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7 Lessons CEOs and Hiring Managers Learned from Exit Interviews These learnings from attrition can help you build a stronger company, plus a simple format for a stay interview

By Elisette Carlson Edited by Micah Zimmerman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

During the Great Resignation, companies of all sizes are struggling with employee turnover, which reached a record high in 2022. While employees leave a job for personal reasons or reasons unrelated to the job, many leave for factors specifically related to the job, that could have been resolved before their departure.

In Gallup's State of the Global Workplace Report, surveyed employees were asked, "If you could make one change at your current employer to make it a great place to work, what would it be?" Overall, 85% of responses related to three categories: engagement or culture (41%), pay (28%) and well-being (15%). In Joblist's 2023 Q1 Market Report, 67% of those employed said they plan to quit their job in 2023 due to bad management or a toxic workplace.

As a Partner at Boyden, a leading global executive search firm, my team and I speak to CHROs and hiring managers daily. We learn many employees (and, in many cases, strong candidates) leave their positions as their needs were simply not addressed. Alongside helping companies implement strategies for attracting and retaining top talent through our leadership consulting, we have gleaned critical insight from these last conversations with CEOs & HR.

While the specific learnings will vary depending on the company and circumstances, below are seven themes and lessons that hiring managers have "gained" from exit interviews:

1. Prioritize accomplishments over working hours

Particularly since 2020, flexible working hours have undergone significant change and become more prevalent across industries. From remote to hybrid models, the varied working hours empower employees to maintain a healthier work-life integration as they juggle parenthood, personal responsibilities and their own health and wellness.

Many hiring managers focus on time spent in the office over results achieved. The lesson here is quality over quantity. Focus on the goals and the efficiency of the employee over working hours. Individuals can be productive under pressure and timelines and if they are able to deliver the results, reward them on this. Those employees will be happier, feel appreciated and continue to deliver the wins.

Related: 14 Strategies For How To Retain Top Talent and Build Championship Teams

2. Relationships and empathy can lead to better results

Strong relationships build trust, and if employees feel trust amongst their teams and leaders, they are more likely to care about the quality of their work, their connection with their colleagues and stay in the positions that they are in. Directly correlated to trust is empathy. There's a difference between expressing empathy and actually having empathy.

Employees want to be heard and understood, and they can tell the difference between a manager expressing the message the company wants to deliver and a manager expressing their care for an individual.

3. Transparency with communication

Leaders can share more information with their teams. While there are several aspects of management that particular employees do not need to be briefed on, it's important to ensure that employees feel informed, educated, included and not left in the dark. There is a balance, and CEOs should prioritize time for company meetings to ensure that their teams can know the latest happenings and be given an opportunity to ask questions. Regular feedback sessions and open-door policies will foster a positive work environment.

Related: 7 Reasons Why Critical Decisions Require In Person Connection

4. Provide opportunities for growth

Shatter the glass ceilings and offer training and development to your teams so they may continue to enhance their knowledge and skills in their areas of work. From entry-level to leadership, there are infinite opportunities to learn; if these are overlooked, employees can lose motivation if they feel stagnated or not encouraged.

Chief People Officer at Stagwell, Stephanie Howley acknowledged this gap and implemented a career practice and experiences program called EPIC (Education and Practice in an Inclusive and Collaborative Environment), which provides a framework for employees to act like entrepreneurs of their careers, with access to learning and career experiences based on their interests across disciplines and geographies.

Howley explained, "We believe this unique employee value proposition attracts and retains the best talent in the marketing services industry because we're not promoting corporate functionaries; we're growing entrepreneur-minded professionals."

5. Create a safe space

While transparency, communication and workplace equality are must-haves, workplace equity helps transform organizations to be more inclusive and resilient, resulting in stronger opportunities for employees to thrive. Prioritize your DEI programs and ensure that the company has a welcoming and safe work environment.

Be intentional with how you build your workplace culture. Many people leave their jobs because they feel discriminated against or bullied due to their age, ethnic background, gender or appearance. Establish a workplace for open discussion and where teams understand each other's strengths and weaknesses. Celebrate team wins and schedule opportunities for employee opinions to be heard and valued.

Related: Psychological Safety in the Workplace is More Than Being Nice

6. Prioritize wellbeing

It's as simple as acknowledging the individual's needs regarding work-life balance, a challenge they have been going through or some support for wellness. If the company can offer support, such as a flexible PTO day, flexible working hours or health and wellness programs across fitness, nutrition, mindfulness and recreation, this can lead to happier and more productive employees.

Airbnb has prioritized well-being for years, from their onsite fitness facilities to fertility assistance to their well-known "open kitchen" where lunch is prepared daily by a chef, a bell is rung, and employees gather together for a social lunchtime.

7. Review and rethink the onboarding process

People feel more confident and at ease when they understand their role, know how to do it and know who they can turn to for questions or support. Review your onboarding process and determine where it is outdated or has room for improvement. Imposter syndrome is common among people joining a new company or team.

Whether it's a lack of initial onboard training, kick-off monitoring programs or detailed documents, new employees want to feel informed and included and have confidence in their new role from the beginning. It's not novel that employees want purpose over pizza and ping pong, so prioritize this from the start to establish a positive tone.

While exit interviews can offer valuable lessons and insights, you can get ahead of the actual "exit" by conducting "stay interviews," which I believe to be more proactive and productive. The most important factors to conducting a successful stay interview are to listen, let the other person lead the interview and not use this as a time to reprimand, defend or make excuses. The purpose of this interview is to discover and learn. Keep these interviews simply by focusing on the three questions below:

  • What do you love about working here, and what should we keep doing?
  • What do you not like about working here, and what should we stop doing?
  • What needs to change, and what should we start to do?

Although exit interviews will most focus on areas for improvement, they will also highlight success stories and positive experiences. By actively listening to feedback and taking action based on insights gained, hiring managers and CEOs can create more positive and productive workplace environments to attract and retain talent in the future.

Elisette Carlson

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor


Elisette Carlson is the Founder of SMACK! Media, a Fractional CMO & Public Relation(ship)s® Agency that helps brands achieve relevance in the health & wellness space. Also a trusted advisor to start-up CEOs and VC firms, she puts ultimate value on personal relationships, teamwork & authenticity.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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