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6 Tips to Conduct Effective Exit Interviews in Dentistry

Exit interviews have become standard in dental workplaces over the past ten years. Some may wonder why one would ask deep questions of a team member who is planning to leave the practice. There's at least one important answer to this.

Turnover is costly for practices and disruptive to the organization's daily routine. Turnover was on the upswing in 2011 to 2012, to 9.5 percent that year. It's also expensive. One source tapped nurse turnover at a cost of $49,500 per nurse in 2018.

As dental practices depend on the work of their professionals, these numbers are alarming — but potentially easier than you might think to remedy with some exit interview best practices. Exit interviews can provide important information to improve team member satisfaction. Team leaders in your dental practice can use this information to improve morale, so the practice stays stable for years to come.

What is an Exit Interview?

An exit interview is a series of questions your organization asks of a team member who leaves the practice. The aim is to gather information about the team member's experience in order to effect change within the practice. There are two ways to use this data: as an indicator of one team member's time with the practice, and as a way to gather aggregate information about employee satisfaction over a period of time. Both are essential as you want to develop, encourage, and retain your health care team.

6 Steps to Conduct an Effective Employee Exit Interview

One mistake some employers make is thinking of the exit interview as a "goodbye chat." Although having an easy chat can go far in maintaining a good relationship with the team member — whom you might want to welcome back to the practice at a later date — it doesn't do much to glean specific, actionable information to improve the working environment. The exit interview is the end of the cycle of employment, that begins with onboarding and training when the team member is first hired.

1) Create a Comfortable Environment

The exit interview only has value if the departing dental team members give honest answers. They may feel some reluctance to give answers that reflect poorly on the practice. It is important to reassure the team member that however the interview is conducted — through a web portal or in-person — the practice values and expects their candor.

You can make the team member feel comfortable by reassuring them that the reason for the interview is to improve the practice, not to identify any failing on their part. If true, you may reassure them the information they provide goes to the practice manager and is not conveyed, except in summary form without personal identifiers, to the dentist or head hygienist.

2) Time the Interview Appropriately

Exit interviews should be complete within one week of the team member's last day. This time frame means the answers they provide is relevant to how the practice currently runs. It is also when their memory is still fresh and they feel a connection to the workplace. They are more likely to provide substantive, helpful answers. HR for Health offers tools that make it easy to do the exit interview electronically, so the employee can feel at ease honestly answering questions at a time that works for them.

3) Record Every Answer

It is important to write down, or record in the case of a web-based interview, the exact words of the interviewee. Often departing employees will disguise their feelings or give subtle signs of their true feelings. It is possible to read this subtext when one looks more closely at what they have said.

For example, a dental assistant may say they enjoyed doing a variety of tasks over the course of a day, but found it challenging to develop a specific skill set. A team member who says this may like variety, but they may also be overwhelmed and too busy. They may appreciate the opportunity to get hands-on with different kinds of work, but felt they suffered from a lack of training.

4) Gather Metric Data and Narrative Data

As a best practice, the exit interview should contain numeric questions and open-ended queries. Ask the team member to respond to statements about the clinic work experience on a scale from one to five, for example:

  • I had sufficient training to complete the tasks required of me.
  • I had sufficient access to personal protective equipment and safety information.
  • I had sufficient support from fellow team members and supervisors when dealing with challenging patients.
  • I had enough time during my shift to complete all tasks I was asked to perform.
  • I felt supported by my fellow team members.

Over time, the answers to these metric questions may reveal some patterns. For example, if departing employees consistently provide a low score to the question about time during a shift, the dental practice leaders can look more closely at that issue.

Using narrative data, where team members can elaborate on their experience, the practice can identify specific factors that may improve the issue. It may be lack of staffing, or simply an issue of operational organization or lack of communication — the latter two are potentially fixable without adding to the practice's overhead costs.

5) Ask Specific Questions

When developing questions, both narrative and metric-based, it is key to canvas a few important areas. These are designed to hone in on whether the employee had goals that misaligned with the practice, or whether the practice failed to provide the support the team member expected. It is also an opportunity for the departing employee to be honest about whether they have just gotten a better offer somewhere else.

Here are some areas you may want to explore in your team member’s exit interviews:

  • Perception of workplace culture
  • Professional goals
  • Expectations versus reality
  • Satisfaction with compensation and benefits
  • What the practice might have done differently

As you canvas these topics, use a combination of metric-based and open-ended questions where employees can express things in a way that is meaningful to them.

Recommended Reading: Heads Up! 10 Questions to Ask in Exit Interviews

6) Track Insightful Results

Exit interview best practices give you the opportunity to track and analyze team member satisfaction over time. In particular, if you use a consistent questionnaire and exit interview methodology, you can gather insights to develop an effective strategy to enhance long-term employee retention. Perhaps some employees  felt there was inconsistency in time tracking, break monitoring and other performance metrics. HR for Health's performance management solution can help ensure there's a set procedure that applies to everyone.

Final Thoughts on Exit Interviews

Exit interviews are forward looking. They take information from past team members' experiences and use it to improve the overall clinic environment. As you develop exit interview best practice, keep the end goal in mind. The objectives may include:

  • Reducing turnover rates
  • Staying competitive in terms of compensation and benefits
  • Raising team morale
  • Improving patient care
  • Eliminating inefficiencies that lead to team member frustration
  • Promoting a stable and productive work environment that reflects your practice values

Once your exit interview best practices align with these objectives, you have a clear path to clinic success. 

HR for Health Can Improve Your Off-Boarding Procedures

Health care professionals are not always data scientists, nor are they experts in human resources, employment law, or even workplace satisfaction. That's how HR for Health can help. HR for Health is an innovative solution specifically designed for health practices. The team at HR for Health will ensure your exit interviews are targeted to your clinic objectives and processed in an efficient fashion. Talk to us today to learn what HR for Health can do to help you support your team.


About HR for Health 

HR for Health is an all-in-one HR software solution dedicated to helping the dental, optometry, and veterinary industries. Our human resources platform features all the tools practice owners need to manage payroll, timekeeping, 401(k), and more with total integration and ease. 

Whether you’re looking for HR support for a small business or you’re a large group dental practice, HR for Health has the solution to fit your practice and budget. Reach out to a HR for Health account representative to learn more, today: Schedule a Meeting

HR for Health is one of the nation’s leading Human Resources Management Systems (HRMS) used by small to mid-sized practices. 

Quick note: This is not to be taken as legal or HR advice. Since employment laws change over time and can vary by location and industry, consult a lawyer or HR expert for specific guidance. Learn about HR for Health's HR services.