Kellie G. Olah
SPHR, CVPM, SHRM-SCP
HR Huddle columnist Kellie Olah is the practice management and human resources consultant at Veterinary Business Advisors. The company provides legal, human resources and practice management services to veterinarians nationwide. Olah is a certified veterinary practice manager, a certified veterinary business leader and a nationally certified senior professional in human resources.Read Articles Written by Kellie G. Olah
Among the most valuable assets at your veterinary practice are your employees. A team member’s permanent departure can present both a challenge for a clinic as well as a silver-lining opportunity for management to gather insights through an exit interview. To help your practice extract maximum value from the situation, I’ll address the who, what, when, where, why and how of the final meeting.
Employees have deep knowledge about what works well at your practice and doesn’t work. They might not have felt comfortable sharing their thoughts earlier but now they feel freer to have an honest conversation.
An exit interview allows you to glean information about why an employee is leaving and then possibly use it to improve working conditions, boost productivity and worker retention, and save money. After all, recruiting, hiring and training new employees isn’t cheap.
Why people leave your practice can range from dissatisfaction with pay and benefits to having been recruited by a competitor to problems with management or a co-worker. Some people might be reluctant to share their concerns even on the way out, while others will be happy to talk.
Conducting exit interviews will help you to identify patterns. If one person admits she is leaving because of a particular manager, a personality conflict might be the reason. If four out of the past five people who left mentioned the same manager, you have an entirely different issue.
The exit interview should involve the departing employee and one or more people who will conduct the interview and take notes. Many companies assume that the interview is a human resources function and that the HR manager handles the meeting. Although that approach can elicit helpful information, an HR manager almost certainly will focus on HR issues — salary, benefits and so forth — and might miss the bigger scope.
Having the employee’s direct supervisor do the interview can create a comfortable atmosphere if their work relationship was open and positive. However, if the employee is leaving, at least in part, because of the supervisor, his or her involvement can be fraught with difficulty.
Some experts suggest assigning the task to the supervisor’s supervisor, or one level above that in a large company. At a small practice, the hospital owner might be the one. For some exiting employees, talking with the owner could feel intimidating, but others might view it as a sign that feedback will be taken seriously.
A few companies hire a consultant to conduct exit interviews, but a veterinary practice might not want to spend the money. On the positive side, employees can feel more comfortable giving authentic feedback to a neutral party. Plus, an experienced consultant should be able to draw out valuable insights.
As you can see, there is no single right answer. Make a savvy choice and try to improve the interview process whenever possible.
The first part of the process is to schedule and hold the exit interview. (Continue reading for the when and where.) Tell the employee that the purpose of the meeting is to get feedback that could improve working conditions and better satisfy employee needs.
Have a set of questions ready to use but allow for flexibility. For example, you could start by asking why the person is leaving. Two common responses are:
- I got a better job.
- I’m going to take a break from the workforce and spend more time with my young children.
Given the first response, you might follow up with:
- Why is the new job better? Is it about the salary, benefits, flexibility or something else?
- When did you start looking for a new job? What was the triggering event?
- Why did you accept the new job? What was most appealing about it?
With someone looking for more family time and assuming you’d like to retain the employee, you might ask whether the job could be restructured. Is a part-time position available?
Other general questions to ask during an exit interview include:
- Did we provide you with what you needed to do your job well?
- Did you receive helpful and clear feedback from us?
- What else could we have provided you in terms of training or equipment?
- What do you think about our practice’s culture?
- If you could change some things about our culture or working conditions, what would they be?
- What would have helped you to stay at our practice?
- Were you happy or at least satisfied with management here? If not, why?
- Would you consider returning if the opportunity arose? Why or why not?
A best practice is to conduct the exit interview a few days before the employee departs. If the meeting is held when the person gives notice — perhaps two weeks or a month out — the employee might be reluctant to provide frank feedback. After all, the employee would still be working for a while with people he or she might want to criticize.
Conversely, avoid holding an exit interview on an employee’s last day. The person might be thinking about the future and won’t focus on the interview. Other employees, perhaps emotionally touched by a going-away party, might provide only undeserved glowing feedback.
Exit interviews should be held face to face and in a place that’s convenient and private. The location could range from an office where the conversation won’t be overheard to a restaurant where a reasonably uninterrupted chat could take place over lunch.
How should you respond to an employee’s feedback? The management team should analyze the information to see whether changes should be made to better meet the needs of the remaining employees. For example, should any fringe benefits be added to your menu? Should your practice offer more training opportunities? Can flex time be carved into schedules?
After any changes, update the employee manual and monitor the effects on employee satisfaction, productivity and retention.
As valuable as exit interviews can be, they are a look into the past. The feedback comes from employees who no longer will be part of your practice.
That’s why I recommend “stay” interviews with the best of your current employees. These meetings help you keep a finger on your practice’s pulse.
How satisfied are your star employees? What issues are most important to them? Have they considered seeking another job? If so, when and why? Are any of them being recruited by other employers?
Knowing all this helps you compare departing employees’ feedback with that of star team members. What can you learn and change to strengthen your veterinary practice?