensitive
It may come to light that people leaving are experiencing
difficulties with their team leader or a colleague and this has to
be handled very sensitively. “We can feed back themes, without
naming individuals, to the workforce planning group and state if
teams are having problems,” says Brooks. “We have to maintain
confidentiality but at the same time take action and make a
difference.” One option is to introduce specific training courses
without singling an individual out.

The process is also important to the departing employee. “People
really do want to say how they feel whether they’ve had a positive
or negative experience,” says Ward. “It’s about getting a sense of
how the workforce views the organisation. We know what sort of
employer we want to be and this is an opportunity to find out how
the staff view us.”

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