Why exit interview programs fail


Let’s start with the bad news. More than half of current exit interview programs do NOT deliver “meaningful” results. Below are the three most common reasons exit interview programs fail:

  1. Too hard to consistently send/manage/collect
  2. Low exit survey completion rates
  3. Did not produce useful/actionable information

When to conduct employee exit interviews

An effective exit interview process:

  1. Generates positive change
  2. Requires multiple exit survey tools to understand the state of a workforce
  3. Refocuses attention on the areas they can influence, instead of areas outside of their control

Creating and implementing more effective exit interviews may seem challenging and time consuming. There is a lot of noise from exit survey results, so leaders must focus their attention on what matters to influence meaningful organizational change. Understanding the connection between employee feedback, behavior, and trends will prioritize organizational recommendations faster.

When you can, invite separating employees to conduct an exit interview before their last day. Retensa’s employee retention experts found that completion rates are 20-30% higher the week before an employee separates rather than after.

The best exit interview questions are actionable and cover five (5) key areas:

  1. Reasons they like working there (culture, salary/benefits, responsibilities)
  2. Reasons they are leaving (salary/benefits, management, other opportunity)
  3. Suggestions for future changes
  4. Manager relationship (Degree of fairness, respect, appreciation, clear direction)
  5. Unresolved issues (Did they go to HR already? What concerns remain?

How to deliver the best exit interview program

Now, the good news! There are many ways to effectively deploy an exit interview process. In general, it’s important to give employees a safe space to express their true opinions. This influences them to give the most honest exit interview feedback, provides them with closure, and increases the chances they’ll depart on good terms. The best exit survey results come from separating employees who feel comfortable expressing how they feel, and trust those they are speaking with to listen confidentially.

One way to achieve this comfort and honesty among employee feedback is outsourcing exit interviews. Since most employees don’t want to burn bridges, using a third party relieves them from holding back their opinions.

A good third-party exit interview consultant trains interviewers A good third-party exit interview consultant trains interviewers so employees feel comfortable to open up and answer more questions during the exit interview process.

There are also exit interview companies that automate the whole program – from customized exit interview forms to turnkey reports. They streamline and simplify the process to ensure it’s easy and consistent. Some can also provide turnover analysis and survey interpretation to highlight the most actionable information based on results from strong exit interview questions.


What to do with exit interview findings

An exit interview provides a truthful evaluation of the work environment and organizational culture. Responses from exit interview reports can often spark change initiatives in a number of areas, including:

  1. Recruiting/talent acquisition
  2. Onboarding/orientation
  3. Staff development
  4. Manager training courses
  5. Work-life balance
  6. Compensation (base pay and/or bonus)

When several employees provide similar responses, it’s time to act. Implementing change is where a company reaps the benefits of exit surveys. It shows current employees that leadership listens and values their opinion, which improves employee morale. That’s why 92% of mid-size and large companies conduct exit surveys for at least some separating employees. For the biggest wins, target improvements that have a positive impact on the top 5 reasons for leaving.

If HR leaders focus on meaningful change, then the data-driven insights surfaced through the right exit interview questions will align the retention strategy to fit the company culture. When that happens, employees that remain are inspired and engaged in the workplace. All employees have different desires for their workplace culture and environment, so with collective employee feedback, employers can prioritize organizational changes to improve the experience for the most (or most valued) employees impacted. This change cycle supports loyal employees to feel motivated to work at their company each day, while reducing their turnover.

Although many exit interview programs fail, there are successful exit interview questions and strategies that work. When they do, you get honest and targeted insights that improve employee retention long-term.


Exit Interview Resources:

1. Everett Spain, Boris Groysberg. (2016, April). Making Exit Interviews Count. Retrieved from Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2016/04/making-exit-interviews-count

2. Retensa. (n.d.). Blog. Retrieved from Build the Perfect Exit Interview, Build a Better Workplace: https://retensa.com/blog/build-the-perfect-exit-interview-build-a-better-workplace/

3. Retensa. (n.d.). Exit Interview Research Study: Advanced Analysis Report: https://store.exitpro.com/product/exit-interview-research-study-advanced-analysis-report/

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