An employee has handed in their notice. Maybe they just couldn’t cut it. Maybe they got a better offer. Maybe you decided their time with the company had simply run its course. Who knows?
But where it is ‘unwanted attrition’ – losing high-performing or highly engaged employees for reasons that could have been prevented – it’s a critical business issue. High employee turnover affects a company’s bottom line: It costs a company approximately 33% of an employee’s annual salary to hire a replacement. Losing high-performing and engaged team members can affect other employees, your brand value, and your ability to deliver high-quality service and products.
So when an employee resigns, companies conduct exit interviews to gather honest feedback and understand the reasons behind their departure. Exit interviews are a great way to identify trends in why people leave the organization and learn from them to boost employee retention.
What causes unwanted attrition?
Unwanted attrition generally results from:
- employee job dissatisfaction
- employees not feeling valued
- poor management practices
- lack of advancement opportunity
- occasionally, conflict with a co-worker or manager
These are all things that can build up over time, and the trigger to leave can happen at any stage in the employee lifecycle.
The key to reducing unwanted attrition is to understand:
- why it happens
- what you can do to prevent the same things from happening to other high-performing employees
Good exit interviews will provide you with this information.
What is an exit interview?
An exit interview, or exit survey, taken at the end of an employee’s time with you is the best way to find out why people leave your organization. You can identify trends, learn from them, and take action to reduce attrition, such as more robust hiring strategies or improvements to your company culture and management styles.
It’s a chance to learn from former employees’ experiences – the good and the bad. The process can be conducted face to face, using forms, or with an exit interview survey.
Why is conducting exit interviews and surveys important?
The hiring process is expensive and can take a long time. If at the end of it you employ people who stay with your company only briefly:
- You waste time and money on recruitment
- Every time someone leaves, a bit of company knowledge or process goes with them
- Leavers may also be detractors, affecting your company reputation
By providing departing employees with the opportunity to give honest feedback, you can gather valuable insights to improve the employee experience for both current and future employees.
Typically, only about a third of employees leaving an organization complete an exit interview. Given the potential richness of exit information, all employers would benefit from encouraging every leaver to respond to exit surveys.
An exit survey is a means to an end. The goal is not to prevent the employee from leaving. Instead, it is to learn and use it to gain insights to help retain talent, prevent bad hires, improve management practices, and ultimately drive better organizational performance.
It really does pay dividends in the long run to invest time, energy, and care into finding out why people are leaving, in order to minimize future attrition.
What are the goals of an effective exit interview?
An effective exit interview yields valuable information:
- Formally closes the employee/employer relationship in a constructive and helpful
- Provides first-hand employee experience data on their environment, team, management, role, and company culture.
- Discovers if the former employee would promote your organization to other people in the
- Understands why they chose to leave, so you can see how this aligns with your company’s attrition risk profile.
- Identifies any issues or areas within the business that need
The exit interview survey format is commonly used to make the best use of remaining time and support flexibility for a mobile, remote or international workforce.
What makes a good exit survey?
Unlike a traditional engagement survey where you analyze constructs built around employee attitudes, an exit survey should be much more practical and simple to design and interpret.
Different exit surveys can gather different types of feedback. Some ask for direct feedback on the leaver’s manager, while others just ask about the role and reasons for leaving.
It uses open text fields to elicit rich detail and nuances about an employee’s decision to leave, as well as multiple-choice questions. Text analytics software can automatically process language and analyze sentiment to allow you to gain insight into what your exiting employees really think. You can create topics, themes, and trends to help you to spot patterns in the data.
The best exit surveys:
- Have a purpose, stated right at the beginning: ‘Help us understand more about your decision to leave’
- Thank the employee for their service: ‘We really appreciate the work you’ve done with us, and we’re sorry to see you go!’
- 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 human resources people need 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 performance data or employee engagement data, you can start to identify regrettable and non-regrettable attrition
- Pinpoint certain teams, roles, or demographics with higher attrition rates
- Track trends over time so you can measure improvements and link them to KPIs such as staff turnover costs, to prove the return on investment (ROI) of your improvements
How to gain maximum insight from exit interviews and surveys
- Make the exit interview part of the standard off-boarding process and use automated systems to reduce the workload.
