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An effective exit interview procedure allows organizations to elicit valuable information and act upon it, if necessary, before the employee leaves the organization. In this way the issue is confronted and hopefully defused, thus reducing the risk of further action on the part of the individual.

It can play a very important role in risk management, in that problems can be surfaced internally and addressed rather than running the risk of litigation, undo bad publicity or external investigation. It is important to question people about their experience, especially where it involves compliance matters, discrimination, unlawful harassment, etc.

One of the first things the FBI or the Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) looks for while investigating problems within companies is high “turnover” in key positions.  Companies that have ethical or legal problems in the manner in which they are operating would have unusual turnover of key personnel in a position to know or sense the direction of company activities.

People operating in an environment conducive to legal infractions, violation of regulations or unethical conduct are confronted with a dilemma- either become a part of the problematic behavior, try to ignore it, become a whistle-blower or leave the offending environment. Most people offended by questionable activities generally look to remove themselves from the area, or the company.

Former employees are useful resources for investigators and attorneys in gaining an understanding of the conduct that drove them to seek employment elsewhere. They are among the first to be interviewed for evidence and leads. It is important that employers understand what these people are likely to say once they have left in case of a government audit.

Supreme Court decisions regarding unlawful harassment notes organizations will not be permitted to raise an affirmative defense unless they have taken certain affirmative steps. Following an effective exit interview procedure may produce evidence necessary to defend the employer against the accusation they failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent or promptly correct any improper harassing behavior.

It provides any employee with the means and opportunity to register a report to an independent and objective third party on hostile work environment issues, such as sexual harassment, retaliation, abusive practices, discrimination, etc.

A properly designed and constructed exit interview program will provide a company with early warning that something may be wrong in an operational area, as well as providing many other benefits. It can be used as a solution to deter departing employees from becoming whistle-blowers after they secure new employment and are free from the fear of retaliation. It can provide vital information to higher authorities in a position to act upon it.

It permits the individual a legitimate path for redress of grievance. Assuming the information is handled appropriately, companies may also use their departing employee interview program as an affirmative defense to litigation.

There are a number of obstacles between an organization and successful departing employee debriefings. One major obstacle is that the information obtained may not be reliable or accurate.  Employees are preoccupied with the process of leaving. They generally provide superficial explanations for separation, particularly, if they fear that future job opportunities could be affected by past employers.

There is, as a rule, reluctance to reveal the full and true reasons for leaving, especially if the reasons reflect negatively on their supervisors or organizations. This is particularly true when the exiting process involves only a perfunctory checklist to be filled out by the employee or used in questioning by a representative of human resources or a supervisor.

The reliability and usefulness of the results is strongly affected by the skill of the interviewer and whether the employee trusts the interviewer. Open-ended questions with the employee supplying the answer are more effective than having the employee select from answers given in a predetermined list.

One of the great challenges of an effective debriefing of departing employees is gaining their confidence and convincing them that forthright answers will be taken seriously by management and will not result in retribution. It is a recognized fact that individuals departing their job are highly reluctant to say or do anything that might prejudice their future opportunities with securing other employment.

Even those people who have secured new positions will be hesitant to be entirely candid if they feel their current employer may be in a position to prejudice their future employer. In most companies the human resources (HR) staff are responsible for the exiting process including any debriefings. They are also identified with providing employment references.

The exit interview process is very demanding and includes a variety of tasks with exit interviews being just a small part of the overall effort. All of this limits the ability of HR staff having the time and expertise to elicit honest, candid and useful comments regarding sensitive company issues.

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