Exit Interviews: Putting Employee Feedback to Work - theEMPLOYEEapp

Exit Interviews: Putting Employee Feedback to Work

Exit Interviews: Putting Employee Feedback to Work

Last updated on March 7, 2024 at 10:46 am

It’s sometimes hard to see the silver lining when an employee quits. But it’s important to look at resignations as an opportunity for your business. Why? Because you have a chance to gather honest feedback during an exit interview.

In this blog, we’ll explore exit interviews and how you can make the most of this powerful feedback tool. Get ready to unlock the potential of exit interviews and harness the insights they hold. It’s time to put employee feedback to work and shape a better future for your organization.

What Are Exit Interviews & Why Use Them?

Exit interviews are structured conversations conducted with employees who are leaving their employer voluntarily.

These interviews provide an opportunity to gather valuable feedback and insights from departing employees regarding their experiences, reasons for leaving, and suggestions for improvement. The information obtained from exit interviews can be instrumental in improving retention and employee satisfaction going forward.

photo of a printed survey that says "employee exit interview" at the top with a pen resting on the paper

The primary objectives of conducting exit interviews are:

  1. Gaining unique insights. Your current employees might not always be completely honest about their experience. But exit interviews are a chance to get some, hopefully, honest feedback about why employees are quitting.
  2. Identifying systemic issues. Exit interviews aren’t just about uncovering one-off grievances. They help identify any systemic issues, such as concerns related to leadership, work environment, compensation, growth opportunities, or work-life balance.
  3. Retaining valuable employees. Through exit interviews, organizations can identify factors that might have led to the departure of valuable employees. This knowledge can be used to develop targeted retention strategies aimed at addressing specific issues and preventing the loss of other talented individuals in the future. We recommend using the knowledge gained to inform your stay interview conversations.

By conducting exit interviews and leveraging the feedback obtained, businesses can make more informed decisions, implement meaningful changes, and create a workplace that attracts, engages, and retains top talent.

Common Takeaways From Exit Interviews

Exit interviews provide valuable insights into the reasons behind employee departures and can reveal important trends that organizations can learn from. 

But some of the things you’ll learn aren’t all that groundbreaking. There are a few things about human behavior and what research has revealed about why people quit that we can prepare for.

Here are some common takeaways that companies often discover through exit interviews:

  1. Mental resignation happens before someone actually quits. The decision to leave an employer is often a culmination of various factors and not just a sudden event. Exit interviews often reveal that employees experience a mental resignation long before they actually submit their resignation letter. This highlights the significance of addressing employee concerns and fostering a positive work environment throughout their tenure.
  2. Appreciation must be ongoing. Waiting until an employee decides to leave before expressing appreciation is too late. A lack of recognition and appreciation leads to employee disengagement. Regularly acknowledging and valuing employee contributions goes a long way toward fostering loyalty.
  3. Money isn’t the sole motivator. While compensation is important, employees rarely leave only for financial reasons. Other factors such as growth opportunities, work-life balance, job satisfaction, and a sense of purpose often play a significant role in employees’ decisions to stay or leave.
  4. Career progression matters. Employees value opportunities for career growth and development. Lack of career advancement often contributes to turnover. Organizations should prioritize providing clear paths for growth and offering development opportunities to retain talented employees.
  5. Rebuilding trust is difficult. Once trust is broken between an employee and the organization, it can be difficult to regain. Exit interviews often uncover instances where trust was eroded, whether through poor leadership, lack of transparency, or broken promises.

notebook that says exit interview checklist at the top

Exit Interview Questions You Should Ask

You have to ask the right questions during exit interviews to gather meaningful feedback from departing employees. But remember, conducting exit interviews should prioritize creating a safe and confidential space for employees to share their feedback openly.

Here are some essential exit interview questions to consider:

1. Why have you decided to resign? 

Asking about the primary reasons for their decision to leave will help you understand trends in motivations and uncover systemic issues.

2. How satisfied were you with your role? 

Asking about the employee’s level of job satisfaction and what aspects of their role they found fulfilling or dissatisfying helps identify strengths and weaknesses within job design, workload, or work environment. This can help you address any issues before hiring to backfill the position—or else you may repeat history.

3. What did you think about our company culture? 

Explore the employee’s perception of the culture, including the level of teamwork, communication, and support they experienced. This can shed light on any cultural issues that may impact employee engagement and retention on a larger scale.

4. How would you describe your relationship with your direct supervisor? 

Managers have the biggest impact on wellbeing and employee engagement. Exit interviews can help you find the managers who might be toxic for your employees.

5. How effective did you find senior leadership at this company?

If your people don’t believe in the executive leadership team, then you have a big problem. The C-suite is supposed to inspire confidence and motivate their workforce. This gives you a chance to find out if they’re doing that effectively or not.

6. Did you feel like you had a clear path for growth here? Why or why not? 

We know people quit when they don’t see a future for themselves and don’t feel invested in. This can help you determine if development is an area of opportunity for you.

