How to run an employee exit survey

TL;DR: High staff turnover can cost your business a lot of money and damage company culture. And you might be investing in initiatives to improve employee engagement, but your people may still leave. And why? Employee exit surveys are your best way to find that out. By exploring this powerful tool, organizations can uncover reasons behind turnover and gain valuable insights into avoiding more losses.

What are employee exit surveys, and why should I conduct them?

Forward-thinking companies care about voluntary employee turnover. And it’s easy to see why: High turnover is an absolute culture killer. And it costs companies a lot of money — you’ll spend between half and two times an employee’s annual salary just to replace them. 

As people rethink priorities and have more remote job opportunities, companies must come to grips with the fact that turnover will escalate (even if you don’t see it in your organization yet). And one key strategy to reduce turnover and improve your company culture is often forgotten: employee exit surveys.

Many businesses run employee exit surveys and interviews, but don’t make the best use of these offboarding tools. As with exit interviews, exit surveys must be thought through to generate actionable insights that can help reduce staff turnover. And collecting data for the sake of it won’t help you — in fact, it can make your people more frustrated. But when designed and analyzed thoughtfully, exit surveys are strategic opportunities. 

Employee exit surveys have the potential to provide valuable data on your company culture, management, communications, structures, processes… You name it. And if your company has a psychological safety issue, you may not be getting the full picture with engagement surveys alone. 

Exit surveys can also help you to:

  • Uncover systemic issues and negative trends (which, if acted upon, can reduce future turnover);
  • Think of new solutions and initiatives to improve the organization and employee satisfaction, including training opportunities for managers and individual contributors;
  • Proactively show your people that you care about their opinion and that the company wants to evolve;
  • Close the relationship with employees who are leaving in a constructive way, and on a positive note — potentially turning former employees into company advocates (instead of detractors).

Keep reading to find out exactly how to run an employee exit survey and access our list of best-practice questions — or download the employee exit survey template now if you’d prefer. 😉

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Wann Sie dieses Playbook verwenden sollten

When to use
this playbook

Whenever an employee decides to leave the business, use this playbook to gather information about their experience working at the company.

However, beyond being a fundamental process each time an employee quits, this playbook should be an ongoing initiative in your company. The purpose is to continuously analyze the data surfaced in employee exit surveys (and interviews, if you choose to add that to your process), discussing and implementing actions for organizational improvement.

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Was Sie für dieses Playbook benötigen

What you’ll need for
this playbook

A commitment to improving your offboarding processes and employee experience

You clearly already have that — otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this playbook!

A system for running surveys

Consider setting up a system to run your company’s surveys better. Besides running exit surveys, it’s a best practice to explore engagement surveys, pulse surveys, and diversity surveys to improve your business while establishing a culture of transparency and dialogue. Although you can use paper, PDFs, or decentralized survey tools, a platform like Leapsome can help you with analytics and guarantee your employees’ privacy, multiplying the benefits of running surveys.

Hinweise & Tipps
  • Running regular employee surveys to gather feedback throughout the employee lifecycle can prevent turnover in the first place.
  • We recommend setting up your survey with quantitative and qualitative, open-ended questions. Both are essential to provide the right mix of data insights (once enough people answer exit surveys) and actionable ideas for improvement.
  • Your employee exit surveys might uncover uncomfortable truths. Be open and willing to listen. Don’t forget that the goal is to better your company and provide current and future employees with a better experience — which will likely increase retention.
  • If you only have one person leaving in a given month, you might be able to guess their comments. But be respectful and don’t expose them.

    If someone speaks openly about issues with their manager or a C-level executive, for example, don’t share this with them. Word would eventually get out if you did, and you would lose your people’s trust. Not to mention this not being fair to the respondent.
  • We recommend that you also schedule an exit interview or two as part of the offboarding process (e.g., between the exiting employee and people ops; between the employee and their manager).

    But keep in mind that those are not a replacement for exit surveys. Even though they’re about to leave the organization, employees are much more likely to be candid when responding to surveys than when talking to someone face to face.
  • Exit interviews are your opportunity to dig deeper and gain more clarity on specific topics. So ensure they take place after the person has responded to the survey. This way, survey results and your aggregate data won’t be influenced by the interview.
  • It’s a good idea to compare aggregate data from exit surveys with employee engagement survey results. Discrepancies may hint that your people don’t feel comfortable enough to give honest answers while still employed by the company.

How to run this People Ops Playbook:

Wie Sie dieses People Ops Playbook durchführen:

1. Inform your people

Given the sensitive nature of this type of survey (both in terms of content and the context that triggers them), you should not catch your employees by surprise. And letting your soon-to-be former employees know that you’ll send out an exit survey (and possibly schedule an exit interview or two) is not enough. As improving your organization is one of the primary goals of running exit surveys (and taking action), your people should know about this process from the get-go.

Consider announcing the new type of survey in your company’s all-hands meeting or team standup. Then, send out an email or Slack message with more details on the purpose of employee exit surveys and the processes involved. It would be even better to include this in your company’s employee handbook or other documentation accessible to all.

Once these surveys have become part of your company culture, make sure that new joiners are also aware of exit surveys. If your organization values transparency, all offboarding steps should be part of your onboarding documentation. Also, you’ll be communicating that you care about their thoughts and continuously improving as an employer.

