Skip to main content

Exit interviews: What to ask and why

7 min read
A good exit survey will create simple, actionable data and insights that clearly point to areas you can work on to reduce unwanted attrition. Here’s all you need to know about exit surveys, including quick tips and examples for creating your exit interview surveys.

Want to find out more about employee surveys? Download The Essential Employee experience Surveys

Download now

Your employee has handed in their notice. Are they just a bad egg? Maybe you’ve decided their time with the company has simply run its course?

Thinking this way may make you and the c-suite feel better in the short term, but in the long-run your organisation will suffer. Pinpointing why people leave is crucial to the success of your company. You have to get real data and insights that you can action. You can’t rely on gut feel.

Exit interviews are a great way to identify trends in why people leave the organisation and learn from them to reduce attrition.

What is an exit interview?

An exit interview, or exit survey, helps you to understand why people are leaving your organisation and give you actionable ways to prevent further attrition.

This could include more robust hiring strategies or improvements to your culture and management styles.

Why are exit interviews and surveys important?

The hiring process can be long and expensive. If at the end of it you’re employing people who stay at your company very briefly, then you’re not only wasting time and money with recruitment but every time someone leaves, a bit of company knowledge or process goes with them.

By providing departing employees the opportunity to give their honest feedback, you can gather valuable insights to improve the employee experience for future staff.

Finding out why people are leaving and how to prevent it in the future should be something you invest time, energy and care into. It will pay dividends in the long run.

What does a good exit survey look like?

The most effective exit interviews:

  • Encourage open dialogue by using online surveys, which result in more candid feedback (as well as useful data) than a more traditional face-to-face interview
  • Don’t shy away from asking tough questions. Particularly ones that shine a light on potential breakdowns within your business
  • Are automated through a digital open door by linking an employee feedback platform to your HRIS to automatically send a request for feedback when an employee hands in their notice, reducing the amount of time HR needs to spend manually administering the surveys
  • Understand the impact of attrition by correlating data from different sources. For example, by tying in your exit interview data with 360 Feedback Tool or employee engagement data you can start to identify regrettable and non-regrettable attrition
  • Track trends over time so you can measure improvements and link them to KPIs such as staff turnover costs to prove the ROI of your improvements

How to conduct a successful exit interview

Different exit surveys will gather different types of feedback. Some ask for direct feedback on the person’s manager while others just ask about the role and reasons for leaving.

If an exit survey isn’t clear to interpret you may want to consider redesigning your survey

Exit interviews should also allow you to dissect data by performance levels, tenure and role.

Unlike an employee engagement survey where you deal with constructs built around employee attitudes, an exit survey should be much more practical and simple to design and interpret. If an exit survey isn’t clear to interpret you may want to consider redesigning your survey.

It can be useful to include a few open text fields in your survey too – often they elicit rich detail and nuances about an employee’s decision to leave compared to multiple choice questions.

While historically these have been difficult to turn into insights, text analytics software can now process language and sentiment analysis to allow you to automatically analyse 10,000s of open text responses.

This then creates topics, themes and trends to allow you to spot patterns and interpret the data.

Exit interview tips and best practices

Typically, only about a third of employees leaving an organisation complete an exit interview. Given the importance of the information, it’s in every organisation’s best interest to improve response rates.

The most basic suggestion is to make sure that exit interviews are a priority and to encourage managers and exiting employees to complete them.

5 Tips for exit interviews and surveys

  1. Make the exit interview part of the standard off-boarding process and use automated systems to reduce the workload
  2. Conduct the exit interview after employees decide to leave, but just before leaving the organisation. Employees are less likely to respond to the survey once they have left the organisation
  3. Keep employee exit interview questions short and simple by focusing on evaluating different job components and identifying needed changes
  4. Think carefully about questions around feelings and emotions as this is particularly difficult, especially if the employee has been terminated from the job
  5. Assure the respondent that their comments are confidential. And will not be directly shared with their manager. Most importantly it should be emphasised that it will not affect any reference they may seek in the future

Bonus tip

Don’t forget to track trends over time so you can measure improvements and link them to KPIs such as staff turnover costs to prove the ROI of your improvements.

READ MORE: Confidential vs anonymous employee feedback

Key themes to measure in an exit interview

Every organisation will have their own needs when it comes to understanding why employees leave, but there are a number of major themes you’ll want to understand:

  • Reasons for leaving
  • Feedback about their role
  • Feedback about their manager
  • Feedback about their team
  • Feedback about the organisation as a whole
  • Whether they’d still promote your organisation to others when they talk about you

Sample exit interview questions

These sample questions will help you to zero in on trends causing people in your organisation to leave, as well as helping you to find ways to prevent the same problems recurring.

Q1. What is your job title?
Q2 Which of the following departments do you work in?
Q3 Which of the following best describes your tenure in your current role?
Q4 What is your gender?
Q5 What is your age?
Q6 What was your main reason for joining [COMPANY]?
Q7 What was your main reason for leaving [COMPANY]?
Q8 How challenging was the work that you had the opportunity to complete in this role?

Download The Essential Guide to Employee Experience Surveys