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Exit Interviews - The Data (Part 2 of 3)

By John Pate - CEO, Founder of

By John Pate On Feb. 24, 2018

What’s the point of doing exit interviews if you can’t learn something from the results?

In Part 1 of this Exit Interview series, ”Re-Thinking Exit Interviews”, my point was 1) the traditional methods i.e. conversations, written forms, etc., were not as effective as they could be and 2) the potential information was too valuable to leave on the table. There’s a way to resolve these problems.

It’s been almost one year since we began. There were two early adopters. The first, Company A, is a 50+ location convenience store company in the Midwest. The second, Company B, is a southwest based Fortune 300 company with 25,000+ employees. There are now over 1000 responses and the data is exactly what I’d hoped it would be: objective, actionable and real.

First, some context: I am a “recovering” HR person with just enough HR experience to stay out of trouble. That said, the hiring process has been my area of study for over 40 years. If you’re involved in hiring, you’re most likely involved in firing and that experience is both informative and invaluable. HR Professionals know this.

People leave jobs in two ways: They’re fired or they quit. In our process, the interviews are structured accordingly - each situation receives a somewhat different set of questions.

What can be learned from someone being discharged? I’m interested in three things: 1) Did we do our best to treat this person fairly, professionally and humanely? 2) Were our company protocols followed? 3) Did anything happen (during their employment) that could potentially be a lawsuit?

The person resigning is leaving for one of two reasons: They either have a better opportunity or they’re so disgusted with the job/work environment they’ve decided it’s time to go. But that’s too general. What’s a “better” opportunity? Is it more money or opportunity? What about the work or the workplace caused them to leave – the Supervisor? The Owner?

Those are all important questions. Here’s what we’ve seen so far.

A strong response rate.

There was no benchmark for an acceptable response rate. Reports from companies who’ve tried to do this on their own report a “less than 5%” response. Our overall rate has been 40+%. This tells me that former employees can and will talk about their experiences if given a viable opportunity.

88% of respondents resigned (versus being discharged) and, of that number, almost 90% of Company A’s left within one year. Company B’s less than one year number was 70%.

For each company, more than half of the respondents left before the end of 90 days(!).

It doesn’t take much to deduce that something is wrong with the hiring process and/or workplace environment. Additionally, the cost of constantly hiring and re-hiring is killing the bottom line.

Back in my Training & Development days, I completed an analysis of headcount fluctuations within my (then) company’s locations. To no one’s surprise, locations with little to no change in headcount were more profitable than those whose headcount was constantly changing. It’s tough to run to business when you’re always in hiring and training mode.

Recently, a C-store executive said his company believes it takes 18-24 months to get an acceptable ROI on a new employee. That’s a challenge if they’re leaving before the end of one year.

The old adage is still true: “People don’t quit jobs – They quit managers”.

Of the resignations, 62% in Company A and 45% of Company B, selected “I was dissatisfied with job/company/management” as their reason for leaving. Specifically, they said “I didn’t like the way I was treated by my managers and co-workers (35% Company A and almost 18% for Company B).

The hiring demographic certainly affects this. Company A hires entry level and minimum wage workers. Company B’s jobs are “trades” – transferable positions or skills with higher wages. That said, the erosion to the bottom line caused by the turnover affects them equally.

“The Workforce” is an odd group.

I can’t pass on the opportunity to share the one most surprising data point.

Fired employees are first asked three questions: 1) Were you treated fairly? 2) Were you aware the manager was unhappy with your performance? and 3) Were the reasons for your discharge fully explained?

Of course, 70%-75% answered with a resounding “NO”.

Then they’re asked, “if given the opportunity, would you re-apply with us?” Two-thirds say “Yes”.

Go figure.

Next time, I’ll post some actual comments from the results. For now, I hope you’re becoming more convinced that 1) there’s a better, smarter way to do exit interviews and 2) if you want to know why your employees are leaving, all you need to do is ask them.

Because they will tell you - and how.

For more information about or to attend a brief webinar, visit our website at

Mar. 02, 2018

Re-Thinking Exit Interviews. What Former Employees are Saying (Part 3)

Author: John Pate

Feb. 23, 2018

Re-Thinking Exit Interviews (Part 1)

Author: John Pate