- Conduct the exit interview after employees decide to leave, but just before physically leaving the organization. Employees are less likely to respond to the survey once they have walked out of the door.
- Keep employee exit interview questions short and simple by focusing on evaluating different job components and identifying where change is necessary.
- Think carefully about interview questions involving feelings and emotions as this is particularly difficult, especially if you have let an employee go.
- Assure the respondent that their feedback is confidential. Not to be directly shared with their manager, and most importantly, you must emphasize that it will not affect any reference they may seek in the future.
Key themes to measure in an exit interview
Every organization will have its own interview questions when it comes to finding out why employees leave, and you will be able to tailor your exit surveys to reflect this.
There are several standard themes you’ll want to understand:
- Reasons for leaving
- Feedback about the role, manager, team, pay and conditions, working environment, development opportunities
- Feedback about the organization’s culture as a whole
- Whether your ex-employee would still promote your organization to others
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 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 process language and sentiment analysis to allow you to automatically analyze many thousands of open-text responses.
This then creates topics, themes, and trends to allow you to spot patterns and interpret the data.
Tips and techniques for asking the right exit interview questions
Ask the right questions in that final conversation, to get the best value results as you only get this one chance. Asking the best exit interview questions can provide:
- Honest answers – Getting honest 360 degree feedback is hard to do as staff members don’t want to cause offense or go against organizational politics by leaving negative feedback. Be seen as neutral by using non-judgment language in your questions.
- Consistent data – You can gather consistently-formatted data by standardizing a set of employee exit interview questions. This can be easily quantified or represented into other formats to help you understand how to reduce unwanted attrition.
- Comparable results – Large questions like ‘why are you leaving?’ can be hard to answer. Ask smaller questions across several topics to get feedback on each area of the employee’s situation and compare results by similar performance levels, tenure, and role.
All exit interview questions you ask should be fair, and there should be sufficient time for the employee to give feedback. Offer a few open-text field items to get richer details and more nuances about an employee’s decision to leave.
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 many thousands of open-text responses and create topics, themes, and trends to allow you to spot patterns and interpret the data.
30 best questions for employee exit surveys – and why
To get the fullest picture of the employee experience and improve retention, pick questions from this Top 30 list of sample exit interview questions and the reasons why you should ask them. They cover:
- The role
- The pay and package
- The reason for leaving
- The manager
- The team
- The workplace and culture
- The organization as a whole
- How long did you work in this role?
Turnover among long-serving employees, who have accrued knowledge and skills, has a greater impact than the loss of a relatively new hire. There may be specific trends or issues prompting resignations among valuable current staff.
- How accurately was the role described to you before you joined the organization?
Assess your hiring, interview, and onboarding processes, and the role they played in selecting the right candidate. This can also yield data about the job description’s
- How much did the job role change after you were hired?
Certain circumstances may require an employee to take on new or different responsibilities. Find out what these are and the impact they had on the employee by asking them what changed and why.
- How reasonable or unreasonable was the workload for this role?
Burnout and overwork can be a factor in unwanted turnover. A business could be over-estimating an employee’s capacity for more work, especially if they’re seen as high-performing top talent.
- What were the best and worst areas of your job?
Each employee values different areas of a job, and it may help to understand this employee’s perspective to see obvious patterns. Good aspects can be promoted to keep the role interesting.
- How could we have supported you to continue in your role?
There may be potential areas (poor IT systems, lack of training or tools, etc) that weren’t working in the employee’s role. Help retain your next hire by resolving these issues for a better experience.
- Given the role’s responsibilities today, what things should we be looking for in your replacement?
No one knows the job better than the employee that did the job day in, day out. Their insights can help you update the job description and target the right replacement candidates.
- Would you consider coming back to work in this role in the future?
Rehiring an outstanding employee could be an option if the problems are fixed. Find out whether they are still open to this role and want to hear about future opportunities.
The pay and package
- How fair did you feel your total compensation package (pay + benefits + any equity) was compared to other organizations?
