8

When an employee resigns, it is really difficult to get honest feedback. This usually includes manager, HR and team members, excluding those who have good personal relationship with leaving employee (and they don't tell what they heard).

I think often the problem is that leaving employee wants to avoid burning any bridges, even though honest ("I'm switching to that another company because they offer thing X and opportunity Y") - not insulting ("I'm leaving because that coworker is ") - feedback could improve the relationship with previous workplace.

Obvious first step for getting feedback is to ask for it, and react to it in a positive way (fixing issues that people told; not ridicule anything etc.).

Edited: I'm not talking about general trends in resignations - e.g after reorganization, people are leaving, or after pay raises were frozen. The most interesting case is when seemingly happy employee switches to competitor without getting (remarkable) pay raise or better benefits, nor the location of the office is better.

When that's not enough, what are the next steps? How that could be improved?

  • 7
    I find it amusing that there's this question that asks whether giving honest feedback is a good idea, and the answer is a resounding 'NO'. – user10911 Jan 30 '14 at 21:01
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    If your company had a habit of listening to people constructively while they were working there, then it's more likely they'll discuss their reasons for departure. Of course, one of the reasons people leave in the first place is because they're being ignored. – Meredith Poor Jan 30 '14 at 21:08
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    There is a massive asymmetry in benefits accruing to each party. The employer may gain a lot from feedback and at worst can ignore the feedback, whereas the employee stands to gain nothing and may lose out on references, chance to work in the company again, etc. Sensible employees realise this. I don't see how it's possible to address this issue. – TooTone Feb 4 '14 at 21:18
  • @user10911, That's because HR, management, and the powers that be have created a work environment in which "office politics" are the (unwritten) rules of the game and anyone who does not "toe the line" with this "acceptable" level of hypocrisy is viewed as a "negative" or "bad" person/employee, etc. Leadership has no one other than themselves to blame for the environment they've created where it's now practically impossible to get any real and honest feedback or to really know for sure if the feedback you got is actually what the person really would've said under different conditions. – code_dredd Sep 14 '16 at 14:00
15

One policy I have heard of is to conduct the exit interview six months after the employee has left. That way the employee is hopefully far more secure in the new job, less emotional and less scared to burn bridges.

  • 1
    That's a great idea, as long as the employee still lives nearby. – Fabinout Jan 30 '14 at 17:03
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    .. and a lot harder to actually schedule the interview. – Petter Nordlander Jan 30 '14 at 17:59
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    As the former employee in this case, what possible motive would I have for saying "yes" to this offer? – Rob Moir Jan 31 '14 at 9:15
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    @RobM There is no motivation to do so. You don't get compensated for your time, and your new employer wouldn't appreciate it if you did. You also have to take time off to take part in the exit interview, and any information you provide can be used to hang you. – DevNull Apr 15 '15 at 22:16
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    I would be very curious to see how many employees (my guess is 0%) would care of giving feedback six months later. – gented Jul 6 '16 at 18:30
13

I think you are focusing on the wrong thing. I can think of nothing any company could do that would make me trust them enough to leave with the kind of feedback you appear to want.

Sure if they dropped a major benefit (like when one company went from having good health insurance to a high deductable plan) then you get an immediate flurry of people leaving and they may feel it is safe to tell you that is why.

On the other hand if people suddenly start leaving at a higher rate right after management did something stupid like deny pay raises to everyone or dropped their health insurance, well then you can probably figure it out without asking.

But if the problem is their immediate supervisor is an ass, not so much. And if the person's boss doesn't know have a good idea why that person is leaving based on the conversations he has had with the employee over the last six months or so, then chances are he or she is a large part of the reason why the person is leaving. Bosses should know their employees well enough to know what kind of things bother them.

