Why You Need To Stop Pretending Your Exit Survey Is Useful

Article main image
May 19, 2016

Let’s say you have an employee, Eric, who has decided to leave the company. Shortly before his last day, you ask him to fill out an exit survey. Once you get it back, you noticed he only answered one question: Why are you leaving the organization? His response: I found a better job.

Now, think about what you gained from conducting that survey. You’re still down an employee and you have no clue why. All you’ve really done is waste your and his time. Even so, you won’t give up on traditional exit surveys.

My company, Quantum Workplace, recently released its State of Employee Feedback report. It found that, although 87% of organizations use either exit surveys or interviews, 24% are still having trouble reducing turnover.

The exit survey is broken; it’s outdated, useless, and in a word, sucks.

Here are three reasons traditional exit surveys are flawed, and how to make them useful again:

1. They assume departing employees will be honest

There’s a major flaw inherent to the exit survey: it assumes that an employee who is leaving will be open about the reasons why. But what incentive does a disgruntled employee who’s trying to move on have in telling you anything? They want to get out, so even if they do participate in a survey or exit interview, they’re not going to provide in-depth insight into what’s really going on.

If you include input from someone who still has a stake in the company, like co-workers who are staying, then you get information of value. Co-workers talk. They vent about what’s bothering them. And they don’t hold back.

Chances are, when an employee leaves the company, his close co-workers know the real reason why. You can use that information to make more accurate adjustments to the work environment. For example, if Eric quits and only tells you that he found a better job, his co-worker Kyle can tell you it was really because he felt like his skills weren’t being developed.

Remember that employees who are choosing to stay at the company want any problems they’re experiencing to be fixed. It’s in their best interest to tell you about issues that are causing people to leave so they can have a better workplace.

2. They’re too little too late

Our survey found that, while 61% of organizations conduct exit interviews, just 34% use stay interviews, or interviews that check in with employees to ensure they’re happy at the company.

So herState of EMployee feedback meetingse’s the question: Why are you waiting until an employee leaves to ask them what’s wrong? By then, it’s too late. They’re out the door and there’s no turning back.

But if you had conducted a stay interview with them earlier, you

could’ve identified anything that was weighing on them before they hit their breaking point. Things might have ended up differently, and you wouldn’t be out of another great employee.

Regular stay interviews that occur after key employment milestones give you data you can track over time to keep up with what is keeping employees at the company. And, more importantly, what has them considering quitting.

3. They aren’t integrated with other data

Tracking turnover data over time is a powerful thing. In fact, our survey found that 86% of highly engaged organizations collect turnover data. In case you’re wondering, just 50% of disengaged companies do.

But for the data you get from an exit survey to mean anything it has to be quantifiable, trackable, and be given context. That way, all the information makes sense and you can spot trends that are causing employees to leave.

For example, if in a survey an employee says they wanted better career opportunities, there’s not much you can do with that information. Should you offer more training? Revisit how you promote in the company? Change how you communicate performance review results to employees? You could throw a dart at a list of HR initiatives and have a better chance of landing on something that works.

However, if you combine the results of employee surveys with data about employees, their performance, their engagement, etc. answers begin to emerge. You might see that most employees citing lack of career advancement as a reason for leaving are young, had the same manager, and had only been with the company a few years. Now you know you have a manager who isn’t focusing on the career development of his newer, entry-level employees. You can commit to a plan and solve the issue.

If you want to reduce turnover at your organization, you need to know why employees are leaving. But the fact of the matter is that the traditional exit survey won’t give you that information. It’s time to rethink how we collect that feedback and find better ways to use it.

What are some other issues with the traditional exit survey? Share in the comments below!

Get articles like this
in your inbox
Subscribe to our mailing list and get interesting articles about talent acquisition emailed weekly!