Exit Interviews for a Small Business

Published On: February 17, 2023By Categories: Business Management, People at Work, Workforce Development

These are worth conducting because they can lead to important changes.

By Alexander Walsh

For a small business without much time to spare, is giving an exit interview worth it?

Yes, it definitely is worth conducting an exit interview if you are a small business owner or manager, and here’s why.

Know What’s Happening

By and large, most employees at small businesses are hard workers who are willing to put in the time and effort to make things succeed. If they give up on either for any reason, you need to know why.

Here are some of the most likely reasons. Sometimes employees who are leaving might have medical or personal reasons for no longer wanting to stay at your workplace. A family crisis can convince someone it is time to move on. Maybe an employee has received a job offer from another company.

If any of these are the reasons someone is leaving your company, then your business doesn’t need to make any changes. Chances are anything you did would not have made any difference to the person departing.

All the same, when someone leaves a company, it is more likely the departing employee had a problem. Something prompted that employee to want to leave and you need to do your best to find out what it was.

Maybe they weren’t getting along with someone else in the company, or faced an oddly hostile environment, or didn’t feel they got the support they needed to succeed in their job.

Small businesses are in a unique position because they can make substantive changes following an exit interview. Employee separation can be difficult—but it can be educational too. This is especially true if you can get the employee who is quitting to reveal the reason they’re leaving.

Using the Information to Grow

Exit interviews will be a waste of time if you’re not willing to make changes based on what you hear.

Common complaints among lower-level employees are they feel their words, what they say don’t matter to the company, and that their superiors aren’t actually interested in changes. And as difficult as it may be to acknowledge, management sometimes is the problem.

Try to avoid this from happening as much as possible. If you stop listening to your employees, then you stop being innovative. Few things are more likely to create discord in the ranks than hiring good talent and then refusing to listen to them.

The real goal of exit interviews is learning whatever you can to keep the rest of your team around. Larger companies can deal with the loss of several individuals, but small businesses, they don’t have that luxury. Every person who leaves a small business can make a significant dent in the operation of the company.

If you’re seeing signs that a goodly number of employees want to quit, you need to fix things immediately.

Setting the Tone

The exit interview should be one of the last steps of the offboarding process before the employee walks out the door. Ideally, it should be conducted by the company owner or a human resources manager if your business has that position.

A direct supervisor can also be a part of the conversation. But keep in mind this could cause the employee to be more hesitant in disclosing any issues they had.

Here are a few other best practices to keep in mind as you develop your process:

  • Ask questions in a thoughtful and consistent manner.
  • Be mindful of compliance laws and what you can and cannot ask employees.
  • Keep the meeting more conversational than formal.
  • Listen for subtle cues and ask follow-up questions as appropriate.
  • And finally, be sure to document responses.

It is important to set the right tone for the interview. The employee may have their reasons to lack trust in the process. Try to have the conversation in a comfortable yet private setting.

To start, explain what the goals of the meeting are and how you’ll be using their feedback to improve experiences for current and future employees. Be sure to share with the person you’re interviewing that you value their honest feedback, and that all responses will be handled confidentially.

Exit Questions

When possible, use open-ended questions that allow the employee to share as much or as little as they’d like.

Here are 11 examples of questions you can ask. Pick the ones that are most relevant to your business and your experience with that employee.

Why did you decide to leave your position?

With this question, you can learn more about the challenges this employee faced, which might apply to other current employees as well. Awareness is the first step in addressing any problem.

What prompted you to accept your new position?

If the employee is going elsewhere, it helps to gain an understanding of what other companies are doing better than yours, especially if the employee is staying local or in the same industry.

What did you like most about your work here?

As you talk to more exiting employees, you may notice certain positive themes appearing. These responses can inform the hiring process and job descriptions when onboarding new employees.

Do you feel like your manager or boss gave you enough support in your role?

It is important to understand any issues that could recur with a specific supervisor so they can receive training to help them better perform their job duties.

Do you feel that your contributions and achievements were recognized?

It’s helpful to know if your managers are only giving their team negative feedback, or if they’re taking the time to point out and recognize a job well done.

Did your manager provide you with constructive feedback on projects and tasks?

Managers should do this frequently, so it’s important to know whether or not this is a deficiency or problem.

Did the company give you enough training and support to pursue your goals?

Employee engagement—which leads to higher employee retention—is often tied to training programs and career advancement.

Is there anything specific that we could have done to help you advance in the company and your career?

Gather as many ideas as you can from your exiting employee on how to help your team reach their goals.

Is there anything that you feel could be done to improve the workplace environment?

The employee might give you helpful insights that you never considered before, especially if you work in a different area or don’t see them every day.

Were you happy with the benefits that you received in your position?

Use the exit interview to find out if it’s time to take a closer look at what you’re offering your team—and where you can improve.

Would you recommend the company to a friend?

This isn’t a throw-away question. This will give you a good overall perspective of how the employee feels about the company.


An exit interview when an employee departs isn’t always easy for a small business. It can feel like it is hard to make the time for one. However, it is an important part of a company’s growth strategy and definitely worth conducting properly.

Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.

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