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The importance of the exit interview should not be underestimated | Weekly10

The importance of an exit interview: Learning from the past to shape workplace culture

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Employee insight is an incredibly valuable resource.

In fact, it’s half the reason our weekly check-ins are so useful for employers (the other half being how it helps managers to guide their team members and shape performance). An interview with a departing employee can be an especially useful addition to this data, but even in organisations that use them, uptake isn’t necessarily ideal, and many businesses simply don’t bother at all.

So today we’re answering the questions, what is the goal of an exit survey, and why are they so important?

How common are exit interviews?

What is the goal of an exit survey? Well, before we answer that question, it’s worth talking about their prevalence a little first. There’s enough content on exit surveys on the internet that you might think they’re standard practice. In fact, all the way back in 2009, CIPD found that exit interviews were the most popular method used by UK employers to find out why people left organisations, followed by anonymous exit surveys.

But more recent information from The Balance Careers shows that the average participation rate for exit interviews is between 30 and 35%. This means that the vast majority of exiting employees are leaving without providing insight as to why. Of course, exit interviews are purely voluntary, and you can’t force someone to answer your questions. But it’s in the best interest of employers to try and improve and possibly incentivise higher rates of exit interview participation.

Exit surveys can help to reduce turnover

What is the goal of an exit survey, if not to manage turnover? When an employee leaves a business, their reasons for doing so can vary widely. They can range from amicable splits or opportunities the individual just can’t pass up, to a lack of progression in your organisation, or away from an awful manager as quickly as they can. So in the end, while regularly checking in and exchanging feedback is a good way of managing it, a bit of turnover is usually inevitable.

But the cost of it can vary significantly. Employers must advertise the position, negotiate the replacement’s salary, and depending on circumstances, provide their ex-staff member a severance package. One study of employees with median salaries of $45,000 found that turnover cost $15,000 per employee, a third of their salary. In the UK, it can cost around £30,000. But going back a few years, a study from the Centre for American Progress found that replacing a high-earning executive could cost as much as an eye-watering 213% of their annual salary.

Interviewing people on the way out gives employers the opportunity to keep an eye out for trends. If everyone’s quitting for the same reasons, then that’s a solid indicator that something is going unaddressed, whether it’s an unbearable manager, an HR issue, a health risk, or just plain old office politics. While it’s obviously better to resolve these problems before they result in turnover, if someone is on the way out, you might as well can any insight you can from them.

Employees on the way out may be more honest

Getting honest, uninhibited insight is the real trick when it comes to collecting feedback. At Weekly10, we help employers achieve that by building up good feedback and communication habits week to week. But not every organisation has that sort of framework in place, and even if they do, a little bit of scepticism towards your own findings is a healthy attitude for data collection. It’s hard to totally discount the idea that an employee’s reluctance to upset their manager could limit how forthcoming they are when providing feedback.

Exit interviewees are seen as less encumbered by this anxiety, because they don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone in the organisation anymore. As a result, they may be more willing to discuss problems affecting company morale, engagement or wellbeing than their former colleagues. That said, it’s still best to keep exit interviews confidential, and if at all possible, don’t have someone’s interview be conducted by anyone who used to manage them.

Exit interviews help to align roles with employee expectations

Sometimes, we feel compelled to leave our position because the role just isn’t what we envisioned. Aligning expectations is a key aspect of engaging your employees. It’s something that needs to be done right from the recruitment process, and reinforced at every performance review. But if you find you keep losing staff to job dissatisfaction, it might be worth reflecting on how you’re presenting roles in your organisation to prospective applicants. 

In this way, exit interviews can provide insight you can use to improve your onboarding process for new staff. It’s important to set realistic expectations of what your would-be employee’s day-to-day experience will be like.

People would apply in droves to look after wildlife on their own private island. Considerably less would want to tend irate geese on a spit of rock in the middle of the Irish Sea. But if that’s the role you’re advertising, then glossing over the demands of the job won’t get the sort of applicants you need.

An exit interview can help you tie up loose ends

While the main answer to the question, “what is the goal of an exit survey?” is to collect insight and reduce turnover, these interviews also give employers the chance to deal with any remaining issues and set expectations going forward.

For example, the exiting employee might have unused holiday, or there might be a severance package to discuss. There might be overhanging projects you need to debrief them on before they go, or you might want to see if they’ll have any remaining involvement with the company. If they’re retiring or leaving for other completely amicable reasons, you might want to offer them the opportunity to become a mentor for your organisation in the future. The usefulness of exit interviews for smoothing over employee departures is yet another reason that employers should utilise them more widely.

Next week, we’ll be giving you a breakdown of how to carry out an exit interview effectively, so if you want to get the most insight from departing employees, then keep an eye on the Weekly10 blog!

Did you know that Weekly10’s performance and feedback tools include dynamic meeting templates? So you can build your very own evidence-driven exit interviews at the click of a few buttons.

Research Associate