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The Power of Using Exit Interviews to Detect Turnover Reasons

August 18, 2016

exit-interviews.jpgWhen clients confess that they are experiencing a turnover problem, one of the first questions I ask is whether they have an exit interview or survey in place. Nine out of ten times, the answer is “No”, or “Not officially”. Given that turnover is so costly, it’s surprising to me that more organizations do not take the opportunity to learn directly from their ex-employees or soon-to-be ex-employees why they are leaving/have left. A brief sit-down or a request to take a 20-minute survey could give your organization the insight you’ve needed all along.

Exit Interviews/surveys can provide your company with the input and hard data you need to make decisions and needed changes. Exit data can provide a powerful edge when suggesting change needs to occur, especially with leadership teams and decision makers. For example, if exit data supports the idea that manufacturing employees do not feel safe on the production line, and thus, are leaving the organization, leadership and decision makers may be more willing to investigate the issue further and make needed changes.

Now, the question is, what should I be asking in an exit interview or survey to target turnover reasons? Three important areas of consideration and action steps are discussed below.

  1. Demographics: Information such as time on the job, time within the organization, and location should be considered in an exit interview. If it is found that more turnover exists within certain locations or within certain jobs, further investigation can happen in those target areas or be used as a pilot investigation area. Ultimately, demographics can help you hone in more deeply on underlying issues.

  2. Management/Supervisor Perceptions: Examining if managerial issues exist, or are perceived by those who are turning over, is strongly recommended. Issues between employees and direct supervisors are known to encourage counterproductive work behaviors, absenteeism, and low performance. When employees feel they are not valued or appreciated by their supervisor(s), they are going to be less likely to stay on the job or be happy with their current work. If managerial issues are detected, these issues should be taken seriously and further investigated. Consider developmental programs for managers and supervisors in areas such as coaching, mentoring, and team building.

  3. Pay/Benefits: Plain and simple, it should be asked if pay was the reason for turnover. If you do not already have a good grasp on what your local competitors are paying their employees and what benefits they provide, you should. Better pay is a turnover reason that many organizations feel they cannot help with. However, having the data to support that employees are leaving because they are not being paid competitively may give you the edge you need when addressing the issue with leadership and decision makers. For organizations that absolutely have no budget to throw at employee salaries, incentive options could be explored such as additional vacation days or improvement initiatives geared towards company culture such as “Free pizza Fridays” or adding additional budget to holiday party prizes. A little bit can go a long way, especially when employees are feeling recognized and valued.

It is important to note that the above three areas are certainly not exhaustive when it comes to investigating why turnover is happening. Organization-specific factors likely exist that you, as the HR expert, are better aware of as potential underlying causes. As always, a consistent approach to investigating turnover during an exit interview or survey is suggested as a best practice. All in all, do your organization a favor and implement an exit interview or survey to understand why employees are leaving and how you can make your organization better.

turnover reduction

Lindsey Burke Lindsey Burke is a Senior Consultant based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI. She is largely responsible for client support and managing clients in industries including manufacturing, sales, and healthcare. Lindsey completed her M.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Xavier University and earned a B.A. and B.S. in Psychology from Kent State University.