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Why Exit Interviews are Critical to Employee Retention

It’s a fact, to learn the real reasons employees leave, and make decisions on the truth as employees perceive it, organizations must ask employees why they left in a way that brings out the truth. When used effectively, exit interviews reveal the true causes of employee turnover and inform targeted strategies to improve employee retention. Furthermore, nearly every organization is unique in the reasons employees leave, which underscores the value of exit interviews as a foundational element of an effective retention strategy in every company. Exit interviews are a vital element of an effective retention strategy as they uncover the accurate causes of turnover and inform effective tactics to retain employees in a reliable way – in your organization.

The Reasons for Employee Turnover are Unique in Your Organization

Companies often reference benchmark and industry data as a shortcut to solve turnover challenges. The problem is – most organizations are unique. The 2017 Retention Report revealed that only 7.6% of companies shared the most common turnover profile or the same top reasons employees leave in the same order of priority. The statistic held true within the same industries. This shows how different the reasons employees leave are in each company’s workforce and demonstrates how easily leaders could misjudge the reasons for turnover in their company.

Exit Interviews are Not Just Disgruntled Employees

A common myth is that exit interviews simply capture the feelings of disgruntled employees. The truth is that former employees have valuable information to share to help improve workplace conditions. In an analysis of over 17,000 exit interviews, 63% of former employees rated their employer as very good or excellent. In that same study, after departure, 66% of former employees rated their supervisor as very good or excellent. Clearly, these aren’t just disgruntled employees and should be viewed as former employees with valuable feedback.

Exit Interviews Must be Conducted Effectively to Get Accurate Reasons for Leaving

It’s critical that exit interviews are conducted in a correct, effective way to get the most accurate information from employees and inform effective retention strategies.

First, effective exit interviews should be conducted externally, by a third-party, to remove biases. Second, exit interviews must be conducted at the best time, which is after the employee has left the company. Up to 63% of answers change when an outside party asks about the reason for leaving after the employee has departed the organization.

Third, to obtain detailed reasons for leaving that are actionable and translate to specific interventions, it’s critical to use a mixed methods approach to ask “Why” in an open-ended, qualitative manner to avoid limiting the scope of what can be learned. Next, good data on reasons for leaving must be systematically captured and tracked to gauge progress. Last, to collect and analyze high-quality exit interview data, qualitative information must be collected systematically, categorized into themes and quantitatively analyzed. The quantitative analysis is an effective means to reduce bias and maximize causal understanding. Additionally, this allows you to conduct and analyze high-quality exit interviews on a large scale. Following this impartial, qualitative-first approach to measurement is the best way to capture the truth.

Exit interviews are important – they tell leaders why valuable employees left the company and provide details on how to keep current employees. Exit interviews are valuable. You must know the importance of exit interviews or you will realize the cost of turnover.


  1. Sears, Lindsay E. “2017 Retention Report: Trends, Reasons & Recommendations.” 2017.
  2. Campion, Michael A. “Meaning and measurement of turnover: Comparison of alternative measures and recommendations for research.” Journal of Applied Psychology 2 (1991): 199.
  3. Hinrichs, John R. “Measurement of reasons for resignation of professionals: Questionnaire versus company and consultant exit interviews.” Journal of Applied Psychology 4 (1975): 530.
  4. Campion, Michael A. “Meaning and measurement of turnover: Comparison of alternative measures and recommendations for research.” Journal of Applied Psychology 76.2 (1991): 199.
  5. Gläser, Jochen, and Grit Laudel. “Life with and without coding: two methods for early-stage data analysis in qualitative research aiming at causal explanations.” Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research. Vol. 14. No. 2. 2013.