Employee Retention Strategies: Exit Interview Vs Workplace Survey

Good Employee Retention

What is an Exit Interview?

The exit interview is a tool for gaining information relating to turnover reasons and has gained widespread popularity amongst organisations, most notably in corporate America. When any organisation sets out to develop a retention strategy with the aim of ensuring that they are able to keep the right people in the right jobs the first questions they should be asking themselves is why do people leave the organisation? And could we have done something to stop them? Helping to find the answers to these questions could come from implementing a well-thought out exit interview process. Questions for exit interviews are generally pre-determined as part of a well thought out exit interview process. The line manager will normally sit down with the employee who is leaving and go through the exit interview template and record the answers on an exit interview form which is them recorded by HR.

When does an Exit Interview take place?

Employers will tend to carry out an exit interview upon learning that an employee has, or is about to, submit their notice of resignation. The exit interview format varies between organisations but generally the departing employee is taken through the exit interview process with their employer at some stage before they leave the organisation. Exit interview questions will seek to enable the employer is to understand how the leaver regards satisfaction with pay; relationships with line manager/supervisor and colleagues; development opportunities; and job content.

Why carry out Exit Interviews

An Industrial Relations Services (IDS) survey in the year 2000 found that 90% of organisations surveyed carried out exit interviews with their leavers. Indeed, a survey conducted by Robert Half International found that 93% of executives in large US companies believe that the information provided by exit interviews is the most useful mechanism in identifying the reasons behind employee turnover. However, this opinion may be little more than optimism as rigorous research would lead us to believe that the information gained from the exit interview may not be as useful as an organisation would like to believe. The general findings of this research would conclude that the information gathered through the exit interview process is highly inaccurate.

Drawbacks of the Exit Interview

According to the work of a number of researchers in the field, the inaccuracies of the exit interview process can be explained by the rational distortion perspective. This idea basically assumes that the leaving employee will only disclose the truth in an exit interview if it is of greater benefit to the individual than lying. An employee may lie in an exit interview questionnaire for a number of reasons that have cost implications to the individual such as:

  • The risk of burning bridges with the former employer
  • The risk of repercussions from the former employer, such as poor references
  • The risk of conflicts with individuals in the former organisation
  • The intangible costs attached to sharing information about one’s personal life
  • The risk of incriminating or otherwise harming friends and co-workers who remain with the organisation
  • Calculative characters may intentionally distort information as an act of revenge against the organisation

Once employees work out how to answer exit interview questions the whole process loses it’s value.

Discovering the Truth in an Exit Interview

Can Exit Interview Information be Distorted?

Of course where there are reasons for lying in an exit interview there are also reasons for telling the truth. It may be that the exit interviewee has a genuine compassion for the organisation or has a number of friends who remain working there and he or she can contribute to positive organisational change by telling the truth and providing the company with an insight into the problems that exist. However this level of honesty would only likely be displayed if the exit interviewee perceived that their comments would actually be valued by the organisation.

Recruitment and Retention Poll

Which gives the best results: Workplace Surveys or Exit Interviews

  • Exit Interviews
  • Workplace Surveys
  • Both used together
  • Neither are useful

Questions for Exit Interview

Personal Nature of Exit Interviews

There is an art and science to saying goodbye. Striking the right balance ensures that organisations can gain the data they need to rectify problem areas and that the departing employee can achieve positive “closure” on the employment relationship’.

There can be no way of validating the information recorded in an exit interview as fact because the information and reasons that the exit interviewee is providing is of a personal nature and is often attributed to feelings or emotions. In a case study by a high performer in a company unexpectedly hands in his resignation from his employer.

At the exit interview the manager attempts to find out the reasons behind his decision to leave. The exit interviewee maintains a positive position throughout and insists that he has always been happy with the employer and that the only reason for leaving is that he received an offer that was simply too good to turn down. The reader later discovers that the exit interviewee lied so as not to burn bridges with the company but that in reality he was unhappy with the relationship between his team and another team within the company that was stifling his sense of achievement. It turned out this view was shared with a number of other employees but the CEO and senior managers were unaware of this because they had no alternative method to the exit interview in place to listen to employee views before it was too late.

Workplace Survey

Employee Questionnaires or Workplace Surveys are questionnaires designed to capture the attitudes or opinions of employees. This form of communication is widely used throughout the UK with many organisations tending to carry out an employee questionnaire every 2 years or so.

The questionnaire seeks to gauge the opinions and feelings of it’s employees in a number of different areas. The results, analysed in the right way, can teach the organisation a great deal about what the employer is and isn’t doing right and how this is affecting the employees satisfaction in the workplace.

In large organisations the analysis of the responses is time consuming and therefore potentially expensive given the resources that are deployed to carry out the analysis. However, the costs could be negated against the potential reward for taking the time to carry out the analysis and understand employee attitudes, if it means that employee turnover is managed more effectively.

Workplace surveys can be used as an alternative approach to the exit interview. However, one can argue that the use of both the workplace survey and the exit interview/questionnaire will yield the greater results. The workplace survey should not be seen as an alternative but rather as an addition to the exit process.

Workplace Survey Research

Research into Workplace Surveys finds that information gained through the use of workplace surveys as opposed to the information gained through exit interviews is actually more detailed. In a comparison of the data recorded through exit interviews and the data recorded through workplace surveys in a sample of nurses found that:

  • there is less reluctance to raise and discuss work-related causes for turnover in workplace surveys than in exit interviews
  • employees provide more recommendations for improvement in workplace surveys then in exit interviews
  • the responses obtained in workplace surveys were more detailed overall than in exit interviews.

These findings can be explained very easily. The confidential nature of the workplace survey means that employees are more prepared to be open and honest with the information they provide because the employee is still active in the organisation so is more compelled to speak their mind if they have issues that they want the organisation to address. This is in contrast to an exit interview setting where the employee is already resigned to leaving and so perhaps not so concerned with helping the organisation retain staff.

Correlating findings from the workplace survey and exit interview

However, one could argue that it’s the confidentiality element of the workplace survey that actually prevents the organisation from identifying and acting upon the individual problems that are being raised. Correlating the workplace survey outcomes with the outcomes obtained through the exit questionnaires about 6 to 12 months after the workplace survey can help the organisation to understand whether particular attitudes cause employee turnover.

But on the other hand it could be argued that this comparison is useless because it’s impossible to compare the answers by people who leave with people who stay. If the organisation were to correlate the outcomes, any link between the reasons given for leaving and the workplace survey findings could be purely coincidental. There can be no clear proof that the reasons for leaving given by the leaver matched their attitudinal response in the workplace survey. Indeed, employees may display in their answers to the survey a general dissatisfaction in certain areas and general satisfaction in others making it impossible for the organisation to establish exactly what it is that leads to turnover.