Opening the doors of retention during exit interviews

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Healthcare facilities across the country are feeling the growing hunger for nurses. Recent statistics are alarming, showing that as many as 60% of new hires are leaving prior to their first-year anniversary. But what if these moments when the doors are closing for one nurse can be used to prop doors open for others?

Retention experts, such as, Lydia Ostermeier, MSN, RN, CHCR and Shelley Cohen, RN, BSN, CEN, are emphasizing the need for effective exit interviews more than ever before.

"This is very important to get a finger on your pulse-to know why people are exiting your organization," said Ostermeier, director of nurse recruitment, retention, workforce development, resource allocation, and patient visitor representatives at Clarian Health in Indianapolis, IN, during a recent HCPro audioconference entitled, Retention in Nursing: Top Solutions to Keep Nurses from Hire to Retire.

If conducted properly, exit interviews can provide insight into the areas that should be improved in a facility. By using the information, nurse managers can learn how to create a satisfying work environment for remaining staff members, and ones that have not yet been brought on board.

There are consistencies in the reasons why nurses are departing so soon, according to Ostermeier and Cohen, president of Health Resources Unlimited in Hohenwald, TN. For some, it is a lack of clear communication, unsatisfactory relationships with management and coworkers, or a poor work-life balance. Others were dissatisfied with the scheduling process, believed there was an unfair distribution of the workload, or felt there was a lack of recognition from management.

Conducting the exit interview

The exit interview is not a difficult process, but there are some key points to keep in mind. Ostermeier insists on completing the exit interview prior to the last day of employment, but close enough to departure as possible.

"You want to make sure it is done by someone other than the person's nurse manager or somebody that is close to the unit where they worked so they give candid responses," said Ostermeier. "And you want to make sure that you follow up on concerns."

It should also be done in an uninterrupted, phone and page-free environment where the person conducting the interview takes the opportunity to listen more than they talk. He or she should focus on asking direct and pointed questions, while making sure not to ask too many so the employee gets uncomfortable. The interview should be completely non-threatening for the employee and one that results in direct communication back to the manager.

When it comes time to conduct the next exit interview at your facility, have the interviewer consider Cohen's following sample questions:

  • Was there one key reason for your decision to leave?
  • Is there anything that could have been done or changed that would have prompted you to stay?
  • Can we do anything at this point that would encourage you to stay?
  • Do you feel you received adequate training for your job?
  • If you could change one thing about this organization, what would it be?
  • If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
  • What about your job satisfied you the most?
  • What about your job was the least satisfying to you?
  • What does your new job offer you that we were unable to provide?

Reference: Health Workforce Solutions

Editor's note: Interested in hearing more great retention advice? You can purchase a copy of the audioconference, Retention in Nursing: Top Solutions to Keep Nurses from Hire to Retire at