Making the Most of Your Exit Interview Data

Approximately 75% of companies utilize exit interviews, though not always to their full potential. Don’t let this valuable tool become a mere formality. Exit interviews serve a bigger purpose. Valuable information is brought forth in these interviews to understand the reasons behind employee departures, their experience, and to spot potential issues. Harness exit interview information as a tool to tweak talent management strategies and drive performance improvement. Today, we delve into how to leverage exit interviews more strategically, with a goal to improve organizational results and curb employee turnover.

Getting Better Data

Employees that complete exit interviews are at a unique point in the employer/employee relationship. They’ve already made the decision to leave, however their feedback and input can offer a range of benefits to the organization.  The problem is companies simply fail to do exit interviews properly. A Harvard Business Review study shows the following breakdown of who is responsible for the process:

  • 71% HR department
  • 19% direct supervisor
  • 9% supervisor’s manager
  • 1% external consultants

This is surprising because in most cases departing employees will not speak honestly to a supervisor if the reason they are leaving is because of the supervisor. Yet one in five companies allows supervisors to take the reins in this critical discussion. This neglects the actual potential an exit interview has to make meaningful improvements. 

The bulk of companies do however, leave this to the HR team. Which makes more sense, but it can still be problematic. In these situations you might have a manager that exhibits extreme aggressive communication or non-constructive feedback, employees may still be uncomfortable coming forward with their reason for leaving. Employees may fear retaliation and just want to move on.

That leaves us with the smallest portion of companies that use outside support to manage the process. What does this 1% know that others don’t? Here are some of the benefits to this approach:

  • Third-party providers allow for candid responses and confidentiality.
  • Trained, professional interviewers that know how to ask the right questions.
  • Flexible completion options. People are often more truthful when not responding to in-person questions.
  • Expert analysis helps to identify trends and issues beyond surface-level data.

All of those benefits, and yet we see 99% of companies doing something different. This is a problem beyond a simple lack of honest participation in these programs—it can affect recruiting, productivity, and more.

Using Exit Interview Data Strategically

The key to a strategic approach is to look for opportunities to plug data back into the process as part of a feedback loop. This can come in a variety of options, including recruiting and re-recruiting, as well as talent management practices.

If people are leaving your organization and point out a benefit or two that you don’t highlight in your branding, that presents an opportunity. For example, if departing employees consistently talk about employee social events and other unique perks, those items should be used in recruiting messages to target new employees.

An often overlooked but highly valuable use for exit data is in re-recruiting former employees. For those employees that left who are eligible for rehire, you can identify whether their reasons for leaving were preventable and if they’d consider returning. From here you can then have a strategic discussion and work to re-recruit the employee.

Another option is getting deeper talent insights and using those to target your best performers. If departing staff give you insights into what matters most and what they value, the overall trends in the data can point to better management practices, enhancing employee engagement and productivity.

As long as organizations continue to see exit interviews as a disparate administrative task instead of an integral part of the talent management cycle, the data will never improve outcomes or drive higher engagement for existing staff. As the Harvard Business Review article linked above mentioned:

Regardless of method, the effectiveness of an EI [Exit Interview] program should be measured by the positive change it generates. We asked the executives whose companies had programs to name a specific action taken as the result of an EI (a policy change or an intervention in HR, operations, marketing, or some other function). Fewer than a third could cite an example. Thus two-thirds of existing programs appear to be mostly talk with little productive follow-up. It’s not surprising that many people we spoke with believe that exit interviews have a negative return on investment.

Like any employment practice, companies should be looking for ways to improve existing processes through the data they gather. This was backed up in an interview conducted with the Vice President of Research and Development at People Element, Alison Elsaesser, last year. She said, “Much of the consulting work [we do] involves understanding the reasons for leaving with turnover rates and then working with clients to prioritize based on their goals and initiatives. From the data, [we can] identify strengths, opportunities, and any quick wins.”

Companies must ask themselves: Are we making the most of this tool? Are we truly fostering an environment where departing employees can speak candidly? And, most importantly, are we acting upon the feedback in meaningful ways?
For organizations genuinely interested in unlocking the potential of exit interviews, the solutions clear: consider leveraging third-party experts like us here at People Element. With expertise in extracting honest feedback and discerning actionable patterns, these professionals can transform exit interviews from a mere formality to a powerful instrument for continuous improvement.

Now’s the time for organizations to act. Seize the opportunity to gain deeper, more honest insights from departing employees and harness that knowledge for transformative growth. Don’t just conduct exit interviews—capitalize on them.

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