Interviews and Surveys

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Whether interviews or surveys are used, there are certain conditions that

tend to create optimum results in achieving the above benefits to the individual

and the organization:

1. Trained, Independent Interviewers. The critical skills needed for successful

exit interviewers do not come naturally for many—putting

the employee at ease, creating rapport, and asking probing, followup

questions instead of accepting the individual’s initial surface response.

Interviewers must also understand the distinction between

asking employees why they are leaving and asking why they didn’t

stay. No matter how well a company representative may have been

trained, there will always be those departing employees who do not

feel comfortable opening up with any representative of the organization.

This is why more companies have elected to use independent third

parties to conduct the interviews by phone, in-person, or through

secure Web sites. The downside is that employees become more

difficult to reach once they have left the company. Another alternative

is to have all employees complete a written survey on their last

day, then notify them that they will be receiving a phone call to

obtain clarification on some of their responses.

2. Offered on a Post-Exit Basis. Because departing individuals may still

have unresolved emotions and be preoccupied with other matters

on the day of their departure, many employers contact the employee

during the evening at home a few weeks after exiting. This

allows the employee time to gain perspective and speak with the

benefit of time for reflection.

It is more expensive to have third-party consultants conduct phone

interviews than to have departed employees complete a post-exit

Web survey. This is why many companies have third parties conduct

actual interviews only with those employees the company regretted

losing the most and invite all others to complete a

confidential password-protected Web survey.

3. Guaranteed Confidentiality and Anonymity. Departing employees need

to be assured that they can provide frank and candid feedback without

fear of retribution by their former manager or a coworker.

Many employees are more likely to accept such assurances when

they come from a third-party interviewer or surveyor than from a

company representative.

This is a more difficult issue for smaller organizations that conduct

interviews with fewer employees and can therefore more easily

identify departed employees by their comments and demographic

information. CEOs at these smaller companies therefore cannot

confront managers with specific information that is critical of them

without revealing the identity of the departed employee. Smaller

companies typically resolve this problem either by not using the

specific information with the manager or by waiting until they have

exit data from five or more employees, a number considered sufficient

to protect the anonymity of the former employee.

4. Conducted with All Employees Who Leave. To have the broadest possible

understanding of all reasons for employee turnover among all

categories of employees, it is important to survey all departing employees

in one form or another. All employees may not complete

and return surveys after their departure, or be reachable by telephone,

but they should at least have the opportunity to participate.

It is also a good idea to interview or survey employees who leave

the company involuntarily because they may have valuable insights

to share. However, they may also be more emotional on the day of

their separation, so a post-exit survey will usually be more effective.

Another category of employee not to be overlooked are those transferring

from one location to another within the company. Having

them complete exit surveys is another way to capture potentially

valuable information about their work experiences and feelings

even though they are staying with the organization.

5. Consistent Survey Questions. Once the survey has been designed, it is

important not to keep changing the questions, at least not the core

questions. This will help assure that the data received is reliable.

Many organizations also intentionally use the same questions in exit

interviews that they use in employee attitude surveys, thus allowing

comparisons to be made and patterns to be detected.

6. Findings Reported to Management. Because ‘‘push-factor’’ reasons for

leaving are within the control of managers and senior leaders, they

should have the opportunity to see the findings in both summary

form and more detailed reports so they may take corrective action.

Senior leaders will certainly need to see this data in order to hold

their direct reports accountable for making appropriate corrective

changes to prevent future regrettable departures of valued employees.

Larger companies that do regular exit surveying typically issue

quarterly and annual reports of findings.

7. Exit Findings Combined with Other Organizational Data. Exit survey

data by itself can be quite revealing, but to assure a more rounded

view of organizational issues and trends they are best reviewed in

combination with data from surveys of current employees and other

organizational trend data. Such data may include the average tenure

of employees in various positions, the number of years with the

company when various employees are most at risk of leaving, quit

rate, average vacancy rate, and other data of this kind. This type of

comprehensive analysis can help identify predictors of turnover

among various groups of employees so that actions can be taken to

keep it from occurring.

8. Leaders and Managers Taking Action Based on Findings. As mentioned

in Chapter One, 95 percent of companies conduct exit interviews

or surveys, but only 30 percent report that they ever take corrective

action based on what they learn. There we have one more reason

why most companies are not employers of choice. Employers of

choice view every avoidable turnover of a valued employee as a

failure to be analyzed and understood in terms of its true causes, in

order to prevent such future turnovers.

This means that every piece of data at the disposal of company

leaders must be taken seriously. However, if senior leaders and managers

do not believe that the information gathered is based on the

skilled questioning of candid departing employees, they certainly

cannot be expected to trust the findings or take action based on it.

One Last Chance to Reclaim a Valued Employee

There are times during an exit interview when it may become obvious that

an employee who has decided to leave is really heartbroken at the prospect

of leaving, but feels there is no alternative. For example, an employee may

love the job, the work environment, and the colleagues, but has decided

to leave because the boss would not grant flexible hours. In these situations,

an alert and proactive exit interviewer may be able to intervene to help

change the boss’s mind or report the situation to higher ups who may be

able to assign the individual to a different manager.

In her book, HR from the Heart, Libby Sartain, senior vice president

of human resources at Yahoo! Inc., recommends always asking departing

employees, ‘‘Is there anything we could have done to keep you here?’’1

You may discover that there may still be a sliver of a chance to keep valued

talent and save the company money in avoided turnover costs.

Sartain also recommends trying to connect with departing employees

on a deeper, more human level by asking such questions as:

If you had the last three months to live over again, what do you

think you would do differently?

What have you learned that you can take with you to your next job?

What are you proud of from your time here?

What goals did you meet?

What accomplishments will you be able to take with you?2