Employee Experience

Why (And How) To Use Exit Surveys and Exit Interviews Together

May 26, 2022
November 7, 2023
Halah Flynn
Lattice Team

The Great Resignation has resulted in significant data about why employees are leaving their organizations. HR teams shouldn’t let that data go to waste. 

“The employee experience spans from pre-hire to retire,” said Jonathan Liebman, a People Strategy Consultant at Lattice. “We really want to understand at the individual level what a person's experience was — and if it was bad, how can we prevent that for the next person we onboard?”

Leveraging exit surveys and exit interviews together can help human resources teams gain a deeper understanding of reasons for turnover in their organization, and make improvements to the employee experience.

The Difference Between Exit Surveys and Exit Interviews 

Exit surveys and exit interviews shed light on information that could be crucial for recruiting and retention, and likely resonate with the employees who are still on the team.

Liebman said the greatest misconception is that both tools are mutually exclusive, and they actually work better in tandem. “Think of the exit survey as a macro concept, and the exit interview as a micro concept,” he said.

While these two tools might seem redundant at first, they offer different benefits to HR teams and employees by complementing one another and filling in gaps about employee satisfaction. 

What’s an Exit Survey? 

Exit surveys measure the exit process for employees. They’re often administered digitally by an HR professional, and filled out by an exiting employee at their own pace. Exit surveys help the company understand:  

  • Employees’ experiences in the exit process
  • Informational gaps in the offboarding process
  • Changes to make to employee experience
  • Measurable aspects of the employee lifecycle

What’s an Exit Interview? 

Exit interviews collect qualitative information about why an employee is departing from an organization. They’re typically conducted face-to-face with a human resources professional virtually or in person. Exit interviews help the company understand:

  • Specifics that affected the departing employee
  • Competitors’ offerings that attract new talent 
  • Benefits that could increase employee satisfaction
  • Opportunities to prevent more attrition

High employee turnover can put a strain on teams that are already stretched thin; exit interviews and surveys contain a wealth of constructive feedback that can be used to address issues related to work conditions, organizational culture, and employee engagement.

Some departing employees might be hesitant about being candid because they fear retribution or want to stay on good terms with their colleagues. Human resources teams should take time to explain the benefits of exit surveys and interviews to participants, while demonstrating good faith practices about data collection. For example, exiting employees should clearly understand when exit surveys are identifiable (as opposed to anonymous), and who else might have access to their answers.

When exit surveys and interviews are used effectively, both parties can benefit from the opportunity to document valuable information and honest feedback.

Benefits of Exit Surveys

Human Resources
• Administer quickly and easily at scale
• Standardize data and compare over time
• Reduce bias by standardizing questions
• Write candidly and openly if desired
• Feel less pressure to answer positively
• Complete quickly at their own pace

Benefits of Exit Interviews

Human Resources
• Gain high ROI on time spent interviewing
• Collect rich, nuanced intel
• Cater questions to departing employee
• Feel heard by the organization
• Speak at length about important issues
• Leave with a sense of closure

Surveys and interviews aren’t only for gathering criticism — positive feedback is just as valuable as constructive feedback for identifying trends in the employee experience. The questions used in each tool should also give employees opportunities to discuss what they enjoyed and valued about working for the company. 

To gain the most valuable information, HR leaders should spend time training interviewers about why they are collecting this data, how to discuss sensitive information with employees, and where this data will end up. When interviewers have a clear understanding of their goals for creating a positive offboarding experience, they are more likely to have meaningful conversations with exiting employees and recognize opportunities to delve deeper into an employee’s reasons for leaving. 

Why HR Teams Should Be Using Exit Surveys and Interviews

Successful exit interviews and surveys measure the final step of the employee lifecycle: departure. Though it may be difficult — and time-consuming — to bounce back after an employee leaves, leveraging both tools is key to gathering comprehensive and useful data about employee engagement.

