In a perfect world, the exit interview is an opportunity for employees to be brutally honest about why they’re leaving a company, whether the motivation is connected to the employer’s shortcomings, and if the departure could have been prevented.
Like any other corporate ritual, it can easily turn into a performance, where both actors have reasons to play by unwritten rules about keeping the exchange superficial. The outgoing employee, for one, may not want to leave a final impression that’s negative, and may not trust that any feedback they give will not be linked to their name. The HR staffer conducting the interview might be reluctant to dig deep.
But exit interviews seem to come in a completely different flavor at Patagonia, a company that boasts of an extremely low turnover rate among its corporate staff, about 4% annually, according to chief human resources officer Dean Carter. “So few people leave that I can look them in the eye and say, ‘Let’s talk,’” Carter said earlier this month in a presentation at the Qualtrics X4 Experience Management Summit in Salt Lake City, adding, “so they all know if they’re going to leave, they have to talk to me.”