January 28, 2022
Jackie Tucker Gangnes

Why Exit Interviews Aren’t Enough

10 minutes

A standout employee has left your organization. The dust has settled. The team is picking up the pieces and slowly rebuilding their unity. You’ve conducted an exit interview. But your organization is still left wondering why. 

Exit interviews, though common, are notoriously ineffective. They aren’t enough to solve your organization’s attrition problem or shed light on effective retention strategies.

At this point, your employee has emotionally disconnected, and psychologically, they aren’t in the mindset to truthfully recount complete feedback from their employment that would spur meaningful action—you’ve likely lost the opportunity to retain them.

Exit interviews are a reactive feedback tool. If you’re looking for signs that your employees are engaged, loyal to your organization, and their needs are being met, you need to explore proactive feedback avenues before they exit. Because now is the time to take meaningful retention actions.

Here we explore why exit interviews need to be modernized to serve the currency of valued employees better.

Exit interviews: when it’s too little too late

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When a key team member quits, it stings. It can impact team culture and team intelligence while disrupting the operational flow and organizational performance. And, of course, it begs the question: why? 

Exit interviews are routinely part of the offboarding process in the employee life cycle. While intended to gather feedback on all aspects of an organization, from management to HR benchmarks (salary, benefits), to strategy and operations, they’re often too little, too late. 

The psychological thought process for an employee wanting to make a change generally follows a repetitive script. They take time to assess the pros and cons of staying or leaving. They make a decision. They resign. Now, they’ll likely undergo an automated exit interview. 

The exit interview will probably be a series of questions that provide nothing more than “it’s not you, it’s me” responses, leaving the organization and its leaders off the hook for losing good people. For the employee, it’s just another box-ticking exercise on their way out the door. 

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There are valid reasons why an employee leaves, but by the exit point, they have often moved on, haven’t seen positive action from reviews or exit interviews in the past, and feel they don’t want to “burn any bridges” (especially if they’re going to seek a future reference).

Little change comes from information learned in an exit interview. A Harvard Business Review study found that less than one-third of executives could give a specific example of action taken due to exit interview data.

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Lack of action is just one frustration employees are facing. Download "The Retention Revolution" for a comprehensive overview of why employees are leaving, and how to make them stay.
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Turn truth into an opportunity

Traditionally, HR and manager-conducted exit interviews are an exercise in futility. Consider the conditions in which your organization leads an exit interview. If you want employees to provide open, honest, and unfiltered feedback, you may want to engage a neutral third party to conduct them.

Done right, a strategic exit interview can provide beneficial insight into what employees are thinking, reveal systemic issues, and cast light on the competitive market.
Gallup says those with a positive exit experience are 2.9 times more likely to recommend their organization to others. They further indicate that a great exit interview occurs when there are three key elements:
  1. The employee feels heard.
  2. The employee is proud of their contributions.
  3. The employee leaves as a brand ambassador.

We’re not saying that an exit interview can’t be a valuable tool for redefining the future state, but as it stands, chances are they’re an under-utilized information sponge that lacks scrubbing power.

Revolutionize with the ‘Stay Interview’

Although exit interviews can be an effective feedback tool when they’re intentionally performed, why not create a stay interview process, and check in on your employees before they’re considering new opportunities?

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Do you know why your employees are still with you? Benefits, pay, and opportunity factor in the decision-making to stay, but how managers and peers treat employees makes a huge difference. Gallup’s research over the years has captured some stay interview statistics, concluding that 50 percent of employees leave their jobs "to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.”

Through research for his book ‘Make It Matter’, Scott Mautz discovered that a whopping 40% of employees had at least a "moderate chance to change their exit decision" if someone had checked in with them often enough about their happiness or what they needed.

Have you checked in on your employees this year? With a world continuing to work through a collective trauma, your best assets may be fragile, they may be considering a life change, a move, or may have already gotten the ball rolling on another opportunity. 

Stay interviews need to be conducted with enough time to identify and fix a problem. They’re a one-on-one structured retention interview between a manager and a valued employee. Stay interviews are a proactive way of increasing employee engagement, gaining insights into what makes them stay, helping build trust between managers and employees, identifying what employees value and also why they may want to leave.

Ultimately, stay interviews should allow managers to gather actionable information to help foster a tightly knit bond between the organization and the employee. Knowing what your employees need today will help you keep them tomorrow. 

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Wondering what should be in your stay interview toolkit? Think of a stay interview as a marriage health check. By having honest two-way conversations where each side gets to listen, ask questions, and agree to follow-up on ideas, pain points, and actions, you’re working to maintain unity. 

If this isn’t done regularly, it could result in an unnecessary build-up of complacency and malaise. Which could lead to divorce. When our needs aren’t being met, it can negatively impact us. 

Within your organization, stay interviews can take the form of regular one-on-ones, bi-monthly coffee catch-ups, progress meetings, annual career check-ins, or regular Exchanges. Pulse-checking an employee's desire to leave any time soon, when done right, can help you identify what motivates your employees, and help ensure their needs are met. It also helps strengthen the relationship between managers and direct reports. 

According to Dick Finnegan, author of The Power of Stay Interview for Engagement & Retention, stay interviews produce data so effective at predicting and reducing employee turnover rates that scores of his clients have abandoned their engagement surveys.

To help you facilitate a stay interview, use a series of questions with regularity to create a bedrock of trust. Here are 5 commonly used stay interview questions:

  1. What do you look forward to the most when you come to work each day?
  2. Tell me more about a good day of work you had recently.
  3. Do you feel your skills and strengths are being used to their full potential at work?
  4. Do you feel you get properly recognized for your work, contributions, or achievements?
  5. Do you feel like you are treated with trust and respect in your role?
As reported by Kate Heinz in What Is a Stay Interview? 13 Questions to Ask, stay interviews are also valuable to your employer branding strategy as they provide the insight you need to create an employer brand that will draw in new talent.

Act now to get ahead

One of the toughest challenges employers face is retaining their current employees. We’re seeing people change careers at a pace never witnessed before. With the ongoing Great Resignation and millions quitting their job for greener pastures, engaging with your team while they’re still working for you should be a priority.

Last year, Microsoft surveyed more than 30,000 global workers showing that 41% of workers were considering quitting or changing professions in 2021, and a study from HR software company Personio of workers in the UK and Ireland showed 38% of those surveyed planned to quit in the next six months to a year.

Stay interviews can be an effective tool to help increase engagement, build trust, and improve work environments to retain employees. Additionally, managers, leaders, and HR teams can use an anti-bias tool like ThoughtExchange to ask employees for honest and constructive anonymous feedback about their employment and why they stay. Learn what people actually think and use this wealth of data to improve your organization’s retention strategy. 

Get in touch to see how ThoughtExchange can help cut through the noise and help you stay at the forefront of employee retention.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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Jackie Tucker Gangnes
Born in Kettering, England, Jackie has spent most of her adult life in Vancouver, Canada. Her natural flair for creativity in all forms of communication led her to a 15 year career spanning marketing, brand strategy and internal corporate communications. She is passionately invested in personal wellbeing and sharing her experiences with others, writing about gut health to world spa experiences. Jackie believes that your relationship with yourself is the foundation and cornerstone to everything else in your life. Combining her passions, and between raising two kids, today she writes for the curious mind, exploring different thoughts, ideas, and perspectives on what makes us human, and what fuels us to thrive.

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