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3 Common Mistakes Organizations Make with Exit Surveys

Written by

Declan Cassells

Do you conduct exit surveys within your organization? Great, you might be among the 79% of medium sized companies or 91% of fortune 500 companies who claim to conduct exit surveys or interviews. But chances are, you are also among the 56% of companies who rate their exit survey process as less than favourable.

Here are three common mistakes organizations make when conducting exit surveys and how you can avoid them.


1 – The Insights you’re collecting aren’t actionable

Whether you’ve inherited the questions asked on your exit survey, written them yourself or maybe started at 5 and now grown to 60 questions.  Whatever the case, it’s important to take stock. Look at each of the questions and ask yourself:

a) What am I hoping to learn from that question?

b) What will I do when I have the answer?’

If you can’t answer the questions above, ask yourself “is the question (or the survey as a whole) really relevant”?

All too often, exit surveys are seen as something of a box-ticking exercise with collected responses simply lying in a HR file somewhere. When conducted correctly, exit surveys are a form of research that is critical for organizations to understand why people are leaving and give insights into areas to improve and retain that talent you worked so hard to get.

Experiment with a blank slate, if you were starting your exit survey from scratch, what questions would you ask?  When you have your questions, filter them through the following:

  • Why am I asking this question, what am I trying to prove or disprove?
  • What action will I take if I’m proven right (or wrong)?
  • How will I measure the success of that action?

If you’ve answered those three questions for each question you’ll ask in your survey, you’ll have the start of your new exit survey strategy.


2 – Digging for dirt

It can be tempting to ask some ‘juicy’ questions when conducting an exit survey, especially if things aren’t going so well.  Questions like “what advice would you give to the CEO of the company”, “What was the worse thing about working here” or questions about legal and ethical issues are unlikely to give you anything of value from exiting employees.  

Put yourself in the shoes of the employee, they know the organization may have extremely large problems but they probably feel that they are not in a position to fix them.

All the advice they’ve received throughout their career on exit surveys will have been to focus on protecting yourself and your future, not in helping your former employer.  Employees are not going to risk burning bridges to give you that juicy nugget of information you are waiting for. The same goes for trying to get information about the new employer they are going to, the employee is unlikely to give the full truth or feel any responsibility to do so.

Instead focus on gathering information about an employee’s work experience with the company. This information can be applied back to your existing employees and is more likely to get honest answers

If you really want employees to provide open, honest and unfiltered feedback, consider engaging a neutral, third party to conduct the interview.


3 – Lack of objectivity

Have you ever found yourself ignoring survey results because ‘that department is always difficult’? Have you ever decided to skip a question when conducting an exit survey because you felt you already knew that answer or worse, because you were afraid of what the response might be? If the answer is yes, then you are guilty of one of the most common and easily made mistakes of research; clouding the data with your own biases and beliefs.

The data you get from your exit surveys won’t always be easy to take and you won’t always agree with what people are saying.  Take a step back, let the data tell the story rather than creating narrative that matches your own opinion or what you think people want to hear.

To increase objectivity, having a third party conducting and interpreting the data and benchmarking will provide objective and valuable insights that you can turn into actionable items.


How Talivest can help you build an engaged workplace 

Talivest is an online platform that helps global companies tap into rich networks of their past and future talent. We help organizations understand why employees are leaving, stay connected with them and help re-hire high performing alumni as boomerangs. This results in reduced recruitment costs, boosted productivity, improved brand culture and a rich talent pool for referrals and boomerangs.

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