Did you know that nearly a million people left their jobs in the UK last year? You might not have heard of an exit survey before, but you will have heard of an exit interview. In an exit interview the person leaving is asked questions, usually about why they are leaving, and usually by an HR representative. The aim is to gather the departing employee’s feedback on aspects of their employment with the company. An exit survey does exactly the same thing, capturing feedback from a departing employee on their time with the company, but it is delivered via a survey, rather than a person. It could be a pen and paper survey, but usually an on-line survey platform like SurveyOptic.
When done well, they provide an understanding of aspects of the employee experience including recruitment and onboarding, pay and benefits, manager support, culture, communication, work environment and EDI. Once these issues are understood they can be addressed using a closed loop process, (read our blog post on closed loops). That process involves gathering feedback, identifying issues, addressing them, and gathering more feedback to confirm the issues are resolved.
Exit interviews and exit surveys aren’t mutually exclusive. They can complement each other and provide additional information, with different strengths and weaknesses. We usually recommend switching to using exit surveys over exit interviews as there are multiple benefits.
7 Reasons Why an Exit Survey is a Better Solution:
- Less HR administration time
- Less employee time
- Delivered exactly at the right time
- It can even be delivered even after exit
- Removes the awkwardness of speaking to someone who is viewed as partisan.
- Quicker to analyse and action
- Can reduce biases inherent in the process
Less HR Administration Time
Once your survey is designed and set up in your chosen survey platform, it requires significantly less HR administration time compared to an exit interview. A typical exit interview lasts about 60 minutes, although anywhere from 30 minutes to 120 minutes is typical. Then there is admin time to organise the interview, time preparing for the interview, and even travel to the interview, as well as writing up and disseminating notes afterwards. With an exit survey, it can be automated from an HRIS or triggered via a spreadsheet upload of leavers to your survey system. Even at its most manual, sending out a template email with the link to your leavers, it is a lot quicker than organising a traditional exit interview. The benefit of that saved HR administration time? It saves the cost of HR admin time or frees up that time to work on solutions, rather than problems, and is likely to reduce the barriers your employees have to participating, meaning that you receive more responses and gather more data. If your employees don’t have to wait for HR to organise the interview or find time in their diary, you reduce the hoops they have to jump through to complete the exit process, resulting in you receiving input from more leavers.
Less Employee Time
A well designed survey should take less time for employees to complete than a traditional exit interview. It will always depend on your organisation and the situation for each survey you design, but for an exit survey, we’d generally recommend a completion time of 15-30 minutes. Even at the higher end, that’s already 30 minutes less than the typical exit interview. The less time it takes for someone to do something, the more likely they are to complete it. Therefore, it costs less money for the business to get feedback from each person (i.e. salary cost based on time to complete) and people are more likely to complete the shorter activity, meaning you get higher response rates and therefore a broader view of the organisation.
Can Be Delivered Exactly At The Right Time
An exit survey can be sent to an employee in seconds.. Once you’ve determined the optimal time for an exit survey in your company, you can deliver the survey as close to that time as possible e.g. 2 weeks before their leave date. With an exit interview, which requires compatible time in two or more people’s diaries, it’s unlikely that the interview can happen exactly when you were hoping. That might also mean more variance in when people complete the interview, i.e. early or later in their notice period, which could introduce some additional bias into the process. In the worst case scenario, it may not even be possible to find compatible time, and therefore, the interview doesn’t happen.
It Can Be Delivered After Exit
Depending on when you ask employees to complete their exit survey, there are different aspects of the process you can investigate, but it also means there are different emotions that may be at play. If you want to investigate employees’ experiences up to and on their last day, or even after they’ve finished working for you, you need them to complete the exit interview/survey after their end date. If you want to investigate an employee’s experience in their new organisation compared to your organisation, where they’ve just left, you need them to complete the exit interview/survey after their end date. This comes with its own complexities as the employee may feel no enthusiasm to complete your survey/interview once they’ve left, and/or they may feel they can be more honest or destructive about their experiences, and/or their emotions may have settled down having exited their previous work situation and they may be able to provide better responses. You may also want or need to ask their permission to contact them at their person email address, after their employment. It won’t work for every organisation, but delivering an exit survey after an employee’s exit date can be a good way to get end-to-end insights about their employment and exit and provide a better transition for the employee.
Removes The Awkwardness of Speaking To Someone Who Is Viewed as Partisan
Some people may not feel comfortable sitting in front of another human and honestly talking about their reasons for exiting the organisation. This could be due to their communication preferences, or may be because they have a genuine fear of retaliation if they raise an issue such as sexual harassment. In these cases, anonymity, rather than just confidentiality, may be a preference or even requirement for those completing. There are two sides to this – in some instances, the anonymity can encourage false or exaggerated disclosures from frustrated stakeholders, which can reduce the reliability of information. But the ability to provide anonymous responses can also enable people who may not otherwise have raised concerns, to raise them, increasing the reliability of information.
Whether an exit survey reduces the awkwardness of telling an HR interviewer about your exit from a company, or enables anonymous disclosure of more sensitive information, those are more barriers to potential completion that are being removed, likely increasing the response rate from your leavers.
