New Delhi: When Aanchal Gupta, 25, resigned as a senior customer service executive from a business process outsourcing (BPO) firm, she sat through an exit interview where people from its human resources (HR) team asked her why.
“I gave out genuine reasons,” she said, “the process changes were not taking us anywhere, I wanted to venture out into recruitment and there were too many night shifts.”
Gupta, who now works in an HR consultancy, says the BPO firm, which she declined to name, took her feedback seriously although she is now out of it and cannot confirm this.
In tandem : Ma Foi Management Consultant’s chief executive E. Balaji (left) and Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp.’s vice-president of human resources Bhaskar Das. Tech companies are outsourcing conducting of exit interviews to HR consultancies to make the process more objective. (Photo: Sharp Image)
If it did, it was not the only one. There are many more Indian firms, particularly in sectors such as BPO, information technology (IT) and telecom—where attrition rates are high—which are taking feedback from people leaving them and then tweaking their processes to retain employees.
Technology services firm Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. is one of them.
The company, which hires graduates from top business schools as analysts, realized from responses in exit interviews that those leaving were looking for domain expertise—specialization in areas such as banking, insurance, logistics—instead of being assigned to any business unit.
“The value of their (business school hires) previous experience and desire to continue in a certain domain has since become a key component of the way we chalk out their career paths in Cognizant,” said Bhaskar Das, vice-president of HR at the firm.
As a result, “we have seen a distinct improvement in the retention levels of this group of associates,” Das said. The company hired 500 management professionals, fresh graduates from business schools as well as those with experience, in 2007.
Cognizant is no longer a rare example of a company benefiting from an exit interview, the final interaction with an employee who has decided to leave.
And, it is particularly true in those firms where retaining talent is an ever-present challenge.
Although no industry estimates on attrition rates are available, they could range between 20% and 35% in the BPO, IT and telecom sectors, said R. Karthik Shekhar, general secretary of the Union for IT and Enabled Services (UNITES), India’s first registered trade union of BPO employees with a membership of 15,000.
Since the cost of losing people is high, and many employees can hold back their reasons for quitting, some firms are even farming out exit interviews—mostly to HR consultancies—to make them more objective.
“Candidates tend to say politically correct statements—future prospects, personal growth, etc., in the (exit) interview, when they are actually unhappy with the supervisor,” said E. Balaji, chief executive officer of Ma Foi Management Consultants Ltd, a staffing firm and consultancy that has conducted nearly 500 exit interviews for about five companies.
“And this supervisor may actually be sitting in on this interview,” he added.
In a majority of these interviews, Balaji’s firm found dissatisfaction with a supervisor as the key factor behind quitting. His company conveyed this to its clients, which sometimes retrained or counselled their employees in supervisory roles.
“It is a struggle to capture the right reason for people leaving,” said Hannah Joan, an independent HR consultant based in Chennai. “That’s why third-party interviews, though at a preliminary stage in India, are gaining ground.”
Another way in which companies try to make the exit interview more meaningful is by deferring it by a couple of months. A talk over the phone after a few months, when the former employee no longer feels strongly about the reasons for her exit, sometimes yields better results, Ma Foi’s Balaji said.
A few brave HR consultants are pushing another tool—peer feedback—to gauge the reasons why an employee left. Candidates who leave are most likely to disclose the reasons behind their departure to a friend in office. “Informal mechanisms and a peer check-out can also be very effective,” said Joan.
However, a number of companies still prefer the traditional in-house exit interview, with HR involvement and a written questionnaire.
“Feedback is quicker, cleaner and faster if it is in-house,” said Vikram Karayi, senior vice-president of HR at Steria India Ltd, the Indian arm of a European IT services company with 5,000 employees across centres in India.
With the IT and BPO sectors facing a slowdown, many say exits are going to be messier, with companies insisting on employees serving out full notice periods as part of cost-cutting measures.
“Companies are insisting on completion of full contractual obligations. By the last day, all the employee wants is to get out with her relieving letter,” said UNITES’ Shekhar. “She is least bothered about an exit interview.”