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Using Exit Interviews to Prevent Disaster

April 25 - Posted at 2:01 PM Tagged: , , , , , , , , ,

Current as well as former employees have information that could prevent accidents and disasters and it is up to HR to gather it and help solve problems that could lead to future catastrophes.


“The sooner you can get the feedback the better, because you can solve problems before it is too late,” said Beth Carvin, the president and CEO at Nobscot Corp., an HR technology company that specializes in employee retention and development.


She feels that HR should be conducting exit interviews, especially in high risk occupations like health care, to identify any areas that may put the company, its customers, and consumers at risk.


Case in point is the fungal meningitis outbreak in late 2012 among patients who received contaminated steroid injections. The main focus of the investigation of this disaster was the New England Compounding Center (NECC), a pharmacy in Massachusetts, but ex-employees of Ameridose, a drug manufacturer that shared many of the same owners as NECC, came forward later with claims that NECC’s corporate culture encouraged shortcuts even if it compromised safety.


According to The New York Times, one ex-quality control technician at Ameridose stated that he was overruled by management when he tried to stop the production line when he spotted missing labels. An ex-pharmacist said she resigned because she was worried that unqualified people were preparing dangerous narcotics for use by hospitals. A salesman shared that he was allowed into the sterile lab to help out with packaging and labeling during rush orders, without any prior training.


Employees, as shown, had strong concerns about business practices as both the NECC and Ameridose. Carvin expressed that this case is a big reminder of how important getting this kind of feedback in an exit interview is. Collecting data like this during an exit interview may have allowed someone in HR to make changes before the fungal meningitis disaster occurred.


A Listening Culture


So how exactly can HR use employee feedback to prevent a costly tragedy?


One of the first steps is to create and maintain a work environment and company culture where open communication is encouraged.


Employees should feel comfortable to share their concerns on policies and practices, especially when they relate to safety and compliance. It is important to create a culture where you listen to your employees and they actually believe that you are listening. 


Once you provide opportunities for employees to give feedback, you must then also act upon it, Carvin advised.  This is the challenge that faces HR. You get busy and may not have time to deal with the feedback collected, but in order to becoming a listening culture, you should try to act on the information you receive from employees.


And it is important to communicate this to employees as well. If you implement something based on employee feedback, let them know that you are doing this as a result of employee feedback. The more you do that, the more feedback you will end up receiving.


Make The Business Case


Managers also need to be trained on the importance of balancing business needs with safety and to take frontline employee concerns seriously.


Carvin explained that this is where HR needs to be involved. “In the contaminated steroid tragedy, if HR had identified that safety was being set aside in favor of speed, they could have made a case to senior management for why this was bad not just from a consumer safety standpoint but also from a business prospective”.


Especially in high risk occupations, HR should analyze the information for trends and share important findings and recommendations with senior management. HR can then help facilitate discussions and set up task forces for the next steps.


How to Gather Employee Feedback


The key to gathering employee feedback is a systematic approach.  Employee responses should be gathered in such a way that they transform from anecdotal stories (most often collected from a few disgruntled employees) into information that help shine light on specific and objective trends.


You need to be able to show your data is transforming from the anecdotal, which senior management will typically write off, to being aggregated and tracked. You will begin to notice that an issue will come up from not just one person but three or four, and then maybe seven, as your data builds up over time.


In exit interviews, you want to go beyond the “Why did you leave?” questions. You want to have employees rate the company on a number of factors like the work environment, direct supervisors and senior management, and try to get feedback on all aspects of their workplace experience. This is when you will see the issues start to come out.

HR staff should use both quantitative and qualitative ratings, noted Carvin. The quantitative points to where the issues are while the qualitative lets you understand the data better as it lets you know what the concern is.


To get the most out of an exit interview, Carvin suggests HR should break the data down into departments. Each department may have its own concerns, even among job types. You could then break the data down even further into gender and race and really pinpoint issues before they get bigger.

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