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Print Article17 February 2009 8:48am 

Traditional exit interviews rarely help employers understand how an employee became disengaged from the company and what role a manager might have played in their decision to leave, says human capital expert, Anthony Sork.

In the current market, he says, it’s important that organisations understand the reasons behind their turnover.

Ideally, employers will measure perceptions around both employer-driven and employee-driven transition decisions (whether internal or external) – in order to ensure their employer brand is protected – but it’s most important to understand the latter, as these decisions are influenced by factors affecting the engagement levels of workers who remain, and those employed in the future, he says.

Traditional exit interviews, however, are “not structured in order to achieve this”, says Sork, the managing director of Sork HC.

This is because they “focus around deriving perceptions from the employee and making an evaluation about whether the employee was disgruntled and whether they’re credible or not”.

Instead, he says, “you want to understand what shifted in the employee’s perceptions that led to a decision to leave either the role or the organisation, and how that actually occurred, relative to engagement drivers”.

And although the aim of exit interviews is generally to identify trends in the feedback and use the information in ways that help the organisation retain its remaining staff, “most organisations tend not to do this either consistently or effectively,” Sork says.

A survey-oriented methodology is more effective in assisting this than one based on anecdotes, he says. “What you’re looking to do is measure the change in the emotional and intellectual commitment of the individual, relative to the drivers that are being measured, and I recommend this is viewed on an ‘engagement versus detachment’ spectrum.”

The transitioning framework that Sork HC has recently developed identifies drivers of detachment – grouped into three “clusters” – and the elements or perceptions that affect them.

Sork says, for example, that an employee’s position can be a driver of detachment or engagement, depending on: whether the work involved is engaging and fulfilling; if it has diversity and variety; the level of difficulty and challenge; whether it creates a sense of personal contribution to a team and the organisation’s success; and the personal (physical) workspace.

Information from exit surveys should be linked directly back to an employer’s engagement strategy, he says. Organisations should identify the factors that are consistently leading to “decisions to detach” and decide whether the strategy needs to be modified or enhanced, or whether development needs to occur at the manager level.

Managers have the biggest impact on tenure

Another crucial thing that traditional exit interviews tend to ignore is the perceptions of the employee’s manager, Sork says.

Managers’ behaviour has the single biggest impact on an employee’s engagement, he says, but there is often a significant gap between an employee’s perception of why they have decided to transition and the manager’s perception, Sork says. A transition survey that measures each person’s perceptions can highlight this gap “and educate the manager about where they have been misunderstanding the engagement levels of the employee and what they could have been doing to create an environment that was more engaging for them”.

In current market conditions, he says, “if managers believe that the key talent they want to retain is secure, and yet they’re finding that some key talent is making decisions to transition, the perceptions that they hold around what’s engaging them and what’s detaching them are often misaligned”.

In such cases, “they actually need to learn from the experience and understand at a level of detail where their perception gap exists, so they can go back and review the initiatives they have in place to engage remaining employees”.


One Comment

    • gerrytreuren
    • Posted February 16, 2009 at 10:51 pm
    • Permalink

    Having seen a range of best-practice-style exit interviews, it seems to me that many companies go through the motions in collecting exit interview data, only excelling in filing and ignoring the data afterwards.

    What is needed is an exit interview used as a diagnostic tool. At UniSA, I am developing an unfolding theory of turnover-based exit interview that will identify types of turnover, and help diagnose ways of intervening…contact me (Gerry, if you would like to look over it…

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