the what, why, when and how to conduct exit interviews

Why do people resign from your clinic?   If you don’t know why people are leaving, the brain drain will just keep perpetuating which will make it even harder to attract, let alone retain, top talent at your place.

You need to ask the questions to find out what’s going on (or not going on) in your clinic that’s behind people leaving.  That’s what this episode is all about – helping you ask the right questions so you can do something about the brain drain at your veterinary clinic.

Why do top performing vets, nurses, techs and support staff leave a veterinary clinic?

If you listened to Dr Francesca Brown back in episode 29, you’ll have heard her talk about how it costs a clinic between 2x and 4x a departing employee’s annual salary to replace that person.  

The thing is, you can’t stop the staff turnover bleed at your clinic if you don’t know why they’re leaving in the first place.

That’s why you absolutely must conduct exit interviews.

Knowing why staff are leaving in the first place will help with both future attraction and retention of top veterinary talent. 

Veterinary Clinic Employee Onboarding

Hopefully you’ve got an onboarding system in place at your clinic – that’s where all new hires follow a precise roadmap about how things work at your place:   all new hires are “inducted” – they know what your clinic’s standard operating procedure is across a whole gamut of different things – for example, hit-by-car drop offs, what to do when a nametag is lost, how to apply for annual leave, where to find ABC and XYZ, blah, blah, blah.      

Everyone on their first day or first couple of days is given driving instructions on how to navigate the various systems at your clinic.   They’re shown how to log onto your computer system.  Given an email address that’s theirs.   Given a security card and they’re shown how to arm / disarm the alarm.   Basic stuff but stuff no one should have to ask “how to” about.

That’s onboarding.   Off-boarding or exiting should follow a standard process.   Including an exit interview.

Exit interviews are part of offboarding process

Conducting exit interviews with staff leaving your veterinary clinic can help you figure out what your clinic is already doing well, and what areas need attention.

Well-conducted exit interviews can also give you insights on the veterinary sector based on the employees’ expectations of your clinic, in terms of remuneration, benefits, and other key criteria.

Also, a well-conducted exit interview can provide an opportunity to ensure each veterinary professional leaving your clinic leaves on a high note, feeling appreciated for their contributions and respected for their feedback.   You want both parties to feel good about each other – with no bridges burned.

You both want to be able to bump into each other at conference with smiles … not where you’re each dancing around the edges of the room hoping you don’t bump into each other.

Best practice Exit Interviews

Create an exit interview policy – make it an SOP – a Standard Operating Practice

Firstly – decide that exit interviews will be adopted.  From this point onwards.   For every single departing employee.

If you’ve never conducted an exit interview and/or you you’ve no idea on where to start, start today by outsourcing – and while this is being done you can start implementing a process to bring back exit interviews in-house.  

Most recruitment agencies or HR consultancies should be able to conduct an exit interview for you.

Having a formal policy regarding exit interviewing is an important part of clinic culture.   Why? Because it demonstrates a wish to improve and an interest in employees’ opinions.

If one of your clinic’s values is about respecting and valuing all employees, then including such a policy in your offboarding or exit process shows departing employees that “integrity and respect are engrained in all aspects of your clinic.”

Decide on the format of the exit interview

There are many variables to consider when deciding how to conduct an exit interview:

Do you want it pre-, post-departure or a combination of both?

While some clinics choose to conduct exit interviews before employees leave the clinic, other clinics elect to interview employees post-departure.

A pre-departure interview is easier to schedule, especially if you want to conduct it face-to-face.

However, post-departure interviews can make for more honest feedback.

You can also implement a combination of both:   before an employee leaves and then a few months after they’ve left.

If you choose to conduct the interview before the employee leaves, pick an appropriate time.

Here at VetStaff we recommend holding the interview about halfway between the announcement of an intention to leave and the actual departure—after the initial rush of emotion has died down, but before the employee has checked out mentally.

A post-departure interview can be conducted several months after the exit.

Do you want to do it in-person, over the phone, or web-based? 

Many exit interviews are conducted in person, but a face-to-face interview isn’t always the best option.

Sometimes a telephone interview may elicit greater honesty than face-to-face meetings but the flip side of that – which I don’t agree with – is the additional cost of in-person interviews is not justified.

Online and web surveys and questionnaires are also a popular option.   These ensure that everyone gets asked the same questions, data can then be aggregated and use of time is efficient.

However, these methods don’t allow for one-on-one rapport, or the opportunity to ask a follow-up question based on someone’s answer.

What about DIY vs a third party external interviewer?

An in-house HR or Practice Manager will likely know how to conduct an exit interview that addresses some of the unique concerns specific to your clinic.

However, an external and independent interviewer, may get more honest responses from employees who’re concerned about preserving positive relationships with former bosses and co-workers who might serve as professional references.

Further – like reference checking and interviewing, since conducting exit interviews is a skill that requires framing questions correctly, eliciting valuable responses, and refraining from making the employee uncomfortable, the expertise of an experienced external, independent interviewer can be helpful.

