Why conduct an exit interview?
What’s the value in getting feedback from a soon-to-be-ex employee?
Exit interview surveys allow you to get feedback that is 100% honest, since your departing staff member won’t be circumspect about causing offense or going against organizational politics. You’ll also be hearing a perspective that sums up the whole of their time with you, rather than just a snapshot of daily life. Most importantly though, exit feedback can help you understand why staff leave and what you can do to avoid losing valuable team members in the future.
Different exit surveys will gather different types of feedback. You can use your results to dissect data by performance levels, tenure and role to better understand your attrition risk profile company-wide.
Sample exit interview questions (and why we recommend them)
Every organization will have its 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 organization as a whole
- Whether they would still promote your organization to others when they talk about you
Here are some of the exit interview questions we recommend, along with the rationale behind them. You can download our complete exit interview survey template for free.
- What was your main reason for leaving the company?
Sometimes, the best way to find out why somebody left is simply to ask them. Research suggests that employees tend to know their own minds when it comes to turnover – intent to leave and actually leaving are strongly correlated.
- How long did you work in this role?
Turnover among long-serving employees can have a much greater impact on a business than the loss of a relatively new hire, thanks to their accrued knowledge and skills. By collecting this data point, you can filter your results and understand if there are any specific trends or issues prompting resignations among valuable long-serving staff.
- How accurately was the role described to you before you joined the organization?
This item speaks to your hiring, interview and onboarding processes and the role they play in determining a candidate’s fit for the task at hand and for your business. Answers here can yield data that’s used to improve your hiring process.
- How reasonable or unreasonable was the workload for this role?
Burnout and overwork can be a factor in unwanted turnover. Sometimes, this is a result of a high-performing employee being ‘rewarded’ with a lot of responsibility thanks to their dedication and talent by a business that overestimates their capacity.
- How safe or unsafe was your working environment?
Employee safety and how it is perceived within a company culture can have strong positive or negative effects on employee engagement – which in turn is a driver of retention.
- How much did your manager’s actions match their words – i.e. did they walk the talk?
An employee’s relationship with their line manager can have a huge impact on their engagement and job satisfaction levels. Being able to trust your manager that they will do as they say is an important indicator of a good working relationship.
- How fair did you feel your total compensation package (pay + benefits + any equity) was compared to other organizations?
This question helps you to understand whether you’re competing well in the wider employer market. It may be that the employee likes working for you but has received an offer too good to refuse.
- How good or bad was your benefits package?
While pay is generally only a contributing factor to employee dissatisfaction rather than a reason to leave (other things, such as low engagement and alignment of personal values with company values, matter more) it can be useful to track whether it’s part of the mix.
- On a scale from 0-10, how likely are you to recommend [COMPANY NAME] to a friend or colleague?
This question yields employer NPS data, which provides insight on loyalty and engagement. Engagement in particular is negatively correlated with staff turnover.
- How fairly or unfairly do you think this company treats all of its employees?
An employee’s perception of organizational justice (i.e. how fairly staff are treated) can have an impact on likelihood of turnover – if the perceived level of justice is low, this may be a factor in the employee’s decision to leave.
Exit interview tips: Planning your survey
Unlike an 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 your exit interview questions are too general and open to various interpretations, you may want to consider redesigning your survey.
It can be useful to include a few open text field items within your exit survey questions too – these often elicit richer detail and more nuances about an employee’s decision to leave compared to multiple-choice questions.
While historically qualitative answers (i.e. free text in open field questions) have been difficult to turn into insights, text analytics software has come a long way in recent years. Natural language processing and sentiment analysis now allow you to automatically analyze tens of thousands of open-text responses and create topics, themes and trends to allow you to spot patterns and interpret the data.