Interviewing employees on the way out

Exit interviews with departing employees can provide valuable information to farm managers to help sharpen management, correct mistakes and retain employees

Managing a business means that information is gathered and used to make decisions to improve the operation. Agricultural business managers do that with yield changes, health problems, cost changes and more. However, in the very important area of labor management, we often neglect to gather information, and as a result, the business suffers. This is the case when we don’t understand what factors were involved in employees’ decisions to leave.

Operating an agricultural business successfully usually means that we achieve goals through quality employees. Hiring and keeping good employees, and helping them become better, is critical to that success. When productive employees leave, we often miss the opportunity to gather information from them that will help improve labor management and possibly, farm profitability.

Michigan State University Extension suggests exit interviews as a strategy to collect information with which managers could improve the performance of all present and future employees. However, exit interviews are rarely used among agricultural producers.

Will employees provide honest feedback to their employer when they decide to leave? They may not, which is why businesses typically utilize a third-party interviewer such as a personnel director or employment service. The interview should be about gathering objective information, not defending the way things were done.

There are several areas that managers could gain good information about through exit interviews starting with questions about the employee’s understanding of farm mission, goals and how they contributed to them. What did they believe were their roles and responsibilities? The perception of roles and responsibilities gets to the issue of communication and consistency in management.

Sometimes managers assume that employees know the goals and how their performance relates to those. But assuming that doesn’t make it so.

Find out about the adequacy of employee training and development. Were operations and policies clear to employees? Was adequate training provided and support in place to learn the necessary skills?

Employees who are leaving should be questioned about whether they felt they received feedback about their performance frequently enough and whether or not it was useful feedback. Was the feedback specific enough to allow them to improve performance? Ask your employees. Employees who don’t feel their work is noticed, appreciated or recognized will not be long-term employees.

There are areas of agricultural operations that need to be evaluated and can only be evaluated by asking employees. Did they feel free to make suggestions about improving operations? Were their ideas sought and valued? Was the personal safety of employees a priority? Were the working conditions suitable? Were all employees treated equitably and was compensation fair?

Ask about specific changes that would have improved the work experience in those areas. Finally, ask why the employee is leaving and what key factors resulted in the decision to leave.

The truth is that farm managers can be blind to some things. These blind spots become weaknesses. Employees can help fill in those areas we don’t see well.

Managers often struggle with labor management yet don’t learn from those who could best provide valuable input. Exit interviews don’t take the place of evaluations and getting feedback from employees on a regular basis, but they can provide valuable information through which you can become a better manager.

Think about what you want to know about and start drafting questions. You might try them out on current employees to let them know that you are interested in their opinions. If you have input on this topic, experience to share or questions, please email me at

When you ask and listen, you’ll learn.

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