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"Why Did They Leave?" THREE Top Questions to Ask Departing Employees

Updated: May 7

An hr executive worries about their departing employees and why they are leaving

Ok, so you are shocked to learn that one of your top employees has just turned in their resignation. Maybe you had one or two “Stay Interviews” with them or maybe you didn’t have any. Your answer to that will determine the level of shock you must be feeling at hearing this news.

First, schedule the “Exit Interview.” Reserve a good hour to have a deep conversation.

Within the "Exit Interview," you have a couple of options. Here are three questions to ask departing employees, based on if they are on the fence or already out the door:

If You Think They Might Stay

Try to resist the temptation to think or accuse them of shopping an outside offer to gain more concessions at your organization. Sure, that happens, but this person is now aware of their value on the outside market and you have to decide if it’s worth matching that offer or beating it.

Let’s assume they are a valuable employee and that matching or beating the offer is worth it.

Here are the top three questions to ask your potentially departing employee:

  1. “Clearly we haven’t done a good job in making you happy here. Can you tell me more about what brought you to this point?”

    1. Break down and engage in each issue about what they would ideally want to see the organization do for them.

    2. Remember, these are HiPo employees, and it will likely be far costlier to have them leave than to resolve their issues.

  2. "What aspects of your role or our organization do you feel could be improved to better support your career goals and professional development?"

    1. This question focuses on the employee's future and growth within the company. It shows that the organization values the employee's career aspirations and is willing to make changes or provide opportunities that align with their professional goals.

    2. Asking this demonstrates a commitment to the employee's development and may uncover areas where the organization can improve to retain not just the current employee but also other HiPo’s who might have similar concerns. This signals to the employee that the organization is proactive and genuinely interested in their career development and satisfaction.

  3. “We don’t want to lose you, what exactly would it take to get you to stay?," If it wasn’t clear in the responses to the first two questions.

For highly valued employees, it may also be advisable to arrange a conversation between the employee and the CEO and ask her or him to use their persuasive skills to convince the employee to stay.

That won’t mean that changes won’t still have to be made. If nothing but a pep talk happens, you may be going into round two with this employee six months down the road. Make the changes stick. And check in with this HiPo six months later to make sure their issues were addressed, resolved and no new issues have cropped up.

If They Are Definitely Leaving

Now you must figure out what you can learn from them to stop another HiPo from leaving. Do not let this opportunity pass by to better understand your employees - your workforce analytics tool might have fantastic insights, but only if you know which questions to ask.

Here are the top three questions to ask your definitely departing employee:

  1. "Can you describe the key factors that led to your decision to leave?"

    1. This open-ended question allows the departing employee to share their reasons in their own words, providing a comprehensive view of what might be driving HiPo employees away.

    2. It could reveal issues related to workplace culture, career development opportunities, management styles, or work-life balance. 

  2. "What could we have done differently to keep you here?"

    1. This question directly addresses any missed opportunities or oversights by the organization. It encourages the departing employee to reflect on specific actions or changes that might have influenced their decision to stay.

    2. This feedback can be invaluable in adjusting policies, practices, or behaviors to better align with HiPo employees' expectations and needs.

  3. "Based on your experience, what changes would you recommend we make to better retain and support valuable employees like yourself?"

    1. Asking for recommendations turns the conversation into a constructive critique of current practices and offers actionable insights. It shows that the organization values the employee's opinion and is committed to continuous improvement.

    2. This can also highlight areas for development that the organization may not have considered, from mentoring and leadership development programs to more flexible working arrangements or changes in organizational culture.

  4. “Is there anything we can do to keep you?” - I always recommend asking this one last time, even if the departure is imminent.

By asking these questions, you signal a genuine interest in understanding and addressing the underlying issues that may be causing your top talent to look elsewhere. The responses can guide strategic decisions and help create a more supportive and engaging environment for your remaining and future HiPo employees.

PARiTA Helps You Identify At-Risk Employees Quickly

At PARiTA, we can break down in seconds where the key pain points are that cause attrition for certain groups, areas like compensation, promotions, culture, and more.

For attrition itself, we can show you your organization’s “Attrition Profile” by geographic location right down to the department level, and by employee groups by gender, race, ethnicity, age, generation, veteran status, disability, and more.

Get a demo now and stem the tide going out your back door.


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