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It’s Time to Take Employee Exit Surveys Seriously

There are many ways employees can answer the timeless question, “Why are you leaving your job?” However, prominent financier J.P. Morgan may have put it best when he said, “A [person] always has two reasons for doing anything—a good reason and the real reason.” When asked the appropriate questions, employees leaving an organization are a rich source of unique, objective information; departing employees are generally more forthcoming, constructive and objective than staff still in their jobs. From an HR perspective, the primary goal of the exit survey is to learn the reasons for an employee’s departure in order to drive positive organizational change.

Assure Confidentiality

Departing employees rely on former managers and team members for references and networking, and are sometimes nervous about saying too much and possibly burning bridges. Or, it’s possible they’re just apathetic: What’s the point of enduring an uncomfortable conversation when you only have to put up with the problems for a few more days?

Assuring departing employees that their comments will be used in aggregate format, to help the organization make positive changes and retain valued employees, helps encourage honesty. While there’s not much an employer can do to guarantee confidentiality, employees should understand how the information they provide will be used, and that the company will make every effort to take action in a way that doesn’t jeopardize them. Administering exit interviews and collecting responses online may encourage employees to be more candid and willing to share their individual experiences.

Ask the Right Questions

As with all questionnaires and surveys, it is important to ask the right questions. The obvious question in every exit survey is why the employee decided to leave the company, but do not focus solely on the employee’s reasons for leaving. Although this is extremely important information, it is also critical to include more comprehensive measures about the employee’s attitudes and experiences to help you identify issues and concerns that may not come up when asking specifically about reasons for leaving. Including various open-ended questions about working at the company helps management understand what employees value most in their workplace, and pinpoint the reasons they leave. Be sure to include probing questions to discover the departing employee’s feelings about the company, their unique role, their relationship with managers, and what the company can do to improve its employees’ experience.

Here’s a sample employee exit survey created to get you started on the right track.

Identify Areas of Dissatisfaction

Overall, the exit interview questions serve to gather data for a company’s HR department to analyze. Tracking survey answers can help identify trends that are making employees dissatisfied in their jobs, and consistent answers about a specific problem can help the company make the necessary changes and avoid unwanted attrition. Identifying ongoing trends in employee exit interview responses enables you to measure improvements over time. Your employee survey process is a good way to get an accurate understanding of how much of your voluntary turnover is preventable and how much is non-preventable. This represents an essential piece of information that should be the fundamental basis of your exit survey data analysis.

Adjust Organizational Structure

Based on answers given to exit survey questions, the company can decide whether to restructure the position before hiring a replacement. For example, if the employee cited a heavy workload as one of the reasons for leaving, the company may reallocate various tasks to another employee in the future. The exit survey also can identify problems with compensation and benefits, and lead to adjustments.

When the appropriate questions are asked, employee exit interviews can positively change the environment of the organization by changing management style, implementing changes that reflect employees’ opinions, and creating employee recognition programs as needed. Ensure the questions you ask will elicit the type of answers that will most enhance and improve your department, and company overall.

When you implement changes within your company as a result of employee exit survey findings, let your employees know the reason you are making these changes. Knowing that your organization takes exit findings seriously not only encourages future participation, but lets employees know that your organization listens to employees. This important action will ensure that you get open and honest ideas, suggestions, and critiques from your employee exit survey.