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Quick Guide: Using Exit Interviews to Fix Turnover Problems

May 24, 2016

revolving-door-turnover.jpgOne of the most common challenges I hear from clients is their “revolving door” problem. New employees come in as fast as they exit. New employees either leave voluntarily because they don’t enjoy the work environment or job, or they leave involuntarily because they don’t have the skills needed to perform successfully on the job.

Both situations are harmful to the company and its workforce. Turnover costs companies a lot of money. The money spent on recruiting and training new hires can add up to a significant amount. Additionally, turnover can have more covert, but just as harmful, negative effects on employee morale and workload.

When we think about “solving” turnover, it is important to think broadly. Turnover is affected by several indicators ranging from individual to team to organizational factors. For example, employees may leave for a higher salary/wage, for an opportunity to learn new skills or be challenged, for feeling undervalued or treated unfairly, and so forth.

Alternatively, employees may leave because they didn’t get along with their boss or feel connected with their teammates. More broadly, employees could leave because they don’t agree with the values or the direction of the organization. I would be misguided to tell you that one solution would fix all of your turnover issues. Instead, you need to think more holistically about the issue and truly examine the situation for that job within your organization.

How do you determine why employees are leaving?

So, how do you determine some of the reasons why employees are leaving the company? The best place to start is by conducting exit interviews. Exit interviews are a quick and easy way to understand the thought process why employees left and can give you direction on how to make changes. Exit interviews are commonly conducted in-person. Alternatively, they can be administered online, which is especially helpful in situations when you don’t have the time to hold the interview in person or enough notice from the employee.

Within the interview, it’s important to start by asking a high-level question: why did you leave the company? Providing sample responses as well as a comments section allow you to better analyze the data. Sample responses may include: better job opportunity, career change, lack of advancement opportunities, work hours, conflict with manager/coworkers, etc. This initial response can help you determine whether it may be a systemic issue (e.g., conflict with manager, wages) or personal reason (e.g., career change).

Closely examine common themes

Next, if you have some initial hypotheses as to why employees are leaving, drill down into those themes. Some themes you might probe around include:

  • Compensation & benefits

  • Experience while on the job (e.g., work with manager, impressions of leadership)

  • Advancement opportunities

  • Work-life balance

  • Morale/environment

Again, it’s important to have specific items to ask employees to provide ratings on. This allows for easy comparison across employees as well as more efficient data analyses.

The other thing that is very important to consider when creating a survey is its length. It cannot be too long – employees will either not complete it at all or not put in the effort to provide you quality information. Therefore, keeping it shorter with closed-ended questions will incentivize more employees to complete the survey.

Once you get enough information, then you can start looking for trends across employees. Maybe there is a particular department that embodies a negative environment. Maybe the wages of a particular job are significantly lower than other similar jobs in the area. The results from the study can help drive your strategies to combat the turnover issue.

At the end of the day, it’s important to realize that there will not just be one reason for turnover. Instead, there are likely many reasons, which will require different strategies to help resolve the issue.

Reducing Turnover and Absenteeism for Bottom-Line Benefits

Alissa Parr, Ph.D. Alissa Parr, Ph.D. is a Senior Consultant at PSI. Her areas of expertise include the development, implementation, and evaluation of assessment processes. Alissa has experience managing entry-level through executive level assessment and selection efforts across a number of different industries including government, financial, military, education, healthcare, and manufacturing.