It’s never an ideal situation when an employee leaves your organization.Whether it’s a voluntarily or involuntarily move, there’s paperwork to be completed, a new hire to be made, and an exit interview to conduct.

If you skip the exit interview, you’re missing a golden opportunity to improve your organization. Even if the employee was fired, there’s insight to be gained.

An exit interview is a unique and powerful time to gather perspective. When else will you get the unvarnished truth from your employees about what your organization is doing wrong without any fear of retaliation or making someone unhappy?

If an employee is leaving voluntarily, your HR team should take that opportunity to look closely at what the departure means for your organization.

Employees leave voluntarily for many reasons: pursuing dreams, better pay, other career interests, or because of problems with the organization itself.

Whatever the case, take the time to do an in-depth exit interview. Perhaps you will gain information that can help the organization succeed in the future.

Once you’ve gathered feedback, make it actionable by asking the following questions:

  • How did the employee get all the way to quitting?
  • Did the employee not feel they could come to HR with their concerns?
  • If so, where did the relationship break down and affect communication?
  • What is missing from our processes that contributed to this departure and prevented the employee from communicating concerns earlier on?

When employees choose to leave, reflect on what processes you can change or add so the next employee doesn’t face the same difficulties or roadblocks.

Treat offboarding as you would if you were losing a client after six months. With the client, you’d look back over the six-month period and investigate the source of the problem. Was it in implementation? Was there a problem with service?

The same types of questions apply to departing employees. If you hired an employee who stayed for a year before going to work for your competitor, what did you do wrong?

What did you promise that you couldn’t deliver? When you brought them on, did you fail to instill enough trust in your organization? Did the employee believe this was a place he could grow and achieve his career goals and then found he couldn’t?

These are the kinds of questions you want to answer during an exit interview.

But what about if the employee was fired? How does the exit interview work then?

Put Involuntary Exits to Work

If an employee leaves involuntarily, you should still conduct an exit interview.

In these situations, it’s less about learning and more about minimizing damage. You want to complete paperwork and get back company equipment while making the exchange as pleasant as possible and minimizing the chance of a lawsuit.

Negotiation is the key to involuntary terminations. You want to soften the blow by making sure the employee is taken care of and your organization is protected.

While you may think your organization doesn’t really deal in severance agreements, the most common severance agreement involves PTO or vacation pay.

Many organizations will offer to pay any remaining PTO the employee has accrued if they agree to give two weeks’ notice. That’s a severance agreement.

With an involuntary termination, you have more legal risk than a voluntary.

Lay out exactly what your organization needs to protect itself and negotiate with the departing employee to get the proper documents signed.

Remember, contracts must have consideration for all sides, so the employee has to get something for signing any severance papers beyond a grim farewell!

Who Should Conduct the Exit Interview?

Whether an employee’s parting is voluntary or involuntary, choose someone separate from the employee’s direct supervisor to conduct the exit interview.

Generally, your HR team will be called in to conduct exit interviews.

In especially sticky situations, however, get assistance from someone outside the organization, such as your attorney or third-party HR company.

In all cases, be sure to clearly communicate the employee’s departure to clients. If the ex-employee had a client-facing role with established relationships, reach out to those clients, notify them of the change, and introduce them to their new contact.

Let key players know what’s going on, and then shape the message accordingly.

It is also very important to communicate the departure to remaining employees. How you do that depends on the dynamic within your organization.

In smaller companies, the entire organization should be informed. In larger companies, you want to at least communicate with direct reports and coworkers. Coworkers are especially critical to communicate with if you wish to control the narrative.

Be compassionate in your delivery, don’t speak negatively of the ex-employee, and tell remaining team members how and when you plan to fill the vacancy.

Make a plan, present it with confidence and empathy, and commit to it.

If you are honestly treating the departing employee with respect, your remaining employees will feel it. Remember, investing in your terminated employees, voluntary or not, is truly an investment in the morale of your remaining team!