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How to use employee exit surveys effectively
Fresia Jackson

Fresia Jackson

Lead Research People Scientist, Culture Amp

Feedback from employee exit surveys can provide powerful insight into your company’s culture. No matter how excellent your culture is, people are eventually going to leave.

Hopefully, the exit is in both the best interest of the individual by getting them closer to their dream job, as well as the company, by opening space for new, passionate individuals. As people leave, they might just give you insight into how to keep others at the company.

In this article, we’ll explore how to review individual and aggregate exit survey results, and how to take action on both. Using an exit survey can also provide invaluable information for your in-person exit interviews. We’ve also included some sample employee exit survey questions you can consider using.

Reviewing individual employee exit survey results

When an employee voluntarily leaves, it's important to ask them to complete an exit survey as part of the offboarding process. From there, your HR team can review their feedback and determine if the feedback should be shared with others. For example, there may be situations where sharing someone's feedback with their manager is beneficial. In particular, you want to highlight any responses that run counter to what has been observed in other feedback (such as engagement results).

For example, if your company usually scores highly on survey questions regarding access to career opportunities but an individual notes it as a reason for leaving, be sure to dig a little deeper in your exit interview.

The opposite is true as well – for example, if someone who is leaving gives positive feedback on an experience that is often low-scoring, you should discuss this with your team. Such answers might give you insight into a particular practice that could be adopted across the organization. Additionally, any neutral or unfavorable responses should be flagged for further discussion.

Categorize your results to gain even more insight

If the platform you’re using gives you the capability to do so, categorize your exit survey respondents into "regrettable" or "non-regrettable" categories. This is very helpful for comparing the experiences of both groups and prioritizing where to take action. If you see that non-regrettable employees are rating things lower than regrettable employees, this may be explained by low performance. However, when regrettable employees are the ones responding less favorably, this may be a sign you should dive in deeper because you may be driving your highest performing employees to leave

If the differences between the two groups are large, you may choose to filter out the non-regrettable results and instead only view the regrettable employee feedback for the two steps below. 

Reviewing aggregate employee exit survey results

Once you have a good number of responses in your exit survey, you’ll be able to get insights from the aggregate results. Keep in mind, depending on the platform you use, you might be able to get deeper analytics based on how many responses you have. For example, the Culture Amp platform utilizes driver analysis, which requires 30 responses in order to be calculated.

When reviewing the aggregate results, look for answers to the following questions.

  • What was the overall experience of employees who exited?
  • What did the company do well?
  • What did the company do not-so-well?
  • What matters most to our people?
  • What can we focus on to increase retention in the future?

To make comparisons based on the overall experience of employees who have left, ask questions that correspond to those in your broader employee surveys. These are questions like:

  • I would recommend [my company] as a great place to work.
  • For most of my time with [my company], I rarely thought about looking for a job at another company.

You also might want to compare themes. For example, learning and development can be considered a theme you want to get feedback on from exiting employees. This is especially the case if learning and development are particularly important to your organization, or perhaps show up as a key driver of engagement in engagement surveys.

When comparing exit survey results to engagement or organizational health results, it’s natural for these results will be lower. Nonetheless, you still want these employees to be advocates for your company and brand, even if they're leaving the company.

Find your strengths and opportunities through exit survey feedback

When reviewing any feedback, you want to take note of the positives before jumping into areas of improvement. Within your exit survey, sort the questions by favorability to see what questions are topping the list. Your exiting employees are going to answer more unfavorably, so your highest-scoring items are truly your strengths – celebrate them!

Another way to find your strengths is to include a free-text question such as:

“What are some things we’re doing really great here?”

Next, view your lowest-scoring items. These are the things that aren’t going so well at your organization. Ask yourself how these themes match with what you’ve heard from other feedback sources (e.g., surveys or conversations with employees).

You can ask the following free-text question to assess this:

“What are some things we’re doing not so great here?”

Taking action on your employee exit survey results

Now that you have a broad view of why people are leaving, you can choose a focus area. Look at your lowest scoring items, and if you have access to driver analysis, make sure to select a focus area that will make a big impact. While some items may be low-scoring, they might not be correlated with engagement or retention. For example, questions around compensation are often low-scoring and referred to in exit interviews. However, compensation is very rarely a driver of retention.

Review responses to the question:

“Is there something we could have done to keep you?”

Once you’ve selected a theme based on your quantitative and qualitative data, take a look at data from your organizational health or engagement survey to see if there is a group that is doing well in the selected item. They may have learnings that you can share.

Also, identify if there are any low-performing outliers in your company, as those groups should be prioritized when testing out new programs to avoid future turnover. Remember, you’re taking action with your current employees in mind. So if "career opportunities" is a focus area, you may want to consider creating a transparent leveling process or standardize how someone would move into a lateral role. As with acting on engagement survey results, get your employees involved in determining future actions. Hold a focus group with a representative sample to further unpack that focus and generate ideas for action.

Looking forwards

Now that you know how to understand and utilize individual and aggregate exit survey results, you and your organization will be better equipped to reshape the employee experience. By identifying the high-impact areas that your organization is doing both well and not-so-well, you can take actions that keep your best employees engaged and with you.

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