5 Employee Exit Interview Flaws & What To Do

dejected manager with employee exit interview flawspicture of man not being honest

Employee Exit Interview Flaws – Not Getting The Full Story
Employee exit interview flaws are standard protocol in most corporate workplaces. Though the reasoning for them is sound, most organizations’ attempts at employee exit interviews are pretty worthless. Organizations are leaving valuable information on the table about how to improve the workplace and better retain employees.

Don’t Waste the Opportunity to Listen and Learn
Here are five employee exit interview flaws – things you’re not likely to learn from your exit interviews – and then five tips on how to fully leverage these processes so you can gain valuable insights from outgoing employees 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. Employees are generally smart enough to want to leave on good terms. They feel there is little to be gained from lambasting the organization – it will only ruin relationships and potentially impact their next chance at employment. Consequently, 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, leaders will write off their issues as one disgruntled employee’s opinion. It’s easier and less painful to smile, get through the exit interview, and move on with their career.
  2. The Truth About Whether It’s a Loss
    Not all employee attrition is created equal. While it’s generally not a good thing when an employee moves on, sometimes it makes sense 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
    Does the following conversation sound familiar?  Interviewer, “Is there anything we could have done to get you to stay?” Exiting Employee, “Oh no, this is just too good an opportunity for me 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. It’s important for you to understand the true 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 interviews with exiting employees who just want to get out without any further friction. If you want to get serious about keeping employees, talk to those who are still around. Try to uncover their pain points and why their peers are seeking new opportunities.
  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. You need analytics, not anecdotes.

5 Ideas to Improve Your Exit Interview Strategy

  1. Have a Third Party Conduct Exit 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 won’t want to burn bridges on the way out. The employee 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 with whom they don’t have a prior relationship.
  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 used to interacting with them on an hourly basis. This is where peer feedback is so important. Use employee exit surveys to tap into the team members who were around the exiting employee most. Anonymous external exit surveys can gather feedback from multiple sources – intra-team peers, cross-team peers, managers, direct reports, and other key stakeholders – and provide the added benefit of showing current employees that leadership is committed to understanding and improving the workplace.
  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 employee feedback to improve engagement and performance. Use 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 leaders and managers 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 on efforts to improve those areas and proactively turn employees around who might be headed out the door.
  5. Use Aggregate Turnover Analysis to Understand Trends
    Often, the data collected from exit interviews is not aggregated to uncover major turnover trends. Transforming qualitative data from an open-ended answer format into something measurable is often 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.

The Bottom Line
Gathering exit feedback should be an integral part of your talent management strategy to attract, engage, develop, and retain the top talent you need to be successful.  Just make sure you have a plan and process to use the data to make things better for your people and your business.

To learn more about how to engage and retain top talent, download 2 Steps for Every CHRO to Retain Top Performers

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