Learn from your losses

The loser

When an employee leaves a company, it signifies that a loss has occurred. In some cases, a manager might argue that point, claiming that the employee didn’t represent a loss since he or she didn’t do anything of value.

Regardless of how poor a job an employee did, resources were spent hiring that person. Further resources were spent for training and compensation while employed. If the employee damaged the company’s property or relationships with its customers, the time spent correcting the employee was also a cost that has now been lost.

The winner

Conversely, managers are sometimes faced with the loss of good employees. These may be key sales representatives, skilled tradespeople or production personnel that exhibit initiative and innovation. When such employees leave, managers are often angry and vindictive. This behaviour leads to a double loss.

Some managers have a tough time dealing with rejection, and this is how they may perceive the departure of a key employee. The feeling is intensified if the manager invested a lot of time mentoring the individual. Relations often deteriorate. A manager may cease to communicate with the individual. The result is that management becomes a double loser. They lose the employee as well as the employee’s good will.

Exit interview

Whether departing individuals are viewed as good or poor employees, the company seldom carries out an exit interview. Either management is so angry with the individual that they can’t sit down and talk civilly, or they have such a low regard for the person that they can’t see how he or she could provide any valuable information. However, failing to do an exit interview is definitely an opportunity missed.

Conducting a successful exit interview

Just as performance appraisals need to be frank and non-threatening, exit interviews need to be done the same way. Prior to an exit interview, there needs to be planning.


Have a person who has not directly supervised the departing employee do the job. This should remove a significant amount of emotion and hostility. It’s likely that the departing person will be more open in the discussion if their former boss is not doing the interview. If someone isn’t available within the company, consider outsourcing the task.


The discussion should avoid personalities. If the basic reason for the person’s departure is their dislike of their boss, the interview can sometimes deteriorate into a character assassination. This adds little value for the employer.

The objective of the interviewer is to identify non-personal issues that have led to the employee’s departure – e.g. not being entirely suited to the position, a lack of opportunities for advancement, and so on. Make sure the real issues are identified and that the departing employee doesn’t dwell on problems that are “red herrings.”

When and where?

It’s probably best to conduct the exit interview off company premises. This helps avoid the chances of loud arguing or shouting. If the employee has already left the premises, it will have to be carried out during a non-work time, probably in a restaurant or similar public place. Given our society’s inclination to sue, one thing that needs to be avoided is to hold the interview in a private place, like a hotel room.

What to do

It’s important to be open and honest about an exit interview.

  • The departing employee’s boss must be informed that such a meeting is going to take place and what was said.
  • Issues coming out of the interview concerning the boss should be discussed.
  • Remaining employees must not perceive that the interview was conducted to attack their boss, or that the boss has been reprimanded as a result. The boss must not be placed in a position that will result in a loss of credibility or respect.

Finally, do something with the information from the interview. You can be sure the departing employee has told his or her colleagues about the company’s problems, real or imagined.

  • Discuss the matter with management and get their input to determine if the problem(s) are real or imagined.
  • If there are issues that can be improved, make sure you deal with them. It’s best to do that sooner rather than later. You don’t want other people leaving the organization for reasons that you are aware of and can fix.
  • If the issues are such that you cannot deal with them, communicate this to the employees and explain the reasons.