Knowing that well-thought exit surveys and actions for development are part of your company’s DNA will motivate more people to complete their exit surveys. And remember: How you offboard someone is the only shot you have to turn your former team member into an advocate.

2. Choose your survey’s questions

This is likely the trickiest part of setting up this type of survey. But as always, we’ve got your back! Download our free pack with best-practice questions to choose from for employee exit surveys.

Things to consider when choosing questions: 

  • Standardize questions and don’t change them unless you have a good reason to. Otherwise, you won’t benefit from the insights gained from aggregate data.
  • Always keep your organization in mind. What’s the style of your organization? What kind of communication do you have with your people? The questions you choose should reflect your company’s voice.
  • What are your company’s core values and can you build questions around them? If, for instance, your company values teamwork above all else, give special consideration to teamwork-related questions.
  • Questions must be specific enough to allow for data comparison. Make sure to cover different areas like the role, compensation, management, team, culture, learning and development, etc.

Key topics to approach in an employee exit survey are:

  • The role
  • Career progression & opportunities
  • Learning & development
  • Compensation package
  • Management
  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • Team
  • Culture

3. Define a timeline

With an advanced people management platform with survey capabilities, you can automate employee exit surveys to be sent X days before their last day at the job.

To create the ideal timeline for your company, consider the following:

  • Will you conduct exit interviews? Ideally, people should have enough time to decompress between answering their exit survey and having their exit interviews. Even for voluntary turnover, these processes can cause some anxiety.
  • It’s not a good idea to send this to someone right after they quit — after all, this can be an emotionally charged time.
  • Propose a reasonable deadline when sending out a survey. Don’t expect respondents to complete it the day they receive it (or even the day after). Chances are, your soon-to-be former employee has a lot on their plate with tasks handover or even training their replacement.

4. Send out reminders to increase participation

Don’t be forceful, and remember that you (and not the respondent) have the most to gain from exit surveys. Be appreciative of their contribution and send a few friendly reminders via email, chat, or your survey tool.

Follow-up best practices for running an employee exit survey

Schedule exit interviews

This is a great chance to dive deeper into topics that were already relevant, but not a good fit for the survey’s standard questions. 

Decide who should conduct this interview (i.e., someone from People Ops/HR or the person’s soon-to-be former manager) and be mindful of your employee’s privacy. Don’t put them in a difficult situation. For instance, if someone reveals that the reason they left was a bad relationship with their manager, don’t tell this to the manager before their interview. There are other ways you can share feedback with a manager and support them in improving without compromising someone’s trust.

(Continuously) dig into the data

As more people respond to your company’s exit survey, you’ll have more consolidated data that might help you spot trends that weren’t so clear before. Working with exit survey data to improve the employee experience and increase employee retention is not a one-time thing.

Develop an action plan

Implementing a survey that doesn’t spark change is just lip service and not a good employer branding idea. Whether you’re running engagement surveys, pulse surveys, diversity surveys, or exit surveys (hopefully, you’ll run all of those!), you’re not collecting data just to have fancy graphs.

Consider scheduling recurring meetings with other stakeholders — these can be C-level executives, founders, people ops colleagues, or other people interested in supporting these initiatives. Have a clear agenda, share positives and negatives from exit survey data, and brainstorm solutions and changes. 

And don’t try to focus on multiple topics at once. Work on a few areas for improvement at a time, starting with the most critical. Usually, those will be issues pertaining to the lowest scores or most negative sentiment analysis.

As an example, you might find out that many people left because of a lack of career opportunities and progression. Here, focus on creating development frameworks for your company’s various departments, with transparent information and average timelines to achieve the next level.

Keep your people in the loop

Transparent communication drives engagement, and that includes sharing the good and the bad. Although sharing the results of every meeting and discussion on exit survey analysis would likely be tiring for all, consider sharing a roundup with trends and, most importantly, initiatives and results of these actions. You can do this in an all-hands meeting, or you can share a simple presentation with simple graphs and key points with your people, making it clear that you’re happy to answer questions that may arise.

⭐️ Would you like to explore surveys to their full potential? Make sure to check out our other step-by-step playbooks on how to create and run different types of employee survey (as well as how to turn them into action). And don’t forget to download your free pack of employee exit survey questions. 💡

Automate your employee exit surveys and gather actionable insights with Leapsome

Leapsome is the only platform that closes the loop between performance management, employee engagement, and learning. 

Watch this video to learn about running smooth and insightful employee exit surveys using Leapsome.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do supervisors have access to employee exit surveys?

You should communicate constructive feedback to supervisors after reviewing aggregate survey results, but you must do it thoughtfully — especially if few people have left the company since you implemented the exit survey. Don’t share full responses that might reveal someone’s identity or sensitive information that a departing employee wouldn’t want to be known by their former supervisor.

Are exit surveys anonymous?

Yes. However, until you have a bigger pool of respondents, be extra careful with sharing information with managers and other employees — especially qualitative data. 

Be mindful that, until several people have filled out exit surveys, it might be possible to guess the origin of responses. The best practice here? Treat former colleagues as you would like to be treated; don’t try to identify respondents and don’t jeopardize anonymity (and the trust your people put in the process).

How to encourage staff to complete exit surveys?

Employee exit surveys should become an integral part of your offboarding process and your company’s DNA. And this should be documented and presented to all employees and new joiners. Additionally, running other types of surveys is very important for your business, for retention, and for building a feedback culture that will make it natural for your people to engage in surveys.

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