Conducting exit interviews online and anonymously reaps the best information about an employer's retention issues, says organisational psychologist Matthew Neale.
Neale, from HR solutions provider Onetest, told HR Daily he strongly recommends that employers don't use their own HR departments to hold exit interviews.
He says employees with negative views of the company are simply less likely to participate, and even those who do take part usually fear some kind of retaliation for making negative statements, and don't respond openly and honestly.
Studies have found, he says, that nearly half (49%) of exiting employees provide different reasons for leaving when speaking to both internal and external interviewers. Some 14 per cent of employees who told a company interviewer there was "no specific reason" for their exit subsequently gave a specific reason to an independent interviewer, and half of those who changed their response listed problems with their co-workers or supervisors, he says.
Neale points out that third-party interviews also have their flaws, because the quality of findings depends critically on the skill and consistency of the interviews, and it's difficult to track trends over time.
He recommends online interviews as an alternative, as they ensure questions are asked consistently and they don't rely on a person to interpret and report the answers. Online interviews are less expensive and have a better response rate, as employees can choose when to do them. They can also be completed either anonymously or with identifying details.
What to ask
Neale recommends that in exit interviews, employers ask workers about their:
reasons for leaving - basic questioning includes why the employee is leaving, where they're going and whether their new position is a higher- or lower-level job;
perceptions of the organisation - specifically, employers should ask for employees' perceptions of their work unit, co-workers, direct supervisors, senior leaders and the company's admin processes, Neale says. They should focus on factors that have the potential to drive people out of the organisation, and issues that are under the control of management;
pay - questions about remuneration should take into account the employee's level of satisfaction with their salary and with their last pay rise (the latter is a bigger factor in decisions to leave than total salary, Neale says), and whether they perceived they were paid fairly in comparison to others in the company;
boss - the quality of managers and the quality of supervision;
role clarity - Neale points out that if employees don't understand how their performance is evaluated, and the bounds of their responsibilities, they're less likely to experience a sense of achievement at work; and
suggestions for improvement.
Make it easy
Neale's further tips for online exit interviews include uploading the employee's demographics at the time of the invitation, rather than making them enter details that the company already has.
He recommends the employer contact employees about the exit survey via their preferred email address, in their final week of employment, and that they be allowed three weeks to respond to the questionnaire (with a reminder sent at the two-week stage). He says employers should expect a response rate of more than 60 per cent, but 80 to 90 per cent isn't unusual.
He also says employees should be able to respond anonymously, and one in three will choose that option if offered.
Employers should report the results of exit interviews to managers and workers in the organisation, and say what's being done to address any issues - this improves existing employees' perceptions of the company, Neale says.
Key factors in decisions to leave
Onetest has found through analysing 238 exit survey responses from white-collar employees that the biggest problem exiting employees have with their managers is a perceived lack of interest in their career development.
This is most closely followed by "did not listen to requests for resources".
The biggest problem employees have with their co-workers is a perception that others "did not do quality work themselves", followed by "did not think my job was important" and "did not value my contribution".