5 Things Your Exit Interviews Aren't Telling You

Exit interviews are standard protocol in most corporate workplaces. Though the reasoning for them is sound, most organizations’ attempts at exit interviews are fruitless. Organizations are leaving valuable information about how to improve the workplace and better retain employees on the table.

Don't be one of those companies. We have five things you're likely not learning from your exit interviews, then we offer five tips to fully leverage these processes to gain valuable insights of outgoing employees and their colleagues to consider for future exit interviews.


5 Things You're Not Learning From Your Exit Interviews


1. The truth about why they’re leaving.

Most employees have one goal in an exit interview: don't burn any bridges on the way out. They're generally smart enough to want to leave on good terms. There is little to be gained from lambasting the organization - it will only ruin relationships and potentially impact their next chance at employment.

Employees tend to sugarcoat their experience or flat out lie about why they're leaving. They fear that, even if they bring authentic feedback to the table, leadership will write off their issues as one disgruntled employee's opinion. It's easier and less painful to smile, get through the interview, and move on with their career.


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2. The truth about whether it’s a loss.

Not all turnover is created equal. While it's generally not a good thing when an employee moves on, sometimes it's for the best for both parties. 

An employee may have been a poor fit for their role or didn't mesh with the culture of the organization. Maybe they were competent at their job, but their personality caused rifts in the workplace. Whatever the reason, the exit interview probably isn't the place to learn this information.

Look for other sources to determine the nature of the turnover. Take a look at HR records and talk with the departing employee's manager. Also speak with the employees' coworkers and ask if they think the loss will hurt the company.


3. The truth about whether it could have been prevented.

Stop us if this conversation sounds familiar: 

Interviewer: Is there anything we could have done to get you to stay?
Exiting Employee: Oh no, this is just too good of an opportunity to pass up.

There are certainly times when employees are approached about a new position from an outside source or a great situation arises organically. But for the most part, employees find new jobs because they're displeased in their current role and are actively searching for a new opportunity. People are generally resistant to change and will only leave if they're truly unhappy, and you want to understand the source of that displeasure so you can address it. 


4. The truth about what needs to be fixed to retain current employees.

If you notice a trend with employees leaving, you need to get to the root of the exodus. As previously stated, this information is unlikely to come from exiting employees. They just want to get out without any further friction. 

If you want to get serious about keeping employees, talk to those that are still around. Try to uncover their pain points and why their peers are seeking new opportunities.


Free webinar: Increasing Employee Engagement in a High-Turnover Market   

5. The truth about turnover trends in your organization.

How are you using the information gained from exit interviews? If the files are simply shoved into a folder to never again see the light of day, they're a waste of time. Your goal should be to use information from departing employees as a source for promoting change in your organization, so you need a way to bring the information together in aggregate. You need analytics, not anecdotes.


5 Ideas to Improve Your Exit Interview Strategy


1. Have a third party conduct interviews.

Many organizations have the manager or a member of HR conduct the exit interview. But the exiting employee has a relationship with that person and doesn't want to burn bridges on the way out. They will paint a rosier picture of their experience instead of giving real, actionable input.

Having a third party interview the employee removes that barrier and allows the employee to be honest. They're more likely to open up and be real with someone they don't have a prior relationship with.


2. Gather peer feedback to tell the whole story.

Managers and HR see part of the picture when an employee leaves, but they aren't always interacting with them on an hourly basis. This is where peer feedback is so important. Talk to those that were around the exiting employee most. 

Give them anonymity through a quick pulse survey. As remaining employees, they have more at stake and are more likely to reveal any remaining problems that need to be solved in order to retain them. They can also answer questions about whether it’s good or bad turnover and if it could have been prevented.


Free Download: A Practical Guide to Giving and Receiving Employee Feedback


3. Gather feedback before they decide to leave.

Once employees are sitting across from you in an exit interview, it’s too late to retain them. That door is closed. You should constantly be gathering feedback to engage employees' engagement, satisfaction, and production. Track these through employee engagement surveys, 1-on-1 meetings, and team gatherings to ensure you're getting updates on where your employees stand.


4. Use linkage analysis between turnover and engagement.

The result of any turnover/engagement linkage analysis will show the same thing: high turnover areas have lower engagement. Linking your engagement data to your turnover data can help make that real for leaders and managers. It helps them understand the importance of improving employee engagement and the cost of ignoring it.

Employee engagement survey results can also be used to predict and prevent turnover. By identifying the areas of low engagement in your organization, you can double down efforts to improve those areas and proactively turn around employees who might be headed out the door.


5. Use aggregate turnover analysis to understand trends.

Often, the data collected from exit interviews is never aggregated to uncover major turnover trends.  Transforming qualitative data from an open-ended answer format into something measurable is time-consuming and tricky.

Try using an exit survey in addition to, or in place of, exit interviews. A survey can provide quantitative data that is more easily aggregated.Including feedback from exiting employees’ peers can give you even more data. Data from five or more people per turnover is far more impactful than just relying on the voice of one.

For more information about how to conduct an exit survey that will get meaningful results and drive action, download our free ebook, How to Conduct an Exit Survey.


Complete Guide! How to Conduct an Exit Survey


Published November 5, 2018 | Written By Dan Hoppen