In The Workplace

Our top management has decided to retrench 30% of our workforce due to the adverse effects of COVID-19 on our business. Our plan is almost complete, except for a question from one department vice-president asking our human resource department about the propriety of conducting exit interviews. What do you think? Is it appropriate for us to conduct exit interviews or not? — Blue Mango.

At a summer religious camp for grade school children, one of the counsellors was leading a discussion on the purpose God has set for all of His creation. They began to find good reason for clouds, trees, rocks, rivers and animals and just about everything in nature. Finally, one of the children said: “If everything has a purpose, then why did God create poison ivy?”

One of the children came to the discussion leader’s rescue by saying: “The reason God made poison ivy is that He wanted us to keep our hands off certain things.”

True enough. There are things we should not touch depending on the circumstances. In your case, you are dismissing a lot of people from the workforce. That means you’re doing something against the employees’ interests, which is contrary to the rationale behind exit interviews — to determine the gaps between what the employer can provide as compared to the workers’ expectations.

Of course, you are allowed to retrench people as long as you comply with certain legal requirements which I’d like to believe have been complied with. And that’s not easy for people who have worked with you for a long time. But these are difficult times. You need to bite the bullet if only to ensure survival and save the jobs of other people.

Therefore, I would recommend that you not proceed with exit interviews if only to avoid emotionally-fraught face-to-face encounters with the retrenched staff. Instead, the HR department should make them fill out a one-page questionnaire which will be a requirement for receiving terminal pay and signing the quit claim.

You will notice that some of the following important questions may resemble those questions you find in a typical exit interview, except with a different slant:

One, are you be willing to be rehired under a different employment contract? This is a modified close-ended question answerable by “yes” or “no.” Whatever the answer, require the retrenched worker to justify it. If the answer is “yes,” somehow, that suggests the employee is happy with your organization. Whatever the answer, try not to raise anyone’s expectations about a return to work.

Two, will you allow us to release your personal information to your new employer? If your answer is “yes,” make them sign an updated, formal waiver in favor of a prospective employee or business partner when the time comes. This question is in anticipation of a background check by the employee’s prospective employer or partner, and is a requirement of the Data Privacy Law.

Even if an employee was undesirable while in your employ, never make any damaging statements that could trigger a lawsuit. Instead, focus on giving only the hiring date and last day of employment as required by law.

Three, would you be willing to be contacted for certain unfinished projects and freelance consulting work? If the answer is “yes,” require the former employee to indicate a contact number, e-mail address, and residence. Note also that you’re lumping “unfinished projects” with “freelance consulting work.” This means you’re willing to pay the person for unfinished projects.

If the answer is “no,” you should take that to mean that the former employee has some issues against the company or its management team. If that happens, don’t force the matter. Remember, you’re not doing an exit interview.

Last, would you recommend anyone from the company as your possible replacement? If the answer is “yes,” the follow-up question should be to ask for the names of the top two choices and the reason for the endorsement. Once again, do not give the retrenched employee any indication that his recommendation will be followed. On the other hand, if the answer is “no,” that might mean the employee was not happy with your company.

Retrenchment is a difficult and painful process, not only for management but for all non-management employees, including the survivors. It’s not the time to blame the workers and open old wounds. However, ignoring the possibility of an unpleasant confrontation does not solve the fact that you are losing talented employees who may be the key to the company’s profitability and survival.

Therefore, do whatever it takes to soften the impact on the line managers who may have to deal with workers face-to-face. Instead, let the matter be handled by the HR department so the policy is consistently applied to all concerned.


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