Do Those With an “Axe to Grind” Skew Exit Data

Employee Exit Interview Myth

As the leading provider for retention strategies and exit interview surveys, we occasionally hear prospects object to exit interview surveys feeling that those with an axe to grind will skew their results and they will not get good data. Since that doesn’t hold true in practice, let’s dive a little deeper and put this myth to bed once and for all.

At People Element, we construct a three-piece employee exit interview survey to get to the heart of understanding why someone broke down and took a new job in the first place. If all we did was a qualitative interview would the sentiment analysis favor the negative for those with an axe to grind? Maybe. This is why the interview is only one piece of the equation.

We utilize an exit interview survey so you have an interview and a survey. In the survey, we have a library of 150 validated statements we can pull from to design the best survey as well as customize questions specific to our clients’ needs. We ask very targeted and specific questions so you don’t end up with data that tells you Mary is a good manager and John is a bad one. Instead, with our question construct, you may find that Mary has high scores in building trust and John does not. So do people who quit John quit because he doesn’t build trust well and has low scores? Maybe, maybe not, we need to dig deeper.

Another part of our exit interview survey involves exit factors. If exits are indicating their most impactful reason for leaving is their manager relationships, then we can use the quantitative data to do a key driver analysis to discover what is causing this. If we find it is trust and it relates to John the manager’s area then we can suspect that it is a reason for leaving. If in the qualitative data, the interview portion of the exit interview survey respondents indicate their top reason for leaving was ax-grinding comments like “John is a jerk”, “I hate him”, and “John does not respect his people”, etc. we can use the data from the quantitative data, exit factors, and the qualitative data to form a case on how to prevent turnover from John and others in the organization with the same issues. While his direct reports may have been going after him with their axe to grind, we can also see that he is contributing to turnover. This method works across the organization for any issue that may come up in the exit interview survey.

Now you may be thinking, okay but what if those with an axe to grind go in and take the survey piece and give everything a low score, as in 1’s to all questions. With in-house, well-trained interviewers calling on your exits and having them complete the surveys with respondents by phone, they can intervene and dig deeper into why someone may be responding this way. It serves as quality control for those with an ax to grind. If someone completes by a mobile device or online, we know that ax-grinding is likely the case and can throw data like that out if needed. At the same time, if you have 1000 exits and a handful of people are grinding their axe, it will all balance out with the greater population. A few bad data points will not skew a larger population’s results.

Thinking that exit interview surveys are not a good idea because those with an axe to grind will skew data is simply not true due to the quality controls we put in place at People Element. With proper instrument design, execution by trained interviewers, and reporting protocols running in the background, we are able to help our clients get at the heart of determining the causative factors of voluntary turnover. Will there be qualitative comments from those who are very sour and have soapbox rants? Absolutely. Will they ruin your data set and keep you from understanding your turnover? Not at people Element.

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