Quicker To Analyse And Action
Typically, an exit interview involves open questions and discussions, with the HR colleague writing notes as they move through the interview. At the end of the interview, they need to type up and/or summarise those notes into findings. Ultimately, an exit interview collects more qualitative (verbal, or non-categorised or non-quantitative) information. This takes more time to collate and analyse. Conversely, an exit survey has usually been completed online (not on paper), meaning the data is already captured in a digital format and doesn’t need to be collated or typed up. If designed well, the survey should also focus on more quantitative information, which can be quickly analysed for trends and insights. However, with improvements in data analysis tools and AI, it’s still a quick process to analyse qualitative data. A quicker and less laborious process means your team is more likely to go through the entire process from data collection to analysis and action based on those insights. And it’s the action based on those insights that brings all of the value. So a quick analysis process is critical to enabling insights and actions.
Can Reduce Biases Inherent In The Process
Data collection is an incredibly complicated topic, and there are various sources of bias, error, unreliability and influence e.g. non-response bias, cultural differences, complexities around being honest in an exit situation. These biases vary from easy to manage to incredibly challenging to manage. One challenge with the traditional exit interview is the potential for inconsistencies, bias or poor information because of the actions of the interviewer. For example, as an exit interview is more open, the way an interviewer words a question or probes may result in inconsistent answers. The interviewer’s own biases or prejudices may also change the way they interview someone e.g. not probing enough, not asking for explanations or not following certain avenues of exploration. Finally, the interviewer may just not be very skilled in their question asking or note taking, which may introduce additional errors to the process. Whilst an exit survey is not without its own biases and flaws, it can remove the inconsistency inherent in an exit interview, and also reduce the impact or variability of personal biases of interviewers on the results.
Reasons Why An Exit Survey Isn’t The Solution
Exit surveys aren’t the perfect solution to every organisation’s exit process and they don’t necessarily fix or minimise the issues involved in exit interviews. There are still constraints inherent in the process:
- There’s less opportunity to probe the answers given during an exit survey which may risk losing some helpful insights. The only way to address this is with strong survey design, but it’s still not going to completely eliminate this
- Given the overall lower barriers to completion, and in some instances inability to spot them (compared to an interviewer’s ability to flag them), it’s possible that particularly disgruntled employees use the survey process in a more destructive way, breaking confidentiality or submitting false/exaggerated information. There are ways to identify these scenarios statistically, which could be done to potentially eliminate these responses, there are ways to prevent multiple responses from the same person, again reducing the potential impact of these submissions, and they are likely to be a very small minority anyway. However, there is still a small possibility that this type of scenario could skew the results and impact the reliability of conclusions drawn from the data
- Employees may feel like an exit survey process is a ‘light touch’ solution that the HR team are not taking very seriously and will not do anything with. This is a broader issue with HR credibility that needs to be addressed. The survey can include messaging to explain how and what will happen with the information, and as a broader organisational issue, can only be minorly influenced by the survey itself, but it may still impact the information gained from the process
- In organisations with small response rates e.g. 5 leavers per quarter, the conclusions that can be drawn will be limited and anonymity will be harder to protect, whether it’s an interview or a survey. However, with good question design, it may be possible to design something that is less impacted by small response rates
When To Deliver An Exit Interview Or Survey
There is no universally accepted ‘right time’ to administer an exit interview/survey to employees. The Harvard Business Review talks about exit interview/survey timing and suggests either the mid-point of an employee’s notice period or after exit. Earlier in the notice period, you may get more accurate information about their decision to leave but it may be confounded by the complex emotions of handing in one’s notice (excitement, frustration, nervousness etc.). Later in the process or even after their exit, you may get be able to gather more information about the entire offboarding process. The right time for your organisation will completely depend on the information you’re looking for, but also the factors that influence the responses in your context, and may require some experimentation or exploration on your part.
There are many reasons why an exit survey can be useful for your organisation compared to an exit interview. The decision on which route to take and the practicalities around survey design and delivery will also be heavily dependent on your organisation. Neither option is perfect, and you may still find that neither an interview nor a survey gives you the full picture about your organisational culture and offboarding process. For example, neither process helps you to understand the thought processes and situations of people who are unhappy with their employment and/or want to leave, but are unable to e.g. they are bound by visa sponsorship or personal circumstances. However, exit surveys can be incredibly insightful and although we are biased, pun intended, we would recommend them for many organisations.
Our SurveyOptic platform is a survey design, delivery and analysis tool that allows you to customise almost everything you might want or need to, and most importantly gives you strong reporting, enabling you to segment, filter and compare your results for more robust analysis. We make it easy to flag and redact sensitive or potentially identifying information during the survey design, so that you can analyse your data respecting personal privacy and the requirements of UK GDPR and local data protection regulations. We offer both a self-service and fully managed service, which means you can have as much, or as little, support as you need to build, deliver and analyse your survey data. Our clients use SurveyOptic to roll out a wide variety of instruments including employee satisfaction and pulse surveys, onboarding and exit surveys, public consultations, brand awareness surveys, pre- and post-training assessments and time allocation surveys, to name just a few examples. We even have some example exit survey questions pre-loaded in the system to get you started. To learn more about our platform, visit our website, arrange a demo or get in touch with a member of our team.