Learning from leavers: making every exit a positive for your organisation

HR professionals must make listening to and acting on feedback from departing workers a top priority, say Lizzie Broadbent and Mary McGuire

Over the last two months, we’ve been finding out how organisations engage with their leavers. Our research suggests that many are failing to take full advantage of this valuable opportunity to learn from leavers.  

With thoughtful design and consistent execution, you can make every leaver a good leaver.  By using their feedback, you can improve your retention, build your brand and manage your risk. This year we’ve seen several high-profile examples of organisations that should have paid more attention to leavers’ experiences.

It’s time for leaders to move exit management to the top of the priority list. To see how the final stage in the employee journey can deliver more value to your organisation and be a better experience for leavers read our full report. Here are the headlines:

  1. Make it strategic

Organisations that make the connection between the leaver experience and market reputation invest in their approach. By identifying leaving patterns – a disproportionate number of leavers from particular teams or with a common profile – you can act to identify and address the underlying causes. If leavers feel able to speak openly, they can help surface issues that remaining employees are reluctant to voice.

  1. Bring in the employee perspective

Only two in five respondents thought their exit process encouraged employees to be open and honest. Research suggests that reasons for holding back include not knowing what will be done with the data, loyalty to colleagues or a fear of burning bridges. If you are genuinely interested in hearing from leavers about their experiences, give employees more context and involve them in the design of your approach.

  1. Gather useful data

Organisations that used both surveys and interviews to collect data were generally more positive about their approach than those that only used one or the other.  Be clear about the data you need and think about how you are going to convert it to a format that makes it easy to analyse. This is particularly important when it comes to interview notes: an unstructured conversation can be insightful but only if those insights make their way back into a system so that themes can be drawn out.

  1. See the full picture 

Only one in four respondents were confident that reports on exit data were available. Interviews revealed that there was little integration with other employee surveys, so on key topics such as relationship with line manager or feeling of inclusion there was no way to compare the sentiment of leavers with those who remained. Our survey results show that there is relatively little connection between data gathered from exit processes and making improvements to diversity, equality and inclusion strategies.

  1. Show visible commitment 

While organisations usually share employee survey results widely and commit to actions, they are less transparent with leaver feedback. If, during your time working for an organisation, you have never seen any reports on or responses to leavers’ feedback, when you are in the leaver seat are you going to take it seriously? The research suggests that cynicism is a factor in half-hearted participation.

Lizzie Broadbent is founder of seen.heard consulting and Mary McGuire is founder of Agents2Change

Read more from People Management: Employers ‘missing out’ as more than half of UK employees do not get an exit interview, survey finds