A Surprising Lack of Follow-Up

More than half of British companies don’t give exit interviews when workers quit. Are they missing out on hidden morale issues?

When John Smith quit his London-based job, he got a surprise. All his soon-to-be-former employer asked for was for his company ID and the return of the firm’s equipment. The bosses didn’t want to know whether he was taking a better-paid job, switching careers, or leaving because his supervisor was mean.

There are a lot of Mr. and Ms. Smiths in Britain. According to a recent poll of 1,500 British employees who quit in the past half decade, 55% didn’t get an exit interview. But that didn’t stop them from having the last word: The same survey found that nearly seven in ten provided feedback on public-review websites.

To be sure, the quit rates at firms have dropped as the economy has struggled. But many human-resources professionals say that’s all the more reason to talk to those who are choosing to leave. “Any employer who genuinely cares about managing their employee-value proposition needs this critical feedback,” says Steve Newhall, head of leadership and professional development for Korn Ferry EMEA. He says such information helps firms weed out bad managers and helps good managers better understand what is bothering workers.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, British payrolls across all businesses dropped by 825,000, according to government data. This left skeleton crews in many corporate functions, including HR. The following year, when the Great Resignation hit and people quit in droves, the ensuing volume of interviews was a challenge for HR officers. “Do you want to interview thousands of people?” asks Stuart Richards, Korn Ferry’s sector leader for consumer products across the UK and the EMEA region.

One significant problem with many exit interviews is that they are conducted by the direct boss of the person who is quitting. “It’s better if it’s someone who is emotionally detached,” says Ben Angold, EMA lead for Korn Ferry, RPO. That typically provides clearer information.
There are other issues with exit reviews. Some firms don’t collect data from these interviews, and some that do collect it don’t analyze it. And perhaps worst of all, those that do analyze data don’t share it so it can be incorporated usefully into active programs, according to research by the Harvard Business Review

One possible solution is to collect data using new technology, such as online surveys offered to people who quit. “It’s much more scalable than person-to-person interviews,” Angold says. And the data can be anonymized to help reduce further unwanted attrition. “While an exit review might not stop the interviewed individual from quitting, it might help stop four of his or her former colleagues from leaving,” Angold says. That matters, because filling a vacant position can cost as much as nine months’ salary, or £22,000 ($24,600 USD), according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Another approach is to get a read on employee morale on an ongoing basis. That could include asking workers how much they like their job. Some organizations are putting these so-called agile listening strategies in place as a way of identifying what’s going on in the workforce, Newhall says. “It may be as valuable to periodically ask people why they stay as to randomly ask why they leave,” he says.

Learn more about Korn Ferry’s Talent Recruitment capabilities.