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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: 4 Truths Exit Interviews Don’t Tell Employers

Posted on: March 31, 2017

Categories: Employee Satisfaction | Featured

By Lisa Hildreth, VP and Tracy Libertino-Fegarsky, VP

Turnover is a reality in every organization. People change careers all the time; employees leave for opportunities closer to home with a higher salary and better benefits.

Or do they?

Frequently, employers conduct exit interviews to gain a better understanding of why employees move on. These are a great idea in theory, but as the saying goes, the best-laid plans often go awry. Even when they are leaving, many employees are not willing to be forthright, because they want to avoid hurting feelings, bad-mouthing colleagues or burning bridges. But if a company wants to improve its retention rate, it needs to know the truth. 

Luckily, talent acquisition experts are in a unique situation to help. When a candidate comes to them searching for a new position, they can find out not only what the candidate wants in a new job, but also why they left their previous employer(s).  Asking an expert what previous-employees are saying about their company is a great way to gain valuable insight.

Here are four key lessons we’ve learned that can help companies retain the great talent they worked hard to acquire.

  1. One bad apple can ruin the barrel.

    From a chronically negative coworker to a colleague who doesn’t contribute, an employee with a bad attitude can infect an organization and hinder positivity and productivity in the workplace. Despite their adverse effect on those around them, they are often left to their own devices for various reasons. Perhaps they fill a highly skilled role or they are a high performer who produces excellent results (as seen with recent , or maybe they have been with the company for so long that management feels guilty letting them go.

    Regardless of the reason, letting a bad apple remain in an organization can drive other employees to leave, allowing qualified, hard-working employees to slip through the cracks.  Managers may not realize the subtle behavior that is negatively impacting the team, because employees would rather leave than complain. Being aware of these types of employees is critical.

  2. Having blind spots or perception disconnects can impact your turnover rate.

    Perception disconnects could be to blame for your turnover rate. Many people cite a lack of communication and understanding between leadership and staff as a main reason for leaving a job.  Blind spots can cause workplace confusion at best and utter chaos at worse.

    This is frequently seen in “quiet culture” offices. These offices are so silent, you can hear a pin drop when you enter. Sure, some might think this is a sign of hard work getting done, but a closer look reveals otherwise. It’s like a river — it may look peaceful, but there are strong undercurrents beneath the seemingly serene surface.

    Some companies whose management recognizes this disconnect hire a subject matter expert or new employee hoping they will change the culture. But this solution can be doomed to fail.  Assuming a specialist can come in and facilitate an entire emotional shift is unrealistic and unfair to that employee. Any culture change must come from the top and requires total commitment and buy-in from all members of leadership.

    Other companies try to remedy the disconnect by conducting an anonymous culture survey. It’s a great idea, but many don’t have the time or resources to do it well.  A good place to start is with reviews of your company online.  Reading these can provide you a more accurate picture of day-to-day life in your office.

    Examine your own company culture. Do you know how your employees perceive the company? If not, it may be time to reassess and revamp your communication and culture.

  3. Belonging and authenticity are essential.

    Creating an environment where employees feel a sense of belonging and are free to express themselves as individuals is a recipe for retention. Those “quiet culture” offices often do not promote a sense of unity and solidarity amongst coworkers, who may not feel connected to their work or their colleagues. Even though belonging and authenticity have a tangible effect on productivity and retention, they can be tough to cultivate.

    Though there are different ways to create a sense of belonging in a workplace, there is not a single proven method for success. Small changes such as structured team-building exercises at work, or fostering an environment where coworkers frequently connect after hours can have a positive impact. Finding what works for your office may take time, but it will be worth it.

    Like belonging, allowing employees the space to be their authentic self can create a strong culture with minimal turnover. Organizations can start by creating the right environment; if people feel included and valued, they feel free to be themselves.  A diverse office makes this much easier. And not just racially diverse — differences in age, gender, sexuality, political views, nationality, personal experience and a host of other dimensions can contribute to a welcoming, inclusive environment, especially when embraced and celebrated by company leadership.

    Many employees today feel marginalized.  Frequently, companies try to fit people into molds with labels, but this can seriously harm a team’s culture.  For example, many younger workers resent the generational label “millennial,” because it carries a negative connotation and traits that don’t fully encompass their personality or range of skills.

    Building a sense of belonging and loyalty is best accomplished by helping employees understand how they are valued.  Without a sense of belonging, companies are likely to see turnover.  But what if your company has a great employee culture yet can’t seem to hang on to the best talent? You may need to take a look at lesson number four.

  4. Give employees room to grow.

    Whether they’re working on a project or learning a new skill, allow your employees room to breathe. They need space and time to develop, and while encouragement and support are welcome, micromanaging is not. 

    When adding employees, be sure to ask potential hires about their short and long term goals.  By having a realistic view of what an employee wants to achieve, employers can determine if they can truly offer the right environment to enable the individual to flourish.  When a disconnect exists between what an employee wants out of their career and what an employer can provide, discontentment and complacency may result. 

    You may want to continue exit interviews, but analyze the information you learn carefully. Remember that people may hide their true feelings, especially in a professional setting.  Evaluate your company and determine if any of the above lessons apply. If so, making some changes may help improve your workplace culture and reduce your turnover rate.

You may also enjoy the following articles:

The Employee Experience: 3 Keys to Retaining Top Talent

How to Keep Employees Happy…and Productive

3 Ways a Diverse Workforce Can Positively Impact an Organization


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