7. Did you feel like you had a healthy work-life balance? Why or why not?

Assess the employee’s work-life balance and whether they felt supported in maintaining a healthy equilibrium between work and personal life. This can uncover potential areas where the organization can offer more flexibility and support.

8. Do you have any suggestions for how we could improve the employee experience at our company?

Encourage departing employees to provide suggestions or recommendations for improving the business, department, or role. Their fresh perspective can offer valuable insights for enhancing employee experiences. They may offer insights that you wouldn’t even think to ask about.

text-based graphic that says "exit interviews: next steps" and lists out the 4 steps to take after the interviews

What To Do After Each Exit Interview

After conducting exit interviews, it is crucial to take proactive steps to leverage the feedback received and drive meaningful change within the organization. Like with any measurement, you have to act on your results and share them with leadership for the activity to be worthwhile.

And it all starts with actually looking at your data from both individual interviews and trends from exit interviews over time.

Step 1: Uncover Insights From Exit Interview Data

Reviewing and pulling key takeaways from your exit interview data is a vital step in understanding the underlying trends, patterns, and recurring issues that may exist. 

By effectively analyzing the data, you can gain valuable insights and make informed decisions. Here’s how to approach it:

  • Identify trends. Dive deep into the data to identify recurring themes and patterns in employees’ feedback. Look for common issues, concerns, or experiences expressed by departing employees. Categorize the feedback based on topics such as leadership, work-life balance, career growth, company culture, or any other relevant dimensions. This process allows you to pinpoint areas that require attention and take appropriate actions.
  • Conduct quantitative analysis. Utilize quantitative analysis methods to derive numerical insights from the exit interview data. Calculate frequencies, percentages, or ratings for specific questions or categories. This helps in understanding the prevalence and magnitude of various issues and provides a basis for comparison over time. Identify any statistically significant correlations or trends that may emerge from the data.
  • Conduct qualitative Analysis. Pay attention to the qualitative feedback provided by employees during exit interviews. Analyze employee anecdotes and comments to gain deeper insights into their experiences and sentiments. Apply coding or thematic analysis techniques to categorize the qualitative data into meaningful themes. This qualitative analysis provides context and adds richness to the quantitative findings.
  • Identify high-impact issues. Prioritize the issues or areas of improvement based on their potential impact on employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention. Focus on the issues that affect a large number of employees or have significant consequences on their experiences. By identifying high-impact issues, you can allocate resources and develop targeted strategies to address them effectively.


Step 2: Communicating Exit Interview Findings With Stakeholders

Effectively communicating the insights derived from exit interview data is crucial for driving organizational change and gaining support from key stakeholders. Here’s how to effectively share exit interview findings:

  • Create comprehensive reports. Prepare comprehensive reports that summarize the key findings, including both quantitative and qualitative data. Present the trends, patterns, and themes in a clear and concise manner. Include relevant quotes and anecdotes to provide stakeholders with a deeper understanding of employees’ experiences and sentiments.
  • Tailor the message to your audience. Customize the communication of exit interview findings based on the intended audience. Adapt the level of detail and language to suit the needs of different stakeholders, such as HR professionals, managers, and executive leaders. Highlight the implications of the findings on business performance and the importance of addressing employee concerns.
  • Facilitate dialogue and action. Encourage open discussions and dialogues among stakeholders to share insights, ask questions, and seek clarification. Foster a collaborative environment that values input from different perspectives. Facilitate the development of action plans and strategies to address the identified issues and monitor progress over time.

Putting Exit Interviews to Work: How to Make Meaningful Organizational Change

So, you’ve conducted your interviews and shared the results, but how do you take that next step? How do you put your findings to work and make a difference?

The biggest mistake is not doing anything and getting stuck in the “awareness” phase. This can happen more often than you’d think because the cost required to act on certain feedback might feel too overwhelming.

For example, what if you’ve uncovered that managers in a certain department are toxic? The cost of replacing those managers or investing in re-training them on proper management might be steep.

That’s why it’s important to calculate the opportunity cost of doing nothing. 

What if you leave those people managers in place without putting them on a performance plan and continue to churn their direct reports? Worse yet, what if your company starts getting a bad reputation from the word of mouth that spreads? What if employees in other departments see you putting up with that behavior and it influences how they perceive your culture?

You have to do this legwork for leadership and show them what happens if you ignore employee concerns.

The same goes for what might seem like small things. What if only one employee is honest about not feeling inspired by the C-Suite? You might dismiss this as a one-off, but it could be worth further investigation. Best case, it really was one person’s opinion. Worst case, that one brave employee is in good company and no one else feels safe enough to share that opinion.

Learn to take quick action by watching this TedTalk from Anne Morris.

So, how do you make meaningful change with your exit interview results? 

  1. Look at the opportunity cost of not acting.
  2. Investigate concerning feedback.
  3. Communicate what’s at risk to senior leaders.


About the Author

Sydney Lauro is the Demand Generation Manager for theEMPLOYEEapp. Prior to joining the team at theEMPLOYEEapp, Sydney worked in internal communications for Chipotle Mexican Grill. She uses her internal comms expertise and passion for improving communication and the employee experience to create content and share best practices to help other communications professionals.



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