Learning from who left: Optimizing exit survey programs to understand turnover

By Dr. Victoria Hendrickson

While exit surveys aren’t new to the industry, their impact has grown as both new research and advanced technologies have changed the way practitioners use these instrumental surveys to achieve their goals. Yet as with most advancements, they have come with new questions and challenges, especially since these programs range in scale and complexity. Some organizations stick to a simple approach, such as collating individual exit interviews for themes. Others have more complex, customized surveys that tap into turnover antecedents and brand sentiment. As a result, practitioners beginning an exit survey program can be overwhelmed with options. Who owns the exit survey? Should it be consistent company-wide, or specific to business area? When do employees receive surveys? What do the findings mean? The questions are clearly endless, and there are, of course, no easy answers.

Each organization will have unique needs that are best served by a combination of options. To help focus your efforts, we recommend addressing some main pivot points right at the start of your project:

Who owns the exit survey?

Consider who is responsible for acting on results. If it is local leaders or HRBP’s, this suggests local ownership and distribution. If it is centralized groups or COE’s, this suggests a consistent, centralized approach.

How is it distributed?

Consider what a typical notice period is, and how employees have access to technology. If notice periods are longer and employees all have company email, this suggests an emailed survey between notice and departure. If notice is shorter, SMS or personal email addresses may be needed.

What content is covered?

Consider issues impacting attracting talent, scaling successfully, and working effectively. It's worth asking about the ‘leave’ decision (why an employee is leaving and where they will go), but it's also worth understanding the general climate and barriers of working effectively.

How are results distributed?

Consider which groups will show meaningful aggregations of data, and who is in a position to act on the data.

As you think about employee lifecycles in your organization, consider how exit surveys can help you understand turnover data both within the survey itself as well as through connections with other surveys conducted. For example, answers on exit surveys (or even turnover counts) can be connected to previous surveys, to determine what warning signs may have predicted issues.

If you are thinking through how to best optimize your exit survey program, reach out to Dr. Hendrickson to think through the above questions.

Partner and Vice President Victoria Hendrickson, PhD, works to strategically design and administer employee surveys, customer surveys, and linkage research. Across these tools, she works to gather data that helps leaders address their organization’s unique strategic challenges and to present findings as an insightful story that guides meaningful change. Victoria conducts research on survey comments, nudges, organizational ambidexterity, and innovation. Her recent research has led to the development of OV VOICE, the Value-Optimized, Intelligent Comment Extractor, an AI tool that identifies the most useful and meaningful comments. Victoria is the author of Needle in the Haystack: Finding and Acting Upon the Most Useful Comments; additionally, she regularly presents at national and international conferences. She received her undergraduate degree in Social Psychology from Saint Mary's College of California, and her PhD. in Organizational Psychology at Alliant International University. Questions or comments? Email Dr. Hendrickson directly.