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How to Improve Exit Interview Participation Rates

Exit interviews are one of the best ways to get true and honest feedback from employees. The downside is that it takes time to build up a significant amount of data. Increasing your participation rate can help you get greater amounts of actionable information quicker.

What is a Good Participation Rate

Research shows that the average response rate for paper and pencil exit interviews is approximately 30-35%. That means that a company with 2000 employees and 15% turnover rate would expect to receive about 100 completed exit interviews per year. At this participation level the organization is getting exit feedback from just 5% of the total employee population.

With just a little extra effort, you should be able to double that response rate. Sixty-five percent (65%) or better is a good goal for exit interview participation. This can be accomplished with exit interviews completed by paper and pencil, a web-based online system or by telephone.

Measuring your Participation

To measure response rate, divide the number of completed exit interviews by the number of employees to whom you requested complete an exit interview. Ideally the second number should equal the total number of terminations but for practical reasons this is generally not the case. As an example, if you have 125 completed exit interviews out of 300 that you asked to complete an exit interview, your participation rate would be 125 / 300 which equals .416 or 41.6%.

It is important to make sure you have a good method in place to track this kind of participation. At a minimum, you want to track participation rate at the start of an improvement project and then periodically thereafter. A more ideal scenario is to keep a running average that you can refer to regularly. This real-time number immediately alerts you to a fall off (or increase) in participation. An online exit interview management system should do this for you automatically.

Large companies might want to track participation rates separately for subsidiaries, large divisions or geographic regions. Small to mid size companies can generally benefit from one total participation rate for the organization.

Analyzing Your Process

If you decide that your participation rate could stand improvement, the next step is to analyze your current exit interview process. The two most important areas for review are:
  1. Why employees choose not to complete the exit interview
  2. Logistical problems preventing human resources from getting the information to employees in a timely and effective manner

Employees Not Completing Their Exit Interview

Some of the reasons that employees choose not to complete exit interviews are:
  • The exit interview is too long
  • The exit interview questions are confusing or personally invasive
  • The employee doesn’t believe that it will be read or make a difference
  • The employee is afraid of repercussions
  • The employee is angry at the company
  • The employee procrastinates or forgets
  • The process is difficult or uncomfortable
If you are using an exit interview survey with rated questions, 35-60 questions is about the right survey length. More than 60 questions begins to feel long and uncomfortable for the employee. If you surpass 70 questions, you should be prepared for higher numbers of uncompleted exit interviews.

Review your questions for simplicity. Put yourself in the employee’s shoes and ask yourself how you would feel answering the questions. Avoid a lot of questions that ask for feelings and emotions. Many employees are not in tune with their feelings (or if they are they may not want to share them with you). It is a lot easier for an employee to rate the effectiveness of a process rather than how they feel about the process.

Employees will not complete their exit interviews if they believe that the feedback they provide will not be read or will be promptly ignored. It is important to let employees know that you value their feedback. When you do make improvements based on suggestions from exit interviews, don’t be afraid to tell employees where the idea came from. Over time, employees will learn that you do listen. Once this becomes a part of the corporate culture, you can be assured of lots of open and honest ideas, suggestions and critiques.

Also be clear with employees that honest feedback will not result in repercussions. Statements made on an exit interview should never be used to prevent future eligibility for re-hire. There are many supposed experts that tell employees not to be honest on their exit interview or not to complete one at all. They claim that companies use this information against the employees. Human Resource professionals know that this is nonsense however they still must battle this unfounded perception.

Employees that are angry with the company may feel they don’t want to help by participating in the exit interview. These employees can be encouraged to vent their anger in the exit interview. Many of these angry employees are thrilled with the chance to have their voice heard – particularly if they know that it will be heard by senior management.

A clean and simplified process is also important. Whether it is web-based or paper and pencil, the form should be laid out nicely with an intuitive and easy to understand survey form.

Improve Your Participation Rates - Part 2

© Nobscot Corporation, 2004. Reprint with permission, email bncarvin@nobscot.com

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