What To Do After Hearing: I Quit!

I quit this job, says your employee!“I quit!”

What do you do when those words spring from the lips of an employee you’ve relied upon?

Your first reaction may be to think “don’t let the door hit you ….”

Or — you may be inclined to shout “I’ll double whatever they are offering you!”

Instead, stop and ask yourself “what led to this moment?”

Employees don’t generally quit without a great inner debate. At what point did this person begin looking to leave and what can you learn from them to benefit the rest of your staff?

Here is a brief collection of resources to help you with this question:

Judy Rakowsky has prepared a Guide to Exit Interviews in which she states:

Conducting an exit interview is worthwhile when your company takes seriously the information it garners from an employee who is leaving the job voluntarily. It not only offers your organization a chance to gain constructive lessons, but it is a tool for transferring knowledge that is walking out the door with the employee.

A key statement: “when your company takes seriously the information ….” Don’t bother asking if you don’t plan on keeping an open mind to what you are about to hear.

Judy also talks about the value of conducting regular surveys throughout the life of an employee’s career. Asking for feedback on a consistent basis creates an atmosphere for sharing. If employees come to trust that you value their opinion, they will be more forthcoming.

Susan Heathfield expands on that idea in her article: How to Perform Exit Interviews. She even provides sample exit interview questions. However, a valuable point Susan makes in her article is not to wait until they are already out the door to gather information that can help improve your company:

The best time for an employee to discuss concerns, dissatisfactions and suggestions with his employer is while he is a committed employee, not on his way out the door. Make sure your organization provides multiple opportunities to gather and learn from employee feedback, including surveys, department meetings, comment or suggestion forms, and more.

How about the responsibility of the ex-employee? How should he or she approach an exit interview? Wayne Hurlbert of Blog Business World answers this question in a classic post he wrote entitled Leaving a Job: Exit Interview Advice. Wayne likens the exit interview as the “most important interview of a person’s career.” He recommends the following (with a bit of dry humor thrown in the last sentence):

Once in the discussion room, answer the questions in a positive way. Don’t ever bad mouth the company or other employee at any level. As with a hiring interview, criticism of previous employers is a sure way to not get hired, the same dynamic is at work in the exit interview. In this case, however, you are talking directly to that former employer. This advice counts double if you were fired from your job, and any missteps could be very costly to your future. If questions are asked about specific employees, think of something positive to say. Everyone has some good qualities; even if they might be very well hidden.

Wayne even suggests that an exit interview conducted professionally could lead to being rehired in the future.

The end of a job is a difficult and challenging time for both the employee and employer. How this final moment is conducted speaks volumes of both parties.

Do you use exit interviews to gain information to improve your management practices? In the past as an employee, how have exit interviews been used and how did it make you feel? And have you ever had to bite your tongue in an exit interview?


14 Reactions
  1. Martin Lindeskog

    My career as a purchaser has made me understand the importance of interviews and negotiations. You never know when you will be at the “other side” of the table. Employers should think about it and act accordingly. A potential employee could end up at some important job in the future and your company could miss a deal due to your previous exit and job interview. The same rule goes for a former employee. If you bad mouth your previous employer, what would the new employer think about your style and how loyal will you be?

  2. Martin Lindeskog

    As a follow up. Have you read The Pathfinder: How To Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success yet?

  3. Deborah, the link to the sample exit interview questions is very helpful.

    An exit interview can be an informal discussion too. The important thing is to get the employee talking in order to try to get useful information that you can use to improve conditions — or at least not feel guilty. 🙂

    — Anita

  4. MarketingDeviant

    It is indeed something that needs to be evaluated by the employer to prevent this from happening if they can help it.

  5. Having had a few “exit interviews” I can relate to the sentiment that it’s too late by the time they happen. Kind of like closing the barn door after all the animals are already running loose. Why do most businesses not conduct a non-exit interview to see how things are going and only care to inquire when the employee has had a bellyfull of whatever nonsense that makes them chose to quit? HR remains a mysterious and strange department in many companies that does strange and mysterious things to people…

  6. The idea of having an employee survey every 6 months or so would provide a lot of valuable information. I wonder if the results of a survey would be considered very seriously and result in any positive changes though? Does anyone work for a business that gets employee feedback regularly? Do they make changes before it’s too late?

  7. Martin – thanks for the tip on the book – haven’t read it – I love What Color is your Parachute and have used many time.

    I think the general consensus is that if the only time you ask for opinions is after the employee is out the door – you probably don’t really care what they have to say. Oooh, was that too harsh?

    I have witnessed employers who run their business purposefully avoiding asking for opinions and feedback and the morale and desire of the employees to go the extra mile is rare in those cases.

    Paula, you hit on a great point – the surveys DO provide great information but if you continually ask for feedback but never point to any changes or procedures that have resulted from that feedback, people will tire of sharing their ideas.

    At one point Pearle Vision had a program that provided a financial reward for ideas – if I remember correctly – if the idea resulted in a corporate financial gain, the person with the idea recevied a financial reward.

    Not a bad idea. But at the very least if a company conducts surveys they should share the results and the follow up actions that will occur because of those results. In some cases, you just can’t make the changes, but if you at least acknowledge the feedback I would think that would be received positively.

  8. Martin Lindeskog


    You are welcome. For more information on the book, go to: http://www.rockportinstitute.com/pathfinder.php

    I read the “parachute” book a long time ago.

  9. The most important take away from this discussion is to act on feedback you receive whether you are getting that feedback during the life cycle of the employee or as they are walking out the door.

    And never forget that employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers. Make sure you are doing everything you can to promote the right people into leadership positions and helping them build the right skills to be successful.

    Think twice (three times!) before promoting your best technical person to a management position. It has proven time and again to be a big mistake — for the company and the person.

  10. Yes, it is a great way to get feedback that will change your business or behavior. However, it all depends on the will of the employer as well. How much he is ready to change.

  11. Deborah Chaddock Brown

    Denise – you were profound with your comment that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers. That is so true. And Mehdi’s comment about the willingness of the owner to change goes hand in hand.

    Not everyone was meant to lead. So what skills do you look for in an associate before promoting them from “doer” to “leader?” And if you promote from within, do you make sure they manage people other than those who were their peers prior to the promotion?

  12. I recently left a position because of two managers who would not plan. Zero goals and no objectives. Denise is right. People leave managers not the company. I liked the company and the work was enjoyable.

    Sadly, I was not contacted for an exit interview. HR said they would call. But they never did. When I first gave my notice I had this big speech in my head. Nothing out of anger, mind you. Just these are areas of improvement.

    In the end my boss wished me well and HR couldn’t be bothered to call. Maybe that’s the best way to end it.
    I have steered potential clients away from the company because if a manager won’t take care of his internal customers, how will he take care of his external customers? I don’t bad mouth them I just simply say, well, consider all your options before hiring them and leave it at that.

    As an employee, I can help you grow or watch you fail. (The company just put itself up for sale two weeks ago). Sometimes the silence is deafening.

  13. It always puzzles me. If the soon-to-be ex-employee says all good things about the employer, how this employer can improve on their human resource management and retention practice/policy? If the employee provides criticism, no matter how constructive, it may not be received well or may be deemed as ‘badmouthing’…hmm

  14. The statement “employees leave managers not companies” leaves something out – the company where the bad management style is universal and reflects the company culture.