Reducing Turnover with Employee Exit Interview Data

I am a self-admitted feedback enthusiast, mainly because I put a high value on exerted energy.  Without feedback, I believe energy is instead spent frivolously in a manner that resembles “guessing”.  Feedback is such a huge part of my foundation and every fiber of my being that when my business coach advised me to develop a marketing strategy around imagined behaviors of my target audience, I stopped working with said coach that day.  So, it goes without saying that employee feedback and analytics are at the foundation of every Culture Engineered strategy.  Although workforce analytics are somewhat new in the world of HR, exit interviews are perhaps the most popular and widely used employee feedback tools used in business.  And it’s with a heavy heart that I say, exit interview data sucks.

Not all data is valuable.

In a Payscale study of over 38,000 people, 25% of participants indicated higher pay as their primary reason they sought out new employment, making it the #1 reason people quit.  When the same participants were asked however why they were attracted to their new role with the new company, only 16% indicated “better pay”, making it the #3 reason to accept a new position.  The #1 reason was “the opportunity to do more meaningful work” at 27%.  How is it then possible that a person would, in a single move, choose to leave a job for one reason only to then accept a new job for an entirely separate and unrelated reason?  There is an answer – but you’re not going to like it.  It doesn’t make sense because how we make decisions is complex, depending much more on our emotions than on logic.  Logically, if 25% of people quit due to low pay, 25% of people would then seek out a job for better pay.  We at Culture Engineered also conduct exit interviews and find more than 90% of those surveyed initially indicate low pay as their primary reason for resigning. Through exit interview analysis however, we find the actual percentage of resignations due to pay dissatisfaction to be closer to 10%, most of which are shortly following an annual appraisal or assuming additional responsibilities.  It’s usually a combination of reasons an employee chooses to quit.  We refer to these internal factors as push factors.  Similarly, it’s often a combination of reasons we are attracted to a new opportunity, external factors we refer to as pull factors.  The key to collecting valuable data from an exit interview is to ask valuable questions.  Ask about attributes of the employee experiences specifically to understand the person’s feelings about pay & benefits, recognition, etc.  Most importantly though – find out what event triggered the person’s decision to leave the company.  This is critical.  Like any relationship, we accept and tolerate certain flaws or frustrations.  But then one day the straw breaks the proverbial camel’s back and we’re done.  Our relationships with work are no different.  Employees are often unaware of what causes them to look for start looking for jobs, or respond to a call from a recruiter.  And even if a person is aware of the event that prompted their job search, he/she will often avoid sharing the details of the event in an exit interview because it is a painful or sometimes humiliating moment.  Getting exiting individuals to open up about this point of no return event is critical and takes practice and rapport.  But it’s worth it.  By learning about this moment your employee shifts from an “us” to a “them” mindset, deciding to separate from the company they once celebrated joining will give you the insights you need to repair and preserve your company culture’s foundation.

Getting clear on purpose

In a study of 210 companies in 33 industries, 157 had a practice of conducting exit interviews; however only 50 were able to provide even one example of how exit interview data was being used in their business.  Although unclear why data was collected but not used, it begs the question what is the purpose of exit interview data?  Data alone solves nothing.  Exit interviews like so many employer practices have become habitual, making it a harmful practice.  Each time we as leaders ask for employee feedback, we are asking employees to collaborate with us.  This holds true for performance discussions and surveys.  Have you ever had someone ask your opinion only to do the complete opposite of what you recommend or suggest?  Like me, the thought, “then why even ask me!” likely crept into your mind.  Now imagine that person is asking your opinion on something that actually impacts your life, like your job and workplace.  If I do this enough, asking for your opinion on parts of your life that I control only to then do what I feel is best without considering your suggestions, wouldn’t you just stop sharing your thoughts with me?  Would you feel like I valued your opinions or your time?  Is it possible you may even be more hurt than if I hadn’t asked at all?  If you’re being honest here, the answer is yes.  It feels terrible when someone invites you into a conversation and exercise only to then actively reject you.  This is the same feeling employees develop when we ask for feedback and discard it without ever really giving it consideration.  So, before conducting one more exit interview, or using any feedback tool, consider what it is you intend to do with the information.  Are you asking to identify any legal risks associated with difficult employees exiting your organization?  Is your company interested in identifying training needs for frontline managers using exit interview data related to management engagement?  Or are you using exit interviews as an early warning detection of culture issues lurking below the surface?  There is no wrong answer, so long as you have an answer.  Collecting it because it’s what you’ve always done is not an answer.  Attrition is expensive and one of the best ways to identify issues driving attrition in your workplace is analyzing exit interview data.  Simply collecting this data alone though solves nothing and may actually be making matters worse.

The estimated cost of employee turnover ranges from 16% annual salary for lower paying jobs, all the way to 213% annual salary for highly paid executives, making exit interview data very appealing.  But, it’s only when we take the time to ensure we’re gathering quality data that helps to solve an identified problem that data serves as a feedback tool.  Why are people quitting your company?  The answer to this question isn’t the end.  The answer is where the work begins.  Do you have the energy to solve for the problems your data reveals?

Want actionable insights to keep your best employees?  Click here. 

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https://cultureengineered.com/2019/12/exit_interviews/
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