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Exit Interviews Vs Engagement Conversations

Khalid Raza, Director-Talent Acquisition and Leadership Development, Altisource

Last week, a millennial (let’s call him Sunny), who has been a good performer and a potential leader, resigned. He came from one of the top MBA institutes in India, had a well compensating job and was involved in meaningful assignments. What went wrong? As usual, the HR Partner (let’s call her Rose) went through the exit interview motions to discuss the case, on the last day. Do you see the problem? Sunny had mentally exited the system and company long ago, yet the best day chosen to find out the reason was the last day of his employment. The excerpts of the interview highlighted the ‘open secret’ once again. The reason why employees leave vary – from compensation to promotion, from lack of connect to absence of recognition, from unhealthy culture set by leaders to discriminating/unproductive policies. If you are wondering, how do I retain people, then this article is not for you. You may stop reading now. Retention, like the exit interview done by Rose, is an act of post-mortem, which yields less than desirable results as the objective is lost. For starters, exit Interviews – l personally prefer to call it engagement conversation – it sounds better and gives a proactive connotation, should be done at the first instance of exit process. Sometimes it may be a formal entry on your HRMS, or it could be a conversation. But are you listening?

Gallup research shows that only 13% of employees around the world are actively engaged at work, and more than twice that number are so disengaged, that they are likely to spread negativity to others. [Suggested Reading: How to keep your employees engaged]

“The concept of employee engagement is often confused with satisfaction or happiness, but it’s really about an employee’s psychological investment in their organization and motivation to produce extraordinary results. Companies with employees who are above average engagement levels will see better employee productivity, lower turnover rates and higher customer satisfaction scores – all factors that can significantly contribute to improved financial performance.” – Ken Oehler, Aon’s Global Culture & Engagement Practice Leader

As per Aon’s 2018 Employee Engagement Report, after last year’s dip – the first since 2012 – employee engagement matched its all-time high. This rebound is driven largely from the biggest markets in Asia and a major surge in engagement in Africa. [Download Report]

What is the issue then?

Specialty recruitment firms Accounting Principals and Ajilon released the results of a new joint survey exploring job search trends among more than 1,000 US full-time workers in sales, office and management/professional occupations. The survey found that one fourth of respondents (25.7 percent) are actively seeking new job opportunities and over half of respondents (55.5 percent) are passively open to new job opportunities.

We may continue to debate on the percentages or get the message which is very clear – employees will leave if they are not engaged. The biggest role is played by leaders and managers. As per Udemy, nearly half of employees said they’ve quit a job because of a bad manager, 56% think managers are promoted prematurely and 60% think managers need managerial training. Yet organizations continue to ignore this piece of critical feedback.

I spoke with Rose on the outcomes of the ‘Conversation’ she had with Sunny. She felt Sunny could not take the pressure and therefore left. She had a smile on her face as she prepared herself for yet another ‘Exit Interview’.

I recently moderated a panel discussion, organized by #HRSuccessTalk on the topic of Best Practices in Employee Engagement at BML Munjal University. The panel included Capt Mahesh, C.S. Bhakuni (Director-HR, ANI News), P. K. Gupta (Corporate-Head Human Resources, Tex Corp Limited), Piyush Govil (Associate Director- Human Capital, Infozech Software) and Anil Jha (Head HR, Sharda Motors Industries Limited). The conversation revolved around stoking the passion and career development, and yet many organization still prefer to focus on arranging birthday cakes! The panel also pondered how each professional is also responsible for their engagement, however organization should lead the way. Employer Value Proposition (EVP) has become a pivotal aspect in talent attraction and retention.

I floated a conversation on LinkedIn on motivation, which has garnered 86k views already with 350+ comments. The responses revolved around Culture, People, Vision, Learning, Career, Growth, Compensation, and Challenges (very interesting ones). I’m not surprised at the outcome as engagement means different things to different people. Please note – No one mentioned birthday cakes, office parties, free food or red bean bags.

I have been also involved in another panel online focusing on EVP and the outcomes have been very insightful. Please read this post, which has couple of excerpt videos articulating the learning. Maike Van Oyen, one of the panelists posits that an employee who is happy with his benefits, salary and workplace can still feel compelled to leave. Therefore strong EVP’s should cover both aspects and companies should be aware of the differences between employee satisfaction and employee engagement

Let’s appreciate and accept that employees come to work for 5 Cs – Career, Compensation, Community, Content and Climate and if those are managed well, it creates a compelling employee value – which in turn attracts new talent and retains existing ones. To understand what your employees need, go out there and talk to them, allow them to be open and listen with intent. Else, you’d end up like Rose, who is still conducting ‘Exit Interviews’ on the last day of employment and files the outcomes that no one will read. Or you could decide to establish timely ‘Engagement Conversations’ to gain feedback and act on them.

Edited by: Vanitha Poojary

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