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The Value of Employee Exit Surveys

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Most of us, as employees or managers, have experienced an exit interview at one time or another. Whether we were the staffer who resigned from a position or the manager of that position, the employee exit interview, if badly handled, can be excruciating. On the other hand, a well-constructed and thoughtfully performed exit interview can be a useful experience for both employee and employer.

3 Key takeaways you need to know
  • Exit interviews reveal why employees leave, shedding light on both individual and systemic factors contributing to turnover
  • Analyzing exit interview data helps identify and address management issues, and improve job satisfaction, recognition, and training, thus enhancing retention and organizational effectiveness
  • Employee turnover is costly and can damage the company’s reputation; addressing issues identified in exit interviews mitigates these risks and maintains a positive employer brand
People sitting in their office taking a survey

What Is An Employee Exit Interview?

An employee exit interview, also sometimes called an employee exit survey, is a face-to-face conversation or a written survey conducted at the end of an employee’s relationship with your company. The interview is part of the formal closing of your employment relationship with the individual who is leaving. 

The survey can be a highly useful tool to find out why people – this specific person or a group of people – leave your company. If necessary, it can also help you resolve the problem. If, for example, several employees have left the same business unit or department over a short period, your exit surveys may indicate that there is a problem with the manager of that area. This is information that is highly important to your company and is unlikely to have been available to you without the exit interviews conducted. 

Properly handled, exit interviews can:

  • Tell you why people leave
  • Help you to identify management problems
  • Suggest improvements to hiring and training
  • Improve employee retention

Employee departures and replacements have costs; using an exit interview lets you get some profit from that cost.

Who Does the Employee Exit Interview?

An exit interview usually consists of the departing employee, someone from Human Resources, and often, someone from the Legal Department. Legal often doesn’t actively participate but is present in case legal issues arise during the course of the interview. Also, their presence will provide a witness to any encounter that later becomes problematic.

Why Do People Leave Your Company?

Individuals move on from a job for any number of reasons. Some of those reasons have very little to do with the way you or your company do things.  For example, in a very small department, an individual may only be able to advance by moving to another company. This is often the case, for example, in departments that are small but highly skilled, such as corporate governance or regulatory compliance.  

However, many of the reasons that people leave are within your control.  Even if you can’t control the issue entirely, you can at least determine where you can make valuable changes by gathering and analyzing the data available through an employee exit survey. You may find issues such as:

Job dissatisfaction – are employees not sufficiently challenged?  Should you look at ways to revamp various positions and duties to help with retention?

  • Lack of employee recognition or valuation – To make people want to stay, it’s important to ensure that they feel valued where they are. Further, as all HR professionals know, this is not always a question of money or at least, not solely, a question of money. Praise, rewards, promotions, all of these can help an employee understand their value to a company, and not always at a high cost.  
  • Lack of clarity in expectations – An employee exit survey can reveal that your departing employee did not understand the expectations and objectives of their position. It’s difficult to be happy in a position you do not understand.
  • Badly written job description – Similarly, if a job description says that the employee will be engaged in doing a, b, and c, he or she will likely be unhappy doing x, y, and z. This will possibly be true whether the job is less challenging than described, or more challenging. In either case, the employee will start off the employment relationship unhappy.  
  • No upward trajectory – Again, as we mentioned at the start of this section, some jobs inherently have little to no upward mobility. The employee who hopes to climb a corporate ladder rather than advance by moving from firm to firm, will not be happy in such a situation. The exit interview will help you to anticipate and deal with this difficulty.  
  • Personal reasons – Sometimes the answer to why an employee is leaving is more personal. The employee may be going back to school full-time or simply taking a break from working for a while. Or, the work-life balance in your company or your industry may not be one that the particular employee cares to live with. In these cases, the exit survey lets you close the relationship without rancor.  

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What Questions Should You Ask?

It’s easy to ask, why are you leaving? But sometimes, the departing employee needs a little more guidance than that. Employers must structure their employee exit survey beforehand so that the carefully selected questions provide the necessary information. You might want to consider the following questions:

  1. Why did you decide to leave your job?  You will want to be courteous and not emotional with this question. The employee may simply be looking for a greater challenge or more money. Or they could be working for someone they see as completely incompetent. You certainly want to know that, especially if this exit is one of a pattern with that manager.
  2. Do you have any feedback or suggestions about how we can improve working for that manager or this company?  Allow the employee to share their view of your company and your job. This information can be vital to your recruitment and retention efforts. Do you need to counsel one manager or is there an intrinsic problem with the way your company relates to its workers that needs significant corporate attention?
  3. Did you enjoy any part of your work experience with us?  Give the department employee an opportunity to say good things about working for you. Use that information to build on in replacing the employee and perhaps restructuring the position.
  4. Did you get sufficient training?  If you’re putting people to work with insufficient training, you need to know that. Giving departing employees the chance to address this issue can provide vital information about your training process.
  5. Did you feel valued and supported?  Employees seek opportunity and recognition. Use the employee exit survey to determine whether you are communicating your employee recognition in a way that people understand. Do you promote from within? Do your people understand that you do and see opportunities for themselves? Do you support and perhaps pay for voluntary training or licensing? A departing employee can help you see if you need to revamp your efforts in this area.  
  6. Would you encourage others to work here?  The answers to this question will require your understanding and attention. Even the most angry employee is unlikely to say they would never recommend your company. Your active listing here can help you to gain extremely valuable data.  
  7. Would you consider staying?  If appropriate, you can use this as an opportunity to retain the departing employee. On the other hand, you may be happy to see a problem walking out the door. HR should be fully aware of which circumstance applies in each exit interview.  

Using the Data from Your Employee Exit Survey

Employee exit surveys should not be simple feel-good exercises for the firm or the employee. The idea is to gather information about why people leave your company and ways that you can prevent those departures. In other words, you want to know why people leave and how you can keep the ones you want.

Attrition is Expensive

Recruiting is expensive. You had the initial cost of the employee who left, and now you have to spend money finding, hiring (often at a higher rate), and training a replacement employee. The more skilled the position and the more valued the employee, the more painful and expensive this process will be.  

Institutional memory is invaluable. A long-term employee who leaves takes along a treasure trove of information about your company and how it works.  This is especially true if you have gone through a series of significant corporate changes during that employee’s tenure. If you lose a number of these employees around the same time, it is critical to find out why.

Reputational damage is expensive, too. If an employee leaves on bad terms, they may well tell the world so. Websites like can make it all too easy for an angry employee to tell the world why working for your company was such a miserable experience. 

As an employer, you have limited ability to do anything about these reviews, though you can usually respond.  It’s far better not to have the negative reviews in the first place.  

Let’s Recap

Employee exit survey data may be some of the most valuable employee feedback you will receive.  Properly understood and used, it can help you see what you’re doing right and where you need to make changes.  

Check out our free demo here to learn more about how Peopleltyics can help you get started with employee surveys.

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