Do you want to conduct one or multiple interviews?

Our recommendation is to conduct several exit interviews at your clinic.

Yes – it costs more to do this – but when you factor in the 2x to 4x cost to a clinic of the departing employee’s salary can you afford not to truly find out what’s going on?  

When you opt to conduct more than one exit interview with each staff member, you can use several different modalities.  

For example, your veterinary clinic might ask an exiting employee to fill out a survey, but then also hold a face-to-face meeting to draw out more open-ended responses.

You could also choose to hold an in-person meeting while your employee is still with the clinic, followed up with a survey a month or so later. 

Conducting multiple exit interviews can reveal additional information and new insights.

Make the departing employee feel comfortable

As you consider when, where, and how to conduct an exit interview, focus on putting the interviewee at ease.

If you’ve opted for face-to-face (as opposed to over the phone and/or online web-based) make sure it’s one to one, not many to one. 

And please, please, please ensure the location is private.  If you want honest answers you need to be able to provide a location conducive to trust. 

Since employees may fear saying negative things about your clinic or its people will lead to retaliation, assure them that their answers will be kept confidential, or used only as part of an aggregate.   But only if this is your company policy. 

Explaining the purpose of the exit interview can also be helpful.

By clarifying the departing employee’s responses will be used to improve your clinic, as opposed to weighing the employee’s performance or contribution to the clinic, and that you’re not on a witch hunt, you can help them relax.

Ask useful questions

When planning how to conduct an exit interview, choose your questions carefully so you get responses that will truly help your clinic improve.

You’ll want to ask specific questions about the exiting employee’s work and managers, as well as broader questions about HR issues and the clinic culture as a whole.

In addition, if the departing employee is leaving to go to a competitor clinic, you have the perfect opportunity to find out a bit about the competition.

15 Exit Interview Questions

  1. What is their reason for leaving?
  2. Do you feel you had opportunities for growth or promotion within this clinic?
  3. How well do you believe your work was recognised and appreciated?
  4. Do you feel you were given adequate training and assistance?
  5. How fairly were the rosters / after hours / on call requirements distributed among you and other veterinarians / peers?
  6. Working conditions and culture?
  7. Workplace policies?
  8. Tools and equipment?
  9. How do you feel you were treated by the lead vet / your manager?
  10. What did you enjoy most about working here?
  11. Have you been thinking about this for a while?   What could we have done differently?
  12. What was the one-thing that finally brought about your decision to leave?
  13. What do you think would make this clinic a better place to work?

Obviously, it goes without saying that you’re not going to ask questions that will encourage gossiping, dobbing someone in, or revealing personal information about other employees.   Doing that will not go down well.

Rightly – so that’s exit interviews.  

Additional Off Boarding Best Practices for your Veterinary Clinic

There are also some “best practice” standard operating procedures that go hand in hand with exit interviews.

Certificate of Service / References

If an employee asks you for a Certificate of Service or a Statement of Service, you are legally obligated to provide this.  This should be on your clinic’s letterhead and include commencement date and final date of their employment.  

If an employee has been promoted or had different positions at your clinic, these can be listed here too.   You can also include the employee’s stated reason for resignation if you want.

If someone asks for a reference you don’t have to provide this – if it’s your clinic’s policy not to – but if you do, it has to be true and accurate.  

Check out episode 13 for information on reference checks:

Starting Out Minimum Wage Requirements

If you have anyone on your team who’s being hired on a starting-out minimum wage then there are things you need to do specific to them.  

The starting out wage is different to the $20ph adult minimum wage.  

The Starting Out Workers currently earn $16ph and are:

  • Aged 16-17 and have worked for you for less than six months.
  • Aged 18-19 and have been paid a specified social security benefit for six months or more, and who haven’t yet completed six months continuous employment with any employer since they started being paid a benefit. After six months continuous employment with a single employer, they must be paid at least the adult minimum wage rate.
  • Aged 16-19 and required by their employment agreement to undertake industry training for at least 40 credits a year to become qualified.

Employees who’re being paid the starting-out minimum wage rate should always get a statement of service saying how long they’ve worked for your clinic. This is so that their new employer will be able to work out the date that they need to be paid (at least) the adult minimum wage.

Collection of clinic property

Hopefully you’ve got a checklist of what’s been assigned to each employee whilst they’ve been in your employ so you know what you’re expecting back.

Different positions will require different clinic property – as a memory jogger, for example:

  • Computer stuff – laptops, tablets, mobile printers, scanners
  • Mobile phone
  • Company files
  • Tools & equipment – do an inventory check of their vehicle
  • Uniform
  • Any credit and charge cards – if you use taxi chits and pre-paid courier tickets – get those back
  • ID cards and clinic / building access
  • Vehicle + all keys including remote gate and door openers
  • Keys to all buildings and safes
  • Additional “perks” – eg, gym memberships, etc.

