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Finding Useful Information from Exit Interviews

EDITED BY KAROLYN SCHUSTER

Q: Do you conduct exit interviews when an employee has resigned? What kind of information are you looking for?

Information that would help us on the hiring end. "Sometimes we have discovered things in exit interviews that lead us to do a better job in screening applicants on the hiring end. We've developed a few more probing questions that we use in interviewing applicants as a result of experiences we had hiring the wrong person or a person who didn't stay.

"In the past, we have had employees leave because they say they didn't realize there was no guarantee of summer work. That has made us very careful in the initial inter-view to stress that this job is for the academic year.

"We have very low turnover on our staff but there are times we're surprised when someone leaves. For example, one of five new front-ofthe-house people we hired this year quit to go back to waitressing. She said she made more money in her old job.

"Even though our benefit package was far more attractive than anything she'd seen before, she was hurting when it came to what was in her pocketbook at the end of the week. She was at a time in her life when a retirement plan wasn't a strong selling point.

"That was interesting to us because it is usually the flip side. People come to us from that side of the business because they want the benefits and the retirement package.

"You never want to lose employees once they're on the job. By that time, you have an investment in them because of the time and effort you've spent in screening, hiring, orientation and training."

Kathleen Zieja
Director of Dining Services
Smith College
Northampton, Massachusetts

What will get them to stay. "As an organization, our human resources department conducts exit interviews to try to find out why an employee is leaving. Recently, as a department, we are spending much more time with employees who have quit. We even talk to employees whom we have heard are thinking of quitting.

"We ask very specific questions because we want to know what we would have to do to keep an employee here. If it's an employee who has been working the night shift, we ask about hours. We ask about training—whether they felt they had the information they needed to do the job. We ask about supervision—whether they felt they had what they needed from the supervisors and managers.

"We try to cross-train and sometimes we might move too aggressively on that. So we want to hear if an employee felt they were moved into other jobs too fast or too often. What we're looking for is feedback on what we might be doing wrong and what we could do better.

"I had an employee quit the other day. We had counseled her on attendance, but she never came to me directly. After she left, I did some checking and found out she was a good worker. So I called her and asked her to come in and meet with me.

"We cleared up some issues and she's coming back to work here. In the past, I would never have gone that far. But these are unusual times."

Debra Kramer, M.S., R.D.
Director of Food and Nutrition
Owensboro Mercy Health System
Owensboro, Kentucky

Whether there is a misunderstanding. "When we talk to an employee who is leaving, we're basically seeking information. Most times, they leave because they have an opportunity to work more hours and move from a part-time position here to a full-time position somewhere else. That's perfectly understandable.

"But sometimes we find that they're leaving because of a misunderstanding or a wrong perception. In those cases, we will work hard to clear up any misunderstandings so that an employee will stay with us.

"If it's a problem with the job itself and we can make adjustments, we will do that to retain an employee if the changes are reasonable. Maybe it's a matter of moving them to a different position or a different area of the department. We will try to do that.

"We investigate if an employee leaves. We go to that person's manager and ask questions. If the manager tells us that person is a good worker, we try to get him or her to return to the department.

"We have many older workers on our staff who are nearing retirement and we need to retain our younger employees by working with them and providing training to build our own in-house pool of talent for the future.

"Interestingly, some employees who leave do come back—and we leave the door open for that. Sometimes, the job they moved to wasn't what they thought it was or their level of responsibility wasn't what they thought it was going to be.

"The other side of this labor shortage is that we are looking at the jobs and the entire structure throughout our department and trying to find ways to streamline what we do to make us more efficient. When we become more efficient, we need fewer employ-ees to do the same amount of work."

Teresa Nece
Director of Food and Nutrition
Des Moines Public Schools
Des Moines, Iowa

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