The key to employee engagement does not lie in the exit interview—but in continuous feedback throughout the employee lifecycle.
By Shalini Duggal
At a basic level, employees quit when they lose faith in the possibility of having their needs met by their employer.
Sounds simple. But what’s complicated is that each individual has unique needs—and they can easily change. One employee might prioritize higher pay, while another wants a better relationship with their boss. One may need to relocate, while another needs faster career advancement. It’s up to the employer to assess whether fulfilling those needs is possible before the employee leaves the company.
Some turnover is unavoidable, but employers can alleviate some of the “bleed” if they understand one thing: Exit interviews are a last resort. Employers may not be able to deliver on all employee needs, but they should at least know what those needs are. In other words, if employers are asking for feedback when employees already have a foot out the door, it’s too late.
Rise of the Employee Voice
Exit interview data can only be used to make reactive changes after an employee leaves the organization. Collecting feedback and taking action on problems affecting the employee experience in the moment is far more effective—but something one in five employees say their company is “horrible” at, according to Achievers’ 2019 Workforce Complacency Report.
Managers and HR leaders should rarely be surprised by the feedback they receive in exit interviews. These employee-employer conversations should be going on regularly. It is the role of regular feedback cycles, not exit interviews, to surface those issues. Gallup agrees: “Good leaders listen before they act. And the best leaders prioritize listening to their best people.”
Consider these statistics:
- Salesforce Research reveals that an employee who feels heard is 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best.
- Managers who receive feedback on their strengths showed 9 percent greater profitability, according to Achievers.
- An Achievers study shows that 68 percent of employees who receive regular feedback feel fulfilled in their jobs.
- Gallup reports that a mere three in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that their opinions count in the workplace.
The Value of Frequent Feedback
Here are some more reasons why continuous feedback is crucial.
1. Employee expectations have changed. In today’s world, real-time everything is the norm. Communications with loved ones, up-to-date news, and even new job opportunities are all simply one click away. So when it comes to employee feedback, employees expect to be able to give and receive feedback immediately, not at the end of the quarter or the end of the year. Worse, if employers are waiting until the end of an employee’s tenure to solicit feedback, it’s no wonder that Achievers finds that 31.6 percent of employees mark themselves as being “open to new opportunities” despite average engagement. It’s time to move ahead with the times.
2. Employee feedback strengthens leadership. A common goal of employee-manager feedback loops is to ensure the employee is performing well in their duties, and if they’re not, to help them improve. This leads to better quality work, productivity, output, and communication, which ultimately helps the team and company succeed together.
Still, the most valuable feedback can come from all directions, and leadership has a lot to learn from their direct reports.
Building a culture of resilience and open feedback enables individuals of all levels to elevate their performance. The most effective leaders listen closely for feedback from all levels to better themselves continuously. Implementing real-time feedback loops across the organization is a critical place to start.
3. Not listening to employees is expensive. Employees are central to any business. They are on the front lines and driving the success of the company. If there’s no system in place for employees to voice their concerns, ideas, and suggestions, millions of dollars could be lost due to lack of productivity, inefficient teamwork, workplace errors, and accidents. While real-time feedback wouldn’t eliminate these risks completely, it’s a direct way for companies to assess how to improve processes, culture, employee morale, and workplace safety.
Plus, employees want to feel valued. Disengagement could drive turnover which can cost companies a third of every lost employee’s annual salary in replacement and lost productivity fees. That is not a small price to pay.
How to Take Action
1. Get leadership buy-in. Real-time feedback must be adopted by everyone—from the very top of the organization to individual contributors. Fostering a culture of consistent feedback and employee listening must be reflected at the leadership level. When executives showcase their commitment to continuous listening, that culture of open communication and high performance will permeate throughout the company.
2. Implement the right technology. This is a digital age. The easiest way to connect all employees (globally; off- or online; remotely or in-office; etc.) and encourage their participation is equipping them with technologies that enable real-time communication. Even better, some technologies can automate employer and manager coaching on how to act on the various kinds of feedback one gets from employees. Where once it would take months to sift through engagement surveys to identify room for improvement, digital technology has allowed for quick responses, analysis, and an ability to focus on solving problems, not just identifying them.
3. Act on the Feedback. Employees want to feel heard, and it’s up to employers to prove they’re listening.
That means taking action on the employee feedback and not letting it gather dust. In fact, sending out employee surveys without acknowledging the results is proven to be worse to engagement scores than never having sent the survey in the first place.
Start at the manager level. Equip managers with the right tools to establish effective feedback channels with their teams, and train them on effective follow-up plans if necessary. Remember: Without action, soliciting feedback is meaningless and could cause even more employees to inch towards the door.
Exit Interviews Should Be a Safety Net
Exit interviews are the backup: a final attempt at assessing why the employer-employee match wasn’t a good fit. They should bookend a long dialogue around how the company can help employees deliver their best work. When sitting across from an employee on their last day of work, most of the employee’s responses shouldn’t come as a surprise. The hardest conversations should already be over and both parties should feel they did everything they could to make the situation work.
Still, organizations depend heavily on exit interviews to understand how to improve a workplace and reduce turnover. But if companies are so adamant about gathering employee feedback on an employee’s way out, isn’t it worth doing so while they’re still at the company?
Listen to employees. They know better than anyone what they need to perform well at a company and can provide input that will help an employer pave the way to a successful future.
Shalini Duggal is the chief people and culture officer at Achievers.