Here’s why HR teams benefit the most from using interviews and surveys together:

  • Collect differing and complementary information: While surveys are best used to measure the offboarding process, interviews can give much more nuanced intel about the larger employee experience. Using one or the other may lead HR teams to miss out on swaths of crucial information that could support new hires.
  • Offer accessible opportunities for employees: Some individuals may open up more in one setting than another based on their comfort level. Asynchronous communications like surveys may be more accessible to employees who need flexibility when giving feedback.
  • Capture the employee lifecycle holistically: Because every employee is unique, qualitative data can help illustrate the full portrait of an employee’s experience from the moment they found the job description to the final moment of their offboarding, including feedback about their work environment, job expectations, opportunities for growth.
  • Differentiate between individual needs and larger trends. The more data you have to work with, the easier it is to identify patterns contributing to attrition. Deep dives into reasons for leaving can help HR teams understand whether a negative experience was isolated or indicative of a larger problem.

“The quantitative data tells one side of the story,“ Liebman said. “But all of the specifics related to the employee experience and ways to improve really come from the comments.”

What if your HR team doesn’t have the bandwidth to do both? 

HR teams hit the hardest by high turnover may need to make hard decisions about the best way to gain valuable information from exiting employees. In short, surveys can be administered quickly and at scale, but you might not get the same detailed information as you would from exit interviews.

Liebman recommends conducting interviews for 30 minutes instead of 60, but says 10 or 15 minutes is too short for a meaningful interview. “It almost starts to feel like a compliance activity, versus ‘we really want to hear you and are genuinely interested in improving our process and employee experience,’” he said.

HR managers should start by reflecting on the benefits of each tool, and decide which one fits the needs of their organization based on size, turnover, and capacity. 

If you’re struggling with time constraints, start by using a template to standardize exit survey questions. If you’re planning to rely only on exit surveys, you can still capture opportunities for improvement by incorporating some of the questions you might have used in an interview.

“An employee who is less satisfied with their experience will typically be a bit more vocal about how they felt and why they left and where the gaps are in employee experience,” Liebman said. “So always try and enable open-ended comments attached to every question in the survey.”

Using Lattice’s customizable and identifiable exit surveys, you can add mutually beneficial questions such as: “If we have follow up questions, would you be willing to speak with HR?” If something important or ambiguous comes up in the survey, your team can decide whether they have time to do a deeper dive with a face-to-face interview.

If teams do decide to make use of interviews, Liebman said they should come prepared with information about that specific employee to ask meaningful questions and use the time effectively.

“What role were they in when they joined the company? How did they progress in their role? Was this employee up for promotion and somebody else got that promotion instead of them,” he asked.

How to Use Employee Exit Data Effectively

So you’ve conducted your interviews and completed your surveys — now what? Using employee feedback to inform future processes is crucial for establishing data-driven benchmarks about employee experience and aspects of company culture that may be affecting recruiting and retention for top performers.

“You're not coming into the exit interview with explicit solutions since they're already departing,” Liebman said. “But it's really an opportunity to make the employee feel seen and heard when they move into their next role. They'll remember the exit interview process was smooth and helpful, and that they can tell that the company is committed to driving positive change for the employees who are still there.” Leaving on a positive note might even entice the employee to eventually return to the company.

  1. Create a data ecosystem within the exit process. Send the questionnaire to the departing employee before the interview so HR can draw from the survey results to create their interview questions. Then, use the interview results to update and improve surveys for future use. Think about the following: What information was missing about the exiting employee? What issues leading them to leave could be affecting employee retention at large?  
  2. Check in with remaining team members about any concerning findings. Current employees may have additional, helpful context about any issues that resulted from the exit interview questions — such as a specific manager or team dynamic causing problems. Use these conversations to evaluate burnout or strains that may develop due to the employee’s departure.
  3. Collaborate with HR teams covering other departments. Use the exit interview data to identify workplace trends that could be contributing to resignations, and discuss a plan for elevating these concerns to executive leadership or other colleagues who may need to know. Make sure to review and discuss trends that emerge when looking at specific demographics including race, gender, and age, to evaluate needs for better diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
  4. Consider incorporating stay interviews for additional surveying. Stay interviews can help identify issues affecting your organization’s culture, employee satisfaction, and top talent retention. The only wrong way to use exit data is to not use it at all — tracking patterns to inform new policies can help with greater workforce retention and employee engagement.

“A stay interview is a great opportunity to proactively understand why an employee might be thinking of leaving and then take measures to retain them,” Liebman said. “That way you're not finding out after they've submitted their two weeks' notice.”

For more data-driven advice on measuring employee engagement and experiences, download Lattice’s eBook, Driving Engagement and Retention in the Hybrid Workplace.