Exit interviews: The secret to keeping your top talent?

7 August 2022

Once someone decides to leave, there’s often little chance of winning them back. But, with a well-executed exit interview, you can gain valuable insights into your workplace culture and make changes to prevent your top talent from following.

People will leave your organisation, there’s no escaping that reality. But in 2022, the chances of it happening are much higher than they used to be.

A recent NAB Behavioural Insight Report noted one in four Australians are thinking about leaving their current job. That’s potentially 25% of your workforce. These stats are enough to send a shiver down every manager’s spine.

Employee retention matters

Inconvenience aside, there’s a pretty compelling business case for minimising the number of people leaving your organisation too.

The latest research has found the average cost of recruiting has climbed from $10,000 per candidate last year to $23,000 in 2022. And, it takes at least a week longer to recruit someone than it did 12 months ago.

Smart leaders are taking steps to deal with issues in their organisation to stop their top talent from walking out the door.

But what is it that makes your top talent leave? And, more importantly, what would have made them stay?

These questions (and more) can be answered with a well-executed exit survey.

What’s it really like to be an employee?

An exit survey is a valuable opportunity to get information about your workplace you may not otherwise be privy to. Often leaders in an organisation have a very different experience of a workplace from their team. And current employees don’t always feel comfortable sharing their true feelings in case they put their job at risk.

An exit interview allows you to get up close and personal with the inner workings of your organisation – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Things like:

Culture: What’s it really like to be an employee in your organisation? Do people feel respected? Do they have a sense of belonging? Is it easy to raise concerns with a manager, or will they be shot down?

Pay & Benefits: Do they feel their pay and benefits are fair for what they did? Money isn’t everything but it makes a difference. A PWC study found that wellbeing and career development are important, but most employees still value pay and remuneration above all other factors.

Flexible work preferences: People can have wildly different definitions of flexibility. One person’s four-day work week is another person’s working-from-my-caravan-while-I-travel-around-Australia kind of flexibility. Does their version of flexibility match the organisations’ version?

Learning and career development: Do your people feel they have the skills to do their job well? And did they have a clear path to progression? Millennials in particular have strong expectations when it comes to career progression, with a PWC report finding that millennials would rather choose to work for a company that can offer a route to rise through the ranks, over one paying an initially attractive wage.

Be strategic about your fixes

Once you’ve found the (real) reasons people are leaving – you can take steps to address them.

Start with small incremental change. Look for the easy quick wins that will immediately address an obvious need. This could be something as simple as providing cold drinking water (believe it or not, this happened to a client of mine!) or bringing back team meetings.

Once you’ve knocked off the smaller changes, you’ll need to look at more significant improvements to help with systemic, larger-scale issues that have arisen.

Before you go handing out pay rises willy-nilly, it’s important to get strategic about what changes you need to make.

Here are some areas to consider:

  • Makes changes to the benefits offered to employees: remember to offer benefits that people value, not the ones you always have.
  • Review flexible work policies: Look at how you can offer more flexibility, but be realistic about what you can accommodate. Don’t start offering a four-day week if your need people on the ground at all times.
  • Leadership training and/or coaching: are there specific areas your leaders need help with? Looks for repeated patterns of feedback that you’re receiving rather than one-off reports or gripes.
    Investment in learning and development opportunities: consider both formal opportunities for learning such as in-house training or webinars, as well self-directed learning in the form of videos, articles and podcasts.
  • Review your remuneration strategy: The reality is the cost of living has risen, and if they can’t meet their needs on their current salary, people will look elsewhere for higher-paying roles. It’s worth re-looking at your remuneration strategy to check that your current employees are getting market value – a good HR consultant will be able to help you do this with a comparative analysis.

Go deeper and build a complete picture

An exit interview is a valuable source of information. But it’s only one source.

It’s important to validate exit interview findings with other information from performance reviews and other informal observations.

Consider sending out a “stay survey” that helps gauge how people are feeling about the workplace culture, their role, and the likelihood of them staying or leaving. Or do some comparative analysis or market research to find out how you stack up to your competitors.

Use this information to build a picture of your current workplace, and create a plan to start making some positive changes that will help create loyal and thriving employees.

See also our 7 pillars of retention guide.

Often we can see there’s an easier way to do things but we don’t have the time to properly identify and implement the changes needed to make a real difference. Hatch Solutions can help bring your vision of effective, productive and high-performing teams to life to improve your organisation. Book a free 30-minute consultation to get started.

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