Employee Exit Surveys vs Exit Interviews

Open door on Employee Exit Surveys vs Exit Interviews door opening for someone to leave their company

Employee Exit Surveys vs Exit Interviews
HR professionals and talent leaders understand the importance of collecting exit feedback from employees when they decide to voluntarily leave the organization.  If you do not know why high performing and high potential people are leaving and what it would have taken for them to stay, how can you expect to retain your current top talent?  The question becomes how should you gather employee exit feedback – Employee Exit Surveys vs Exit Interviews?

Too Many Companies Do Not Take Advantage of Exit Interviews
Even though high turnover tends to predict low performance and retention of top talent correlates to higher performance, too many companies still do not truly know why good people leave.  We have all heard it before.  “I decided to leave because of better pay, commute, benefits, travel schedule, or career opportunities.”  This is what the majority of savvy employees say in an exit interview so that they do not burn a bridge.  Unfortunately, not only is the lack of honest feedback not helpful, but too many companies still admit to:

  • Not consistently conducting exit interviews
  • Not analyzing the exit data
  • Not sharing the analysis with line leaders to act upon
  • Not holding people accountable for implementing changes to decrease attrition

The Greater Reason Why
Our organizational alignment research found that talent accounts for 29% of the difference between high and low performing companies.  If good or important people are leaving an organization at an ever-increasing rate, you need to understand the root cause and do something about it.  A crucial tool in talent retention is an effective exit feedback process that provides insight into the strengths and weaknesses of current strategies, cultures, employees, and the competitive landscape.

Exit Surveys vs Exit Interviews
A smart and accurate exit feedback process allows an exiting employee’s voice to be heard and used to help mitigate the many costs of losing an employee in the future. So when it comes to types of exit feedback, what method should you choose? You’ve got two overall options: exit interviews and exit surveys.

Exit Interviews
Done right, an exit interview should uncover meaningful areas that are working and not working within an organization compared to the marketplace.  While face-to-face interviews are typically the best way to create rapport, research tells us that phone interviews often solicit more accurate and honest feedback.

The Pros of Exit Interviews

  • A conversational-style allows for the interviewer to guide the conversation as needed, focusing, clarifying, or following up on areas of distress or concern.
  • Body language and other in-person context clues add information.
  • Such interviews create an opportunity to turn departing employees into future advocates.
  • Conducting exit interviews sends a signal to all employees that people’s views matter.

The Cons of Exit Interviews

  • The usefulness of exit interviews depends entirely on the honesty and candor of the departing employee.
  • Face-to-face interviews tend to exacerbate the tendency of exiting employees to sugarcoat things so they  leave a good last impression and can obtain a positive future reference.
  • Interviews don’t allow much time to reflect before answering.

Exit Surveys
Done right, an employee exit survey should provide insightful data about areas that are working and not working within an organization compared to the marketplace. 

The Pros of Exit Surveys

  • Surveys are easily distributed and accessible.
  • Survey consistency allows for trend analysis.
  • Confidentiality allows the employee to tell hard truths without fear of losing a recommendation.

The Cons of Exit Surveys

  • A survey may be an impersonal way for an employee to mark their leaving.
  • Surveys are much easier to ignore, avoid, and leave uncompleted.

Our Recommendation Regarding Employee Exit Surveys vs Exit Interviews
Because we believe that all talent leaders should take advantage of every opportunity to listen and learn from their employees, we recommend combining employee exit interviews with employee exit surveys so you can proactively gain insights to better attract, engage, and retain your top talent.  We recommend you start with a confidential and anonymous external employee exit survey and then conduct employee interviews to fill any gaps that the survey might leave. This allows you to both gather standardized data and also dive deeper into employee responses, providing a complete picture of the reasons behind the exit.

We also recommend using social exit surveys.  Traditionally, interviewing or surveying the exiting employee provided all the information organizations needed. However, adopting the concept of 360 feedback, companies are now starting to survey the departing employee’s peers, direct reports, and managers.  Because this social exit survey gathers data from different relationships, it shows a broader view of why the employee is choosing to leave.

Who Should You Include in the Social Exit Survey?
Because feedback from multiple sources is absolutely essential to balance biases and fill in content gaps, we recommend surveying a combination of intra-team peers, cross-team peers, managers, direct reports, and other key stakeholders.  This approach provides the added benefit of the social exit survey serving as a “stay interview or survey,” showing current employees that leadership is committed to understanding and improving the workplace.

The Bottom Line
There really is no debate between employee exit interviews vs exit surveys – you need both.  Employee turnover is an inevitable part of running a business, but with tools like social exit surveys combined with Best Places to Work Employee Engagement Surveys, you can begin to understand why your employees are leaving and set yourself up to do something about it.

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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