The exit interview can be a further mechanism to operationalize compliance. This type of interview is used when someone voluntarily departs from a company, as opposed to a lay-off or reduction in force exercise. Typically departing employees are more willing to share about their experiences, concerns and issues which led to their employment departure.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review, entitled “Making Exit Interviews Count, authors Everett Spain and Boris Groysberg demonstrate that exit interviews, when conducted with care, can be a very useful tool in two important areas: to increase employee engagement, to reveal what may not be working in the organization. These points speak directly to operationalizing compliance through Human Resources (HR). Exit interviews can provide insight into what employees are thinking, reveal problems in the organization, and shed light on the competitive landscape. They believe that companies should focus on six goals in their exit interviews, that there must be an emphasis in both “tactics and techniques” and, finally, that the process is a continuing conversation.

Uncover issues. Organizations “that conduct exit interviews almost always pursue this goal but often focus too narrowly on salary and benefits.” The problem with this approach is that salary concerns are not usually what drives employees to seek employment elsewhere. It is almost always something else. The article stated, “One leader from a food and beverage company told us that exit interviews inform his company’s succession planning and talent management process.”

Understand employees’ perceptions of the work itself. The person conducting the exit interview understand the departing employee’s job design, working conditions, culture, and peers. By understanding and questioning the employee on this information, the exit interview “can help managers improve employee motivation, efficiency, coordination, and effectiveness.”

Gain insight into managers’ leadership styles and effectiveness. Leadership style is an important reason many employees depart for greener pastures. By inquiring into and understanding this dynamic, an organization can begin to “reinforce positive managers and identify toxic ones. One executive at a major restaurant chain told us that several exit interviews she’d recently conducted revealed that micromanagement was a big problem. The conversations, she said, “led to some very tangible outcomes,”” such as establishing training and development initiatives to create better managers.”

Learn about HR benchmarks (salary, benefits) at competing organizations. While salaries and compensation packages are usually not the driver of departures, they certainly do play a role. You should use the exit interview to do some benchmarking. The authors cited to a HR executive at a global food and beverage who noted, “We use exit interviews to see how competitive we are against other employers: time off, ability to advance, different benefits, and pay packages. And we want to see who is poaching our people.”

Foster innovation by soliciting ideas for improving the organization. The authors believe that exit interviews should go beyond the departing employee’s “immediate experience to cover broader areas, such as company strategy, marketing, operations, systems, competition, and the structure of his or her division.” They cite as one “emerging best practice is to ask every departing employee something along the lines of “Please complete the sentence ‘I don’t know why the company doesn’t just ____.’” This approach may reveal trends which can be incorporated into future innovations.”

Create lifelong advocates for the organization. This is perhaps the most innovative, yet in many ways the most basic, which is of course to treat departing employees with dignity, respect and gratitude. Such treatment at departure may well encourage departing employees to recommend their former companies to potential employees, to use and recommend the companies’ products and services, and to create business alliances between their former and new employers. The authors cite to one North American financial services executive for the following, “You want [a departing employee] to leave as an ambassador and customer.”

Finally are issues around hotlines, whistleblower and retaliation claims. The starting point for layoffs should be whatever your company plan is going forward. The retaliation cases turn on whether actions taken by the company were in retaliation for the hotline or whistleblower report. This means you will need to mine your hotline more closely for those employees who are scheduled or in line to be laid off. If there are such persons who have reported a FCPA, Code of Conduct or other ethical violation, you should move to triage and investigate, if appropriate, the allegation sooner rather than later. This may mean you move up research of an allegation to come to a faster resolution ahead of other claims. It may also mean you put some additional short-term resources on your hotline triage and investigations if you know layoffs are coming.

The reason for these actions are to allow you to demonstrate that any laid off employee was not separated because of a hotline or whistleblower allegation but due to your overall layoff scheme. However, it could be that you may need this person to provide your compliance department additional information, to be a resource to you going forward, or even a witness that you can reasonably anticipate the government may want to interview. If any of these situations exist, if you do not plan for their eventuality before the employee layoff, said (now) ex-employee may not be inclined to cooperate with you going forward. Also if you do demonstrate that you are sincerely interested in a meritorious hotline complaint, it may keep this person from becoming a SEC whistleblower.

Three Key Takeaways

  1. The exit interview is an excellent opportunity to obtain information to inform your compliance program.
  2. Use the exit interview to create advocates from departing employees.
  3. Use the exit interview for probing and insight questions around compliance.


This month’s series is sponsored by Advanced Compliance Solutions and its new service offering the “Compliance Alliance” which is a three-step program that will provide you and your team a background into compliance and the FCPA so you can consider how your product or service fits into the needs of a compliance officer. It includes a FCPA and compliance boot camp, sponsorship of a one-month podcast series, and in-person training. Each section builds on the other and provides your customer service and sales teams with the knowledge they need to have intelligent conversations with compliance officers and decision makers. When the program is complete, your teams will be armed with the knowledge they need to sell and service every new client. Interested parties should contact Tom Fox.