Managing a Team

After the Exit Interview: Next Steps for Employers

Discover key strategies that will help your company understand voluntary resignations and take action.

Blog Author - Molly Margulies
Molly Margulies
Apr 10, 20235 minutes
Blog Author - Molly Margulies
Molly Margulies

Molly is a writer and people operations leader with over a decade of experience building teams and coaching executives. With a human-centered approach, Molly focuses on psychological safety and captivating narratives to help teams thrive.

7 postsAuthor's posts
1920x1080 After the Exit Interview Next Steps for Employers

There are many reasons why folks choose to stay or leave an organization, but a well thought out exit interview process for voluntary resignations can illustrate patterns that might otherwise elude leaders.

Managing a Team

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When an employee transitions out of your company, it can be tough to handle. Take care of everything from required paperwork to exit interviews with this guide.

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While it might be too late for departing employees, the benefit of an exit interview is the opportunity it gives you to make meaningful change in your organization. Reviewing exit interview data consistently will provide a wealth of insights that bring clarity and alignment on focus areas that can keep current employees from ending up in the same position.

Commit to a Cadence of Reporting

It’s important to review your exit interview data regularly — the easiest way to set yourself up for success here is to pick a cadence that is appropriate for your business. If you have at least two or three departures per quarter, you might start with quarterly reporting. For an organization that experiences multiple departures per month, a monthly report might make more sense.

As a small business employer, it’s easy to assume you understand all the reasons for an employee’s departure, but it’s important not to make assumptions. Furthermore, when you let the data tell the story, you begin to see patterns and deeper layers of insights. Whichever cadence you choose, a year-end review is also a nice way to holistically make connections across quarters, and even validate hunches you may have had earlier in the year.

In any event, organizations can still identify and take action based on individual exit insights in between formal review periods, especially if serious allegations or concerns are surfaced.

Aggregate the Data

If you’re the person reviewing the data, you’ll know which employee said what. While that can be helpful for the insights review and presentation, that doesn’t mean broader leadership needs to know these specifics. In fact, this reveal could run counter to the exercise, so it’s best to present this data aggregated and anonymized.

Employees who are voluntarily departing don’t owe you their parting thoughts, but their candid feedback is crucial to uncovering blind spots or strengthening business cases for change. While in the interview, it’s a good idea to remind the employee that, while the interview is confidential and any identifying information will be kept private (to the extent possible), some data collected may be presented in the aggregate. That said, also remind them that the purpose of sharing is to listen and improve. When you’re clear about this, employees may feel more at ease to share candidly, especially if they know this can help inform positive change.

Your data should include both qualitative and quantitative data. Whether it's a form, a document, or third-party survey software, it’s a good idea to bake in questions that can be easily measured. For example, maybe you include multiple choice options to identify their primary reason for leaving — this will be clear data to present because everyone has to select a pre-written choice. Likert scale questions are also helpful for quantitative data, especially regarding compensation and benefitsmanagement, and company confidence.

Whether you hold a follow-up conversation or ask open-ended survey questions, the survey should also cover qualitative data — questions that touch on what they found rewarding or challenging, and what advice they might give. This is where you get to dig into their answers to uncover the root cause behind them.

Generate Insights

Once you’ve got all your data, start looking for patterns and deeper insights. Start with the identity-based data: what’s the breakdown of overall attrition from this time period between company department, company tenure, manager, gender, age, and any other demographic information that’s already available to you? What do you notice?

You’ll also want to show a data split of regrettable attrition vs. non-regrettable attrition:

  • Regrettable attrition is when the loss is ‘regretted’ because the employer would prefer (and maybe tried) to keep the individual. This might be because they were a top performer, and/or their departure may negatively impact the team.

  • Non-regrettable attrition is when the departure does not create this same feeling with the employer. There is not as much company concern around their decision.

  • Voluntary attrition can be non-regrettable — perhaps if the employee was underperforming and knew it, or if there were other performance or behavioral issues. This doesn’t mean those folks don’t have valid insights or concerns, but it’s worth noting for certain questions, especially if their feedback might be exactly why their departure is non-regretted. Exit insights are meant to empower you to improve your company in ways that will retain the types of employees you want to stay.

Then, go a layer deeper. Did multiple people cite the same primary reason or theme as their decision to leave? What is the general sentiment score on company confidence, senior leadership, manager, and team effectiveness? Pay particular attention to neutral responses if you use a likert scale. Neutral usually indicates something beyond ‘neutral’ — it can, for example, point to a hesitation.

Finally, take a look at the qualitative questions. This is where you can further understand what this person liked best about their job, what they found most challenging, and what excites them about their next opportunity. Even looking at a smaller pool of employees, you can usually find similarities or surprises that are worth having a larger discussion about.

Once you have all the isolated insights, think of the larger story they tell. You can even consider any recent engagement surveys or stay interviews you’ve held with your current employees. Can you make any connections there? If the engagement survey surfaces similar insights, you could have some real flags that spark a more urgent need to act. If you can see where current employee sentiments are trending, you can get ahead of them to reduce risk for attrition that cites similar reasoning.

Present to Leaders

Next, it’s time to share this data with senior leadership to have a healthy discussion. It could be worth circulating the information (whether it’s slides, a document, or video) ahead of the meeting to allow leaders time to process. It’s human nature to feel defensive or emotional when reading feedback about something you’ve worked so hard to build, and it’s ok to acknowledge this as an initial reaction. However, in this meeting, choose to lead by focusing on improvement tactics rather than getting stuck in a reaction loop.

Exit interviews do provide concrete reasoning that will help gain buy-in with your leaders. But the real change happens when your leaders engage with the responses and start asking questions and having conversations about how this could be true, and where to go from here.

In the meeting, it’s a good idea to come with a recommendation for a few key focus areas. Maybe you need to focus on more competitive benefits, or maybe you need to upskill your managers. Whatever it is, ensure the whole team is onboard.

Form an Action Plan

Once you’ve decided on your focus areas, there are a few other decisions to make:

  1. What is or isn’t actionable? Be realistic and think about the types of employees you’re optimizing for, those who you’re trying to retain. Consider both what is operationally viable, as well as changes that might impact or change your core values or philosophies.

  2. Is there anyone else you need to loop in? If something surfaced about the interview process, or if there is feedback you need to give to a current employee based on an anecdote shared, how will you do that?

  3. Conduct a mini-retro: are there any questions that need to be added to or removed from your exit interview process? Are you satisfied with the level of information you’re receiving?

Stay Accountable

There are so many benefits of exit interviews to an organization. The beauty of consistently taking action means employees trust you, and they’ll share what needs to be done next. Do you find that, quarter over quarter, you’re getting the same feedback? What can you do to feel empowered by this data? Follow up to measure impact, whether that’s in your next engagement survey report or your next exit interview report.

Ultimately, there are countless reasons why someone makes a decision to exit an organization. You won’t be able to control all of them, but this type of work makes invisible sentiments more visible, and that can be a game changer. And you never know — there are many cases, even at smaller start-ups, of former employees returning to a previous company after some time. Treating these employees like alumni and taking care to give them a good send-off could provide a high return on investment.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.
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Written By
Blog Author - Molly Margulies
Molly Margulies
Apr 10, 20235 minutes

Molly is a writer and people operations leader with over a decade of experience building teams and coaching executives. With a human-centered approach, Molly focuses on psychological safety and captivating narratives to help teams thrive.

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