The Ultimate Guide to Exit Surveys: Questions, Method, and Useful Indicators
Employee attrition is expensive. It can cost as much as $15,000 to replace an employee with a median salary of $45,000.
Reducing attrition is the most efficient way to make your organization more successful, but there’s no way to reduce employee attrition without understanding why employees leave your organization. That’s why conducting exit surveys should be a standard in your organization.
However, simply sending exit surveys or performing exit interviews isn’t quite enough. Your exit surveys need to gather useful information, and they need to be supported with rigorous data analytics to reduce employee attrition company-wide.
This guide will show you how to create strong exit surveys and how to use your internal data to build a system that predicts and reduces employee turnover.
What is an exit survey?
An exit interview or an exit survey is a series of questions designed to reveal the reasons an employee is leaving, with a particular focus on identifying deficiencies within your organization that may be causing employees to seek employment elsewhere. These questions can be asked in person or in a written questionnaire, but the goal is always the same.
Why exit surveys are important
Exit surveys give you qualitative information about the employee experience that can help expose the reasons behind upward trends in company-wide employee attrition, high attrition rates in certain departments or teams, and help identify employee retention risks among the remaining team members.
Many attrition risk factors can and should be monitored and analyzed quantitatively, but qualitative data (in the form of exit surveys) clarifies this analysis and helps you develop more detailed action plans for preventing future attrition.
What makes a good exit survey
The most important thing about exit surveys and interviews is that they take an open and curious approach. You need to get honest responses from separating employees, and you’re not going to get that sort of honesty if the interview or survey feels like an interrogation or a justification for why things are the way they are.
Also, avoid treating exit interviews as a mere formality, another box that needs to be checked during employee offboarding. An exit interview should make the separating employee feel like you value their input. If you’re just going through the motions, the employee will know, and they’ll just go through the motions.
Questions should be open-ended to give employees as much room as possible to speak freely or answer candidly if you’re using a text-based survey. However, it’s also important to ask questions that help people give you the most useful information, which means crafting questions that are tailored to your organization, and even to the job position, if possible.
Ultimately, you’ll know if you’re conducting good exit surveys if you’re getting information that helps you build actionable plans to improve employee retention.
Critical themes in exit surveys
While a single exit survey can reveal valuable information for reducing employee attrition, the real value of exit surveys is that they help you spot emerging themes in the experiences of attrited employees.
Work location and arrangements
Employees moving to more desirable locales might seem out of your control. It’s not easy for a company to relocate, especially in geographically dependent industries.
However, it’s important to approach this as a solvable problem. Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to address this issue, since remote work has become viable and accepted even in traditional company cultures. If your company hasn’t adopted remote or hybrid work arrangements, it should be on the table as a way to attract and retain talent if your working location is less than ideal.
Employee Support and working processes
Work tools and processes that make things challenging for employees can easily cause attrition. People often talk to people who work in other companies in the same industry, and it’s easy to get the sense that it would be easier to do the job in another company with better work processes, especially in technical fields such as engineering and research and development.
The adage that “people quit managers, not jobs” may not be true one hundred percent of the time, but it’s a long-standing statement for a reason. Pay careful attention if you spot complaints about management in your exit surveys.
Employee experience and company culture
A poor employee experience or bad company culture impacts every employee in the organization. Therefore it’s critical to be attentive to complaints about the experience and culture within your company.
If you notice a trend of complaints about the working experience and culture within your company, develop corrective action plans quickly, because it’s likely that more employees are going to leave if things don’t turn around soon.
Exit survey tips and tricks
It’s possible to conduct a lot of exit surveys and get very little information. It’s also possible to get little or no participation in exit surveys. Even worse, an exit interview can turn into one of the worst employee experiences with the company. Here are a few exit survey tips and tricks to help you avoid these and other bad exit survey results.
Offer in-person interviews and text-based surveys
Not everyone feels comfortable in a face-to-face interview and some people view written surveys as more of a chore than an opportunity. Therefore, allowing separating employees to choose how they prefer to answer separation questions will help get the best responses from every employee.
However, avoid using the exact same questions for both formats. Of course, you can ask questions that probe for the same information in an interview and a text-based survey, but be sure to phrase questions in a way that’s most productive for the format.
Always take responsibility
This isn’t such a big issue in text-based exit surveys. In face-to-face interviews, though, it’s easy for interviewers to explain why something happened or justify things, especially if the interviewer is the employee’s supervisor or manager.
This tends to shut down the conversation in an exit interview because the interviewee feels like they’re not being listened to.
Some people are better at avoiding the tendency to justify things than others. However, rather than relying on the interviewer’s judgment, just make it a standard to never explain away or justify critiques from separating employees, and always take responsibility for any shortcomings because the reality is that these shortcomings are your organization’s responsibility.
It might take some exit interview coaching, but a simple, “Excellent. Thank you” is a far better response than a contentious back and forth, especially if the critique is especially scathing.
Craft questions specifically to find out what went wrong
There’s nothing wrong with getting feedback on what your organization does well, but you’re really trying to figure out what went wrong for the separating employee. So write your exit survey questions in a way that elicits critique or suggestions for improvement. You can always ask your remaining employees what’s going well, if you need to know.
Avoid asking questions you should already know
People have an idea of what information your company collects. You already know info such as how long the employee has been in their role, so don’t waste time with those types of questions. It’s not productive, and it signals to the separating employee that you’re not taking the exit survey seriously.
