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MANAGING STAFF

“Why are you leaving us?” 5 key questions to ask staffers who resign

There’s good information to be had from a staffer who’s leaving.

People who have resigned “don’t have a hidden agenda.” They tend to be candid and forthcoming, and the manager can get valuable feedback from them, says Marcia W. Wasserman of Comprehensive Management Solutions, Inc., a practice management consulting firm in Northridge, CA.

Here are a few rules to follow and a few questions to ask.

Two minutes before the exit

Do the interviewing just as the staffer is ready to walk out the door. That means late afternoon of the last day.

The 11th-hour timing ensures that whatever negative remarks the staffer makes won’t carry repercussion. And repercussion is a consideration, Wasserman says. Suppose the interview is held the day Staffer A gives notice, and something unfavorable is said about Doctor B. Word could get out, and Doctor B could make the staffer’s life difficult for the remaining days.

Beyond the unpleasantness of it, the situation could lead to a claim of retaliation.

Getting the goods

Open the interview by telling the staffer that participation is voluntary, but that the doctors value what people say – good and bad – because the information identifies things that need improvement or change.

As to what to ask, Wasserman sets out these questions:

  • Why are you leaving? The answer may be straightforward and truthful. But most employees hold back here, she says, so the next questions elicit more specific information.
  • What did you enjoy most about working here? Starting out with something positive about the office makes it easier for the staffer to discuss the bad points later.
  • What did you like least about working here? Many people leave their jobs because of a life change such as the birth of a child. But when somebody is leaving because of discontent, the manager needs to know about it. And the answer to this question is usually the exact thing that has led to the departure.

What if the answer is that the salary is too low?

Somebody who cites pay as the issue is fishing for more money, Wasserman says. Don’t take the bait. That person isn’t committed to staying and will resign again as soon as another good offer comes along.

What’s more, when people make up their minds to leave “98 percent of the time, they’re going to leave.”

  • How was your relationship with your supervisor? Look into whatever problem the staffer mentions, because it could be an issue for the other staff as well.

It could be something as fixable as the fact that the supervisor gives poor directions. More serious, however, is a report of harassment or retaliation that calls for serious action.

  • Do you think the technology here supports our needs? People leave over technology. Sometimes they leave out of frustration, but other times they leave out of concern that not keeping up with new technology will affect their careers.
  • What can we do to get our staff to be more productive? Good suggestions often appear. The staffer may have an innovative way to share work or to reroute it or to change the job descriptions.
  • Is the pay competitive? People may dance around personal problems, but they are “very forthcoming” about whether pay and benefits are up to par. The office could be paying too little to attract good staff. It could also be paying more than the market requires.
  • How was the orientation? People leave when they don’t feel part of the team, and team building is greatly dependent on the orientation. If the staffer says “I never felt I fit in here,” take a second look at the orientation procedure.
  • Does your job description accurately describe what you do? The staffer may have been doing “a whole lot more work than anybody realizes,” and some of it may be unnecessary or even inappropriate. The answer might be, for example, that a lot of time is being spent running personal errands for a doctor even though office policy prohibits it.
  • Is there anything I should know about that we haven’t covered here? Be prepared for hidden bombs, she says, because at this point of the interview, “people feel safe.” They don’t mind mentioning what’s going on.

The staffer might say, for example, that another employee is being harassed but doesn’t want to report it for fear of losing the job.

Need-to-know and no more

Who gets to see the interview results?

Share them with the doctors, but only on a need-to-know basis. Report only what’s alarming or great or that requires investigation.

Don’t share the results with all the doctors. There’s no need to embarrass Doctor A by telling everybody about the staffer’s criticism of A’s work habits.


Editor’s picks:

How to spot the employees about to quit and how to change their minds


What’s the ’employee experience’ like at your medical practice?


Are you the reason your employees quit?


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