This question helps you 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 that’s too good to refuse.
- How good or bad was your benefits package?
Pay is generally a contributing factor to employee dissatisfaction. Other things like low engagement and alignment of personal values with company values, can matter more. Track to what extent pay and the package played a role in the decision to leave.
- Which benefits did you take advantage of?
Understand why an employee used some benefits over others, and where making changes could help benefit uptake. This also helps make your benefits stronger for current and new employees.
The reason for leaving
- What was your main reason for leaving the company?
Sometimes, the best way to find out why somebody left is simply to ask them. Employees know their own minds about resigning – intent to leave and actually leaving are strongly correlated.
- Why did you begin looking for another job?
This is phrased to focus on the employee’s wants and desires within the new position. If they’re looking elsewhere for this, you may want to investigate bringing it to your company.
- Was there a specific event or person involved with your decision to leave?
50 percent of Americans have left a job to “get away from their manager at some point in their career”, according to a Gallup employee engagement survey. If employees are resigning because of a direct cause, this needs immediate attention.
- How much did your managers’ actions match their words – ex. did they do what they said they would?
An employee’s relationship with their manager can have a huge impact on their engagement and job satisfaction. Trusting your manager to follow up on what they say helps support a good working relationship.
- What challenges were present when working with your manager?
An employee’s upwards feedback can help strengthen the management of your replacement hire. It can also highlight when to explore training options or review performance levels.
- How were feedback and ideas exchanged and did you feel it worked?
Employees that receive constructive feedback and are able to suggest ideas back can feel valued and supported. As they progress in their role, employees feel greater job satisfaction.
- What was the team atmosphere like?
The dynamics within a team are unique, based on each person’s personality, role, and background. This gives you an idea of the overall picture of the employee’s team and how they work.
- How often did you see your team or have team meetings?
Team collaboration can impact an employee’s job if there is not adequate opportunity to arrange meetings and connect. Managers can review practices to structure team contact time each week.
- Who made a real difference to your employee experience, if anyone?
There are some employees within teams that naturally hold teams together and make an extra effort to help others. These employees are worth knowing and appreciating for making their team better.
- What advice would you like to give to your team?
The advice from the employee could point to a viable or innovative solution. As advice tends to be framed positively, it’s more likely to be constructive and helpful.
The workplace and culture
- 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. It’s essential employees feel safe.
- How would you describe the organization’s culture?
Your view of the company culture at a senior level can vary from the staff working on the ground. See if the cultural values are clear, or if more needs to be done to establish them within the business.
- Who would you speak to in the organization about your concerns?
Explore how connected the employee was and who was in their networks. It will also show well your staff is communicating with each other at a peer-to-peer level, and where this is not happening.
- Have you ever experienced any discrimination or harassment within the workplace?
Harassment and discrimination are serious offenses that must be handled correctly to protect the organization and employees. If the employee experienced issues, find out why this went
The organization as a whole
- On a scale from 0-10, how likely are you to recommend [COMPANY NAME] to a friend or colleague?
This question supplies employer NPS data, which provides insight into loyalty and engagement. Engagement, in particular, is negatively correlated with staff turnover, so investigating that could change.
- 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 the likelihood of turnover – if the perceived level of justice is low, it could be a factor to consider.
- What would you change about the company?
You’ll find more information on why the departing employee is leaving, or gain the employee’s unique perspective of the company from their interactions with customers, suppliers or other peers.
- In your opinion, where does the organization perform well?
Areas perceived as positive enough to warrant complimenting by a departing employee are likely to be shared in a positive light in the future. Verify the results and explore these ‘gems’ in more detail.
- How can we improve our training and development?
Maybe the employee liked learning in a specific way or using a specific training option. Or did they learn outside of the available training on offer? This could improve the way training is delivered.
Get started with your own exit interview survey
If your company has experienced high turnover, low employee satisfaction scores or you want to boost employee retention, capitalize on your Exit Interviews data.
The insight from employees, who have nothing to lose and want to share their honest experiences, can highlight areas for improvement and underlying issues.