When people leave a job, there is usually a reason. As leaders, we want to understand the gaps that cause an employee to be unhappy and leave — or do we? It is good leadership to say that we do, but, frankly, people can be high maintenance, demanding and exhausting! Sometimes, we feel a sense of relief when an employee gives his or her resignation. At times, we are surprised. More often, we are not.

A resignation is an opportunity to heighten your connection with your team. It doesn’t matter if you believe it is a loss; it is an opportunity to see and hear this person and to reflect on changes that would make the team better (improvement is an ongoing process).

In the midst of stress, chaos, decisions and challenges, leaders can become a bit hardened to people. It doesn’t mean that we don’t see them or that we don’t have compassion, care or regard for people. In the pressure and push to achieve goals and objectives, however, people can end up under the bus. As a leader, it is always worth your time to make sure people are on the bus; sit in the right seats; enjoy their time on the bus and, ideally, stay on the bus.

Turnover and hire costs are higher than hiring and keeping a great team. In dollar figures, the replacement cost is $15,000 for an employee earning the U.S. median annual salary of $45,000, according to the Work Institute’s “2017 Retention Report.” The study of 34,000 respondents concluded that more than 75% of employee turnover is preventable.

A common statistic attributed to the U.S. Department of Labor is that the average cost of a bad hire is 30% of his or her annual earnings. When you hire the wrong mid-level accounting manager or application developer and pay him or her $60,000 annually, the real annual cost to your organization is $78,000 per year.

When someone is leaving, you pay a price one way or another. Why not value that person and add value to your team by doing an exit interview?

The exit interview gives you information to reflect on and investigate. It isn’t about trying to keep the person who is leaving but, rather, giving them an opportunity for closure, allowing them to say what they need to say, and providing you with information that can make the workplace better for others and avoid future fallout.

First, you’ll want to understand why the employee wants to leave. Most people will give a politically correct answer to prevent conflict and quickly move on. However, with a few questions, you might be able to uncover the truth behind the resignation. It’s also important to understand the person’s experience with the culture of the team and the workplace. Often, one person has an experience others are having, too.

Here are a few questions to help glean understanding from the human person who is getting off the bus for the sake of the humans who are still on the bus. (Note: It is a good idea to have two people do an exit interview — typically a human resources professional and the employee’s manager.)

Your Work

  • What did you like the most and the least about your job?
  • In your job, what was the best and the worst day like?
  • Did you feel like a valued part of the team? (Explain why or why not.)
  • To be successful in this role, what do you think is important? Did you feel successful? Why or why not?
  • What unspoken expectations do you feel exist for this role?
  • What would you change about your role?


  • What made you decide to leave?
  • Did you talk with anyone about your concerns who had the ability to address them? How did you feel they were addressed or not addressed?
  • Is there anything we could have done better?
  • Are there changes you change you would recommend for the person who takes the role next?
  • What qualities are important for the person who fills this role?


  • What was your experience of the company’s culture?
  • How would you rate employee morale? Why?
  • What could we have done to keep you here?
  • Would you ever consider returning to the company?

At the end of the meeting, thank the employee for their time, and wish them the best.

The information you can gather from an exit interview is valuable. Create a process for what you do with exit interview findings. For example, it’s a good idea for the human resources professional or the manager to write a summary of recommendations and possible action items following the interview. Have a list of leaders to share the information with and a process to ensure that they review and consider the information.

When someone gets off the bus, it doesn’t have to cause a fire drill. It is simply an opportunity to see the company from the back of the bus and clean up any issues that might help reduce challenges and increase passengers’ enjoyment and satisfaction with the ride.