Why Your Onboarding and Exit Surveys Aren’t Fixing Turnover

Callie RushtonEmployee Engagement, Exit Surveys, OnboardingLeave a Comment

I recently left an organization, and no one cared to ask me why. Come to think of it, they also never asked how my onboarding experience was during those formative early months.

If they had, they would have learned that I felt completely unprepared to fulfill my new role after two weeks of “training.” During this time, I was instructed to watch videos on my own featuring an invisible someone talking through what they were doing as they clicked around the screen. These rambling videos were an average length of 1.5 hours and not organized around any particular theme—possibly the least engaging training content I’ve ever been handed. Additionally, I wasn’t assigned a mentor or told whom I should go to with questions.

If they had asked, they might have been able to make improvements to their onboarding program. And at an organization that saw five out of seven new hires leave after just three months of being there (with many of their paid hours devoted to those awful training videos), that just might have been valuable.

Looking back, I’m surprised I lasted over a year there. Two things finally put me over the edge: (1) there were no apparent opportunities for growth or new skill development and (2) the leadership continued to engage in practices definitively refuted by data and reject any ideas from below. If they had asked me why I was leaving, they might have learned something then, too.

Fortunately, many organizations now realize that asking for feedback is a worthwhile thing to do when new hires are coming in the door or current employees are on their way out. As most people choose to stay or leave an organization within the first six months of being there, finding out what went well and what went poorly during this time can help increase retention and boost long-term commitment to the organization, otherwise known as engagement. Additionally, having a professional conversation with a person who has decided to leave your organization can shed valuable insight on its overall performance, and help uncover new ways to improve to encourage talented people to stick around.

But what about all the times in between?

To effectively address turnover, leaders must consider all of the key milestones in the employee lifecycle that lead to positive, committed feelings about the organization. Onboarding and exit surveys are great tools for capturing feedback at the beginning and end of this lifecycle, but other listening strategies are needed for all the other key touch points in the middle. An annual employee engagement survey is a good starting point for this, but it’s no longer enough on its own. You also need to create opportunities for ongoing dialogue and continuous feedback through pulse surveys and “always-on” listening mechanism to address the highs and lows of the modern employee’s lifecycle.

What are the milestone events that organizations should be monitoring? One might be right after someone attends a leadership training or professional conference. You might consider asking if the training was effective in helping them feel prepared for a new role, or whether they feel sufficiently invested in. Similarly, right after a promotion would be a good time to ask similar questions.

It’s also worth inquiring about personal events, such as returning from maternity or paternity leave. Did they feel supported by the organization as they took time off with their newborn? Or, if someone’s mentor leaves the organization, you’ll probably want to check in with them to see how they are coping and ask what can be done to support them through the change.

We encourage using each of these milestones (and more!) as an opportunity to increase people’s buy-in to your organization. By supplementing your onboarding and exit surveys with other listening mechanisms at each key milestone, you’ll help your people maintain a favorable level of engagement throughout their tenure at your organization and reduce problematic turnover rates—a win-win for all.