Conduct exit surveys before the employee’s last day
If you schedule an exit interview or send an exit survey after an employee has left the building, it’s much less likely that they’ll come to the interview or complete the survey.
They don’t work for your company anymore. They likely have a new job or are looking for one. In short, they have better things to do than answer exit survey questions.
Schedule your exit interviews or send exit surveys before the employee leaves, so they can answer your questions while they’re on the clock, and you’ll get much higher response rates.
Never burn bridges
Even if a separating employee was not a particularly high performer, there’s no benefit to making them feel unwelcome to come back and work. They’ve already resigned, and there’s no obligation to hire them back, anyway.
Additionally, they might know people who you would want to hire, and those people may avoid applying for a position with your company if their friend who used to work for you tells them your organization is a bad place to work.
The best exit survey questions
These are some examples of good exit survey questions. Of course, these questions can be tailored to get feedback specifically for your organization or the employee’s job position, but they’re a solid baseline for a good exit survey.
- How fairly do you feel you were compensated in comparison to other companies?
- Which non-monetary benefits in your benefits package were least valuable?
- Is there any way we can improve our career development and training programs?
- What were the worst or most challenging work tools or systems in your role?
- Did you have any tasks or responsibilities which you felt were outside the scope of your role?
- Were there any notable interactions or events which prompted you to consider resigning?
- How could the guidance and engagement from management have been more helpful to you in your role?
- Are there any changes management could make that would have helped you better connect and collaborate with your team?
- How do you believe the company culture could be improved?
- If you could change anything about the company, what would it be?
Limitations of exit surveys
As we mentioned earlier, exit surveys aren’t the perfect tool for reducing employee turnover.
Employee responses are subjective. Many employees won’t feel comfortable revealing their true reasons for leaving, and it’s challenging to identify company-wide trends based on exit interview responses.
However, the biggest limitation of exit surveys is that they’re a lagging indicator. If you’re conducting an exit interview, that means that the employee attrition has already happened, at least for that employee. If you’re conducting enough exit surveys to identify trends, you’re already paying the cost of employee turnover.
The reality is that exit surveys are not great for predicting employee attrition. Exit surveys are an important course correction tool, but you should avoid relying on them entirely.
Indicators that predict attrition better than exit surveys
Although exit surveys are important, it’s much more efficient to take a proactive approach to reducing employee attrition. The best way to do that is to use your internal data to observe and analyze the employee experience in real-time, so you can take action to retain employees, rather than hiring new employees.
At Praisidio, we use predictive people analytics to help companies understand talent risks and predict attrition. Based on our research, there are 5 key indicators that can help you predict and tackle employee attrition more effectively than exit surveys.
It’s no secret that maintaining reasonable workloads for employees is critical to retaining talent.
However, this is especially important because your highest-performing employees tend to get overworked first. Managers want the best people on important projects. It’s uncommon for projects to be labeled as unimportant, so your most competent employees can easily get assigned more projects than they can handle.
Metrics such as weekly meeting load and the number of projects per employee help you identify overworked employees. This data set helps you protect employees from burnout and make adjustments that prevent employees from resigning because they feel overwhelmed.
Nobody likes feeling like a cog in a machine. People feel most satisfied when they have good relationships with their teammates and managers. However, it takes intentional effort to foster these relationships. They don’t develop as organically as many people believe.
Connection might seem difficult to measure, but it can be done. Track metrics such as manager 1-on-1 reviews, manager turnover, and team meetings to see how much effort is being dedicated to developing connections among teams and how often connections are being broken due to people leaving.
Recognition is much more important than people give it credit for. Of course, it’s difficult to gather data on how often managers thank employees for their hard work or give kudos.
However, you can track more tangible recognition such as bonuses. These tangible rewards are especially useful if you have recognition programs such as letting teams decide who should get performance-based rewards, rather than the manager.
These types of bonus programs not only give employees opportunities to give recognition to each other, but they also produce a data point for measuring recognition.
Obviously, compensation is a big deal in employee retention. Fortunately, you have all the data on how much your employees get paid.
The trick is using this data to make sure that employees are being paid fairly relative to both other companies and their peers. Your internal and external compa ratios are the most useful metrics for making sure that your compensation packages are competitive with the market and within your organization.
A stagnating career is one of the best predictors of employee attrition. Unfortunately, sufficient career development is far less common than it should be, to the point that many career coaches recommend changing jobs every two to three years.
Offering thorough career development programs is the solution. However, you need to know who’s most in need of career development.
Metrics such as time in role, tenure, and the number of job changes help you spot the people who may be starting to feel that they’ve been sitting still in their career for a bit too long, so you can allocate your career development resources to the employees who will benefit most.
The best exit survey is one that doesn’t happen
When talent leaves your organization, an exit survey can be a useful tool for understanding why. However, exit surveys are notoriously bad at preventing further attrition as they’re only able to identify a problem after it’s developed.
Proactively retaining employees is a smarter approach. Using the indicators listed in this article, you identify which employees are most likely to leave, then intervene at the management or individual employee level to prevent attrition. This targeted approach is far more cost-efficient than simply applying company-wide retention policies in hopes that the wide net will retain some of your best talent.
Praisidio can help you achieve this with real-time insights and analysis of your talent risks. We have helped clients recapture 90-person years annually for every 1000 employees and reduce employee attrition costs by over $10 million for every 2000 employees. All with easy-to-use software that any HR team member can use.
Book a demo to see how Praisidio can help you retain more employees and prevent the need for more exit surveys.