Employee Exits: Opportunities For Improving The Employee Experience

By Brittany Head - January 07, 2019

Chapter 5

An employee’s exit marks the end of their experience at your company—but not necessarily the end of your relationship. There are a wide variety of reasons why employees choose to move on, and employee exit interviews and surveys are useful for zeroing in on the “why.”

Responses to employee exit interview and survey questions shed light on specific areas of the employee experience, and, combined with annual survey results, can inform improvements to the employee experience for workers who remain with the company.

Table Of Contents

Employee Exit Interviews Or Surveys: Which Is Better?

To gain a full understanding of why an employee is leaving, it’s best to have both qualitative and quantitative data. One advantage of conducting both exit interviews and exit surveys is that responses to the two can be compared for consistency, thereby validating the data as well as elaborating data with more details.

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While employee exit interviews offer richer information in employees’ own words, they are harder to secure and require more resources; typically there is a low response rate, particularly after the employee’s departure. Employee exit surveys tend to have a higher response rate than interviews since they are generally faster, but they still generally yield a lower response rate than annual employee surveys. The reason is simple: when people are moving on, interviews or surveys for the organization they are leaving have less personal relevance.

If you can only do an interview or a survey, choose the survey.

The choice between doing exit interviews or surveys has an exception: with top talent, you want more in-depth information. For hard-to-replace individuals—those with in-demand technical skills or knowledge, or those who were on the leadership track—you want as much information as you can get to gain insight into what part of the employee experience was failing them.


The best time for conducting either an exit interview or a survey is in the employee’s last week before departure, or on the final day. You’ll get a better response rate for both interviews and surveys if they are conducted before the employee has moved on. For interviews in particular, you have a better chance of securing feedback if the interview can be conducted on-site.

If surveys or interviews aren’t conducted before departure, it’s still worthwhile to try to gather the information in the week or two following. Surveys can be completed online, and interviews can be conducted by phone. For top talent, it’s worthwhile to follow up with employees who weren’t interviewed or surveyed before departure, even though the response rate might be low.

What To Ask: Employee Exit Interview & Survey Questions

In general, most of what you want to know aligns with the standard engagement questions typically included on annual surveys, regarding pride in company, confidence in leadership, relationship with supervisor, and other engagement metrics. Standard employee exit survey or interview content is an abridged list of questions from the typical engagement survey, to perform a temperature check on which, if any, aspects of the measured experience were lacking. Was there a pain point that pushed the employee to leave—poor performance management, lack of recognition, lack of advancement, or other issues?

It’s important to ask both quantitative and qualitative questions about why the employee began looking around or exited, by asking them to choose or rate the primary reasons from a list. These give insight into the environment and the ultimate catalyst for the decision to leave. Responses will reveal a mix of push and pull factors—the employee might have been pushed out by negative aspects of the experience such as pay or workload, or pulled by a life event such as a move connected to a spouse’s job, or retirement—or they may have been lured away by another organization competing for talent. If it’s the latter, you want to find out what the new employer is providing that you didn’t offer, as a measure of where your company stands as an employer of choice in your area or industry.

Ideally, you want to include some open ended questions as well, for example: how would you describe the company culture, or how did the experience differ from your expectation?

The challenge with the employee exit interview or survey is to keep it short. There is a wealth of valuable data you’d like to collect, but a shorter survey gets more responses. It’s preferable to get some data with a few questions than no data with many. Technology options like the Perceptyx platform make it possible to get very specific data from responsive surveys designed to capture the information most important to the employee’s particular situation—so even with fewer questions, you can gather the most critical data. You can also ask for elaboration on responses to gather additional details.  

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Use Exit Survey & Interview Responses To Guide Action

There are many ways exit survey and interview data can inform your organization’s process for attracting, developing, and retaining talent. The data is also hugely important for predictive attrition modelling—comparing what people say when they leave for alignment with your predictive model of who is likely to leave and why.

At the top talent levels, once you have sufficient data from annual surveys and exit surveys, you can conduct stay interviews and stay surveys to help retain top talent whose skills and knowledge are hard to replace due to market demand and competition. Stay interviews and surveys can help you identify what it will take to keep these key employees.

It’s important to move beyond a one-size-fits-most approach. Dig into what you know is true for people who have left and who have indicated they are likely to leave, to measure critically and better define who is leaving and why. Use this information to intervene and make improvements for those remaining who may be at risk to leave, and to appeal to new talent who are a better fit for the job and company. For the latter, it’s crucial to ask departing employees how their expectation of the experience measured up to the reality; did they understand the employee value proposition, and did the company deliver on it?

Above all, you’re looking for the areas where the experience can be improved, to limit attrition. If the company is a large one with tens—or hundreds—of thousands of employees, there might be several hundred employees leaving each month. Cutting that number in half by doing a better job of accurately describing the job on the front end, with an employee recognition program, or with other improvements will result in huge cost savings—as well as a better employee experience.  

Want to collect critical exit data to fine-tune the employee experience at your company?

Perceptyx uses smart people analytics to capture insights into every stage of the employee experience—including the end of the journey, the employee exit. Get in touch and see how we can help you collect the exit data you need to guide improvements to the employee experience in your company.

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