What you might be better off doing is looking at trends. Do people leave in higher numbers in the next two months after a major change is announced? Good chance that is part of the problem. I've seen large clumps of people leave:

  • After most of the company stock was bought by a venture capital firm (nothing good ever comes of that!)
  • After major changes to benefits espcially when important ones are dropped or made much worse
  • After being bought out by another company
  • After re-organizations put them in a new job they didn't want
  • After pay raises were frozen

  • After performance appraisals resulted in a less than satisfactory eval or raise especially when the person had a really good year in terms of accomplishments or was expected to work outrageous hours

  • After getting a new boss especially if the person leaving tried for the promotion to that position
  • After bonuses were given out (Hey they stuck it out until the bonus, so this one doesn't give you much information other than perhaps a bonus system isn't really helpful to retain people for very long)

If your highest rated people are leaving after pay raises or evals or bonuses, then you have a problem that needs to be addressed with the highest rated people you have left. If they tell you they got a 20% or higher pay raise to leave, then that needs to be addressed in terms of how you are paying your remaining employees especially the best of them.

Maybe another thing you need to do is pay more attention to retaining the people you have by talking to them frequently and knowing what their current concerns are. By the time someone has decided to leave, it is too late to fix anything for that person anyway. How helpful is is really that John left because he couldn't get along with Sam if everyone else can? How helpful is it that your lowest rated employees left because they didn't get good pay raises when the highest rated ones are happy with their pay raises? If money wasn't the reason why Mary left, what does that say about whether the people still there are happy about their salaries. After all (statisticly unlikely but still possible) Mary might have made more than the remaining people, so what caused her to leave may bear no relationship to why the others might want to leave.

  • Lots of good advice here. Companies are strange beasts in that the ones where departing employees have to self-censor are the ones where truth needs to be spoken to power. – Blrfl Jan 30 '14 at 19:56
  • Indeed, after big changes (like dropping major benefits or reorg), it's clear why people are leaving. Similarly, if after denied/reduced pay raise someone leaves, that's probably pretty self-explanatory. However, often that's not the case. The most interesting case is when seemingly happy employee leaves for competitor, without getting pay raise or remarkably better benefits. (Clarified the question a bit) – Olli Jan 31 '14 at 8:43
  • @Olli: Sometimes, it is simply a change of pace that is needed. The employee might simply just want to work in another setting with different people, not because there is anything wrong with the old ones, but simply because the change itself is what is desired. – Bjarke Freund-Hansen Feb 4 '14 at 14:03
7

There is some missing info in the question, so we'll use the 5 whys technique to tease it out. I'll have to make an educated guess as to the answers, based upon my own experience dealing with exit interviews and retention.

1. Why do we need to obtain the feedback?

A. To find out why people are leaving.

2. Why do we need to know why people are leaving?

A. Because hiring replacements is expensive and losing institutional knowledge is damaging. Also it affects morale of the remaining employees.

3. Why do you want to ask why people are leaving during the exit interview and not some other time?

A. Because we only know the people who want to leave are the ones who are leaving.

4. Why don't you know which people are unhappy enough to want to leave, but haven't left yet?

A. Because we haven't asked all the employees.

5. Why haven't you asked all the employees? (Why haven't you asked them what it would take to make them happy?)

A. ...


To sum, ask all of the employees what it would take to keep them happy. Ask regularly (no less than once every quarter).

Most employee discontent starts out as something small and gets compounded. The easiest, cheapest, best time to address such things are as soon as possible, not long after the employee has decided to leave.

  • Why answer this question now? ;) – Amy Blankenship Jul 6 '16 at 18:15
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    Why, I think he's got something there... Employee retention has to convince employees that it's worth staying. The reason they left is often the end of a sequence of managerial errors, and the others may be easier to fix. – keshlam Jul 6 '16 at 21:01
4

Do it informally

If you have a good relationship with the person leaving, meet with them for lunch outside the organization for an honest talk. If you don't know them well, perhaps a team member can do it.

It's not that it's impossible for someone to be totally honest in an exit interview, but you're correct that the social and professional pressures in the workplace may cause people to be restrained in efforts to be tactful.

  • 1
    I've once had a chat with the CEO when I was leaving, in which I was quite honest about why (money and poor management interacting badly, not least because the CEO had no idea of the pay problem). The major outcome for me was that a couple of months later my referee at that company was made redundant so I had no reference for my time at that company. So while it helped them it hurt me. – Móż Jan 30 '14 at 22:54

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