News & Opinion | March 20, 2019 12:19 pm

Patagonia’s Exit Interviews Are Rare and Emotional

“I want to hear their story.”

The Patagonia store in Vail, Colorado. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
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People so rarely leave Patagonia for another job, it makes it easy for the Human Resources department to handle exit interviews. According to Dean Carter, the chief HR officer for the company, the corporate staff only sees a 4% annual turnover rate.

“So few people leave that I can look them in the eye and say, ‘Let’s talk.’” Carter recently said at a management conference in Utah. “So they all know if they’re going to leave, they have to talk to me.”

Carter likes to take the opportunity to dig deeper into the not only why the person is leaving the company, but why they joined the Patagonia team in the first place.

“My first question is not ‘Why did you leave?’ I ask ‘Why did you join? What compelled you to come to Patagonia, to leave your other job, or your family, or whatever it was?” he explained. “After that it’s, ‘Did we do that?’ ‘What was the experience we delivered for you?’ ‘Where was the difference in that?’”

Many times people hold back when they’re chatting with HR about their experience with the company. It can be hard to trust that the HR rep will keep their opinion anonymous or they might be concerned about leaving a negative impression during their last interaction with the company.

At Patagonia, however, the exit interview experience can be an emotional one and not in a totally negative way: “Sometime we’ll both be crying over where we both missed the experience [for] Patagonia.”

It shouldn’t be a surprise that leaving Patagonia is rare or that the exit process leaving both sides feeling respected and heard. The company has a history of treating employees well with policies and benefits like promoting women into leadership positions, paying to send childcare on trips along with executives, onsite childcare, as well as pay for your bail if you’re arrested while peacefully protesting.

When Carter asks employees about their experience with Patagonia he says, “for the most part, it’s like 10 times better than what they thought.”