When it comes to IT “stuff” – remember to:

  • Ensure their email address is redirected to another email address and/or cancelled
  • All remote access to your server and company files
  • Access to third-party providers – software as a service type – ensure their login is cancelled
  • Any phone numbers dedicated to them – set up automatic call forwards
  • Building access – remove their security access from all buildings

Final pay calculations

The clinic will need to pay the employee their final pay. This can be done on their last day or should be done as soon as possible and not later than the next scheduled payday.

Updating and storing personnel file

Once the employee has left, the clinic will need to make sure the employee’s personnel records are up to date.  The file should be updated with the amount of final pay including holiday pay etc.

This file can then be stored in a safe and secure archive somewhere.

Clinics must keep wage and time records, and holidays and leave records that comply with the legislation for at least six years and, in particular, be able to show that they have complied with all minimum employment entitlements such as the minimum wage and annual holidays.

Clinics must also retain wage deduction records, such as PAYE information (for 7 years), student loan deductions and superannuation contributions as required by law.

However, except for wage and time records, holiday and leave records, and other information required to be kept by law (such as PAYE), clinics may need to keep some other information after employees cease employment.

For example, a small amount of information may need to be kept about their performance, if the employer has to give a reference.   Make sure though that only relevant information is kept.

If there’s any kind of employer / employee dispute then you’ll need to all relevant information for as long as it takes to resolve the dispute.

Apart from this required-by-law employee information, the basic rule of thumb about the rest of the employee information is that once the employer no longer needs the information it should not be kept.  

Best practice is to securely destroy the information about six months after employment has ended.  If you don’t have a crosscut shredder in your clinic there are secure document destruction services you can buy.   These guys bring a secure & locked wheelie bin into the workplace with a hole in the lid.  Documents that need to be destroyed are dropped into the bin which is then picked up at an agreed time.  

Sick Leave Entitlements – new law change – 24 July 2021

Parliament has passed the Holidays (Increasing Sick Leave) Amendment Bill to increase the minimum employee sick leave entitlement from 5 days to 10 days per year.

Most employees who have worked at your clinic for six months or over are entitled to sick leave if they, or a dependent, are sick or injured. Currently, employees are entitled to 5 days of sick leave per year; however, from Saturday 24 July 2021 this will increase to 10 days per year.

This means that employees will get the extra five days when they reach their next entitlement date – either after reaching 6 months’ employment or on their sick leave entitlement anniversary – which is 12 months after they were last entitled to sick leave.

If your clinic already offers 10 or more sick days a year, you don’t need to do anything.  These employees aren’t affected by this change.

The maximum amount of unused sick leave that an employee can be entitled to will remain 20 days.

Change in Median Wage – Immigration Ramifications – 19 July 2021

If you’re applying for an Essential Skills Work Visa, the requirements and conditions of your visa will depend on the job you’ve been offered and if you will be paid above or below the NZ median wage.

Every year Immigration New Zealand updates the median wage.  

Therefore effective from 19 July – that’s next week as at recording this podcast – the hourly rate will increase to $27.00 per hour.   That’s up from the current $25.50 per hour rate.

If you visit Katy Armstrong’s FB page – IntoNZ – at 5:23pm on 1st July Katy posted an update on changes to the median wage – here’s a summary of what she said there:

This increase to $27ph is for Essential Skills and Skilled Migrant Category residence visa. If you’re in the pool and have claimed $25.50 per hour, you’ll need to have an increase and amend the EOI as such. All immigration requirements indexed to median wage are expected to increase in sync. So for example, Katy is expectig priority processing for residence to increase to just over 112kpa.

This jump to $112kpa is expected to affect veterinarians coming into NZ outside of the “June 50” – which have to have a minimum of 3 years’ experience and a minimum salary of $85kpa.   It’s looking like all other vets’ salaries will need to increase to $112kpa – that’s up from the current $106,080 kpa level.

IntoNZ – Facebook post – 01/07/2021

Shoutout to Leanne – NZ Vet Association June 2021 Conference Organiser

And, changing the subject again, I attended the NZVA / NZVNA conference in Christchurch in late June.  

It was a great conference which was sadly impacted by the Wellington region going into AL2 lockdown.   This meant that all Wellingtonians went home about lunchtime on the first day.

However, a huge shoutout to Leanne and her team at the Vet Association for creating a conference that was able to continue without any blips without her physically being present.  

Leanne was one of those who had to return home to Wellington.   I’m sure it might’ve felt like the proverbial duck’s feet going nineteen to the dozen under the water while all was calm on the surface, but from what I saw, the conference continued without a blip.  

Huge kudos Leanne – well done!

Also another shoutout to Brendan for all the work he put into organising the business stream of the conference – the speakers were great with highly relevant and interesting sessions.

And still in conference mode, stay tuned because I’m looking forward to being able to share future guests with you – ranging from the business stream speakers through to Grant McCullough – president of the Vet Association.

If you have questions for any of these guests please email them to me – so I can ask them on your behalf.In addition to the great guests I’ve just mentioned, remember we’ve got the latest on microchipping coming up from Companion Animals NZ and we’ve got how to reduce your student loan and grow your wealth with Janet Natta of Smart Money Advice.


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