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Weighing the Truth of Exit Interviews

The information you get may not be so reliable.

September 18, 2003
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Related Topics: Work/Life Balance, Compensation, Benefits
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Some companies use exit interviews to monitor the effectiveness ofwork/life-balance programs. Michael Scheidemann, assistant director ofrecruiting at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, says it is a "key communicationlink about why someone is leaving. It is a well-documented conversation. Wecompile the results and review them monthly. When you start seeing trends,whether it’s a particular supervisor or a recurring theme such as travel, itis an indicator that builds awareness of the issues. Especially if it’s ahighly rated employee, it is doubly important."

The FutureWork Institute’s Joseph Gibbons believes, however, that theinformation gleaned from exit interviews is not reliable. "People will saywhatever it takes to get them out the door without being tripped up," he says."We are doing post-exit interviews, conducted one year later, and they producemuch more honest results. The results are often so volatile that they almosthave to be printed on asbestos." When FutureWork reports the findings tosenior management, "the responses range from the firm that put the results ona shelf to another where the CEO called in his people and said, ‘I want thisproblem fixed within a week and that one fixed within a month.’"

Catalyst also conducts post-exit interviews for companies. "They areextremely important for educating senior management," says Marcia Brumit Kropf,vice president for research and information services. "Often, what we find ismyth-breaking. For example, many women say they are leaving the company to spendmore time with their families, but one year later, they are working someplaceelse. At one firm, women often left after seven or eight years, and there wasmuch higher turnover among women. The firm was forced to pick partners from amuch smaller pool than the leadership wanted, and they had rationalized it as‘they are all going home to be with their families.’ When they discoveredthat the women were working somewhere else, it was a shock."

Workforce, December 2002, p. 37 -- Subscribe Now!

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