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Exit interviews: Gone with the wind

CMA Gul S , Last updated: 12 September 2007  

“So, why do you want to quit?” “The kind of work I’m doing here is least satisf......” ”Is xyz offering you a better profile? Yeah...The kind of...” “Don’t you think it’s a foolish decision?”

The confab went on for about three and a half hours with the interviewer ignoring or counter-attacking every point Rajat Agarwal (name changed) made, when he was leaving his global FMCG employer a year ago. Unable to carry on with the ‘leading-to-a-deadend’ conversation, Rajat finally signed the dotted line agreeing to whatever was being said, and walked out.

As he did, Agarwal remembers, thinking, what purpose do exit interviews serve if no one really wants to hear employees’ feedback? Good question. While companies’ view exit interview as a vital tool to better HR practices in organizations, a straw poll across sectors in the course of our story suggests that most employees think it’s quite useless.

“The whole idea goes for a toss,” says Agrawal, today. “Obviously, the goal is not to lose any employees you value, therefore, if you do lose one, you must conduct an exit interview in order to learn why, it’s key to being a ‘learning organization’ defends the growth guy Verne Harnish, CEO of Gazelle, the global consultancy for SMEs.

The information collected in an exit dialogue can give a company a clear perspective on its performance and employee satisfaction. “Depending on the feedback, the HR department works jointly with the concerned operations head to address the issues down the line,” says A Sudhakar, executive VP (HR), Dabur India.

Praneet Mehrish, Country HR director, STMicroelectronics too agrees on this point. “Responses received through these interactions when collated can help identify trends and pattern of events which can be addressed before they become critical to the organisation,” he says.

Substantiating it with an example, the SHRM CEO Susan Meisinger says, “sometimes, HR learns that the person loved their job, but it just didn't pay enough. This let's HR know that their pay practices may not be competitive.” Prashant Sinha, who was working for a Fortune 100 company, supports this contention, citing his company’s voluntary retirement scheme.

”Believe it or not, few companies do take employees’ feedback seriously. Seventeen out of 20 direct who reported to an engineering supervisor accepted the voluntary offer. Those 17 were the brightest chunk of the organization and had been difficult to recruit. On being asked the reason for putting in their papers, all of them attributed it to the supervisor. The loss of this group was devastating, marking the end of the supervisor’s career. Within two years he had no one reporting to him.”

From, other viewpoints, not all orgnisations, however, are good listeners. Says Nitin Gautam: “Exit interviews are a sham. To be blunt, HR in most of the companies (I have seen three Convergys, Infosys and Oracle) has very limited scope of operation, restricted to paper work and recruitment. I have rarely seen a HR initiative changing policies of companies. Changes in structure are only percolated when higher management steps in.”
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