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Exit interviews offer crucial insight to transform the workplace

BY: Elise Oberliesen on July 25, 2018

Lots of valuable information can be collected during exit interviews. So why doesn’t every organization follow a useful exit interview process?

Because, let’s face it, once you know why people leave the organization, the next step is the hardest one — fixing the problem.

Although it might be difficult to hear feedback during exit interviews — particularly at high-turnover facilities — information gleaned from exiting staff can be invaluable.exit interviews

“When talent walks out the door we need to understand why people are leaving because we invest time and money into our associates,” said Tracy Tibbels, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, who represents the Society of Human Resource Management  and works as a human resources manager of employee relations at Werner Enterprises, a transportation and logistics company in Omaha, Neb.

Nurse turnover, on average, costs about $49,500, according to a 2018 National Healthcare Retention & RN Staffing Report.

That means profit margins could decrease significantly when hospitals continually experience high turnover. Hospitals stand to lose about $4.4 million to $7 million per year when nurses walk out the door.

Exit interview questions equal less turnover

Exit interviews offer organizations a moment of discovery — a chance to pull the curtain back and learn why staff want to walk away.

An exit interview should start with some common inquiries. Tibbels said you should start with questions such as:

  • Do you feel you were fairly compensated?
  • Did you like the organization’s benefits? If not, why?
  • Could we have done something different to make you stay?

Top issues cited in exit interviews, Tibbels said, are concerns about supervisors and a lack of connection with them. Other people leave because the organization lacks career advancement opportunities.

A nurse’s choice to stay or go and his or her reasons can vary by generation, said Paul Shanahan, managing director for Advanced Resources, LLC, a talent acquisition firm in Chicago. Each generation’s age group can shape different values that relate to job satisfaction.

Case in point — a millennial nurse who struggles to find quality child care may call it quits and decide to temporarily put family first. Using an exit interview could help your healthcare organization learn how this problem affects this group of nurses.

“If you don’t address work-life balance, the turnover problem will likely continue if it is not identified and fixed,” Shanahan said. Millennials often prioritize work-life balance as a core value, which could come out during exit interviews, he added.

To compare generations even more, a report from West Virginia University School of Nursing suggests baby boomer nurses draw more job satisfaction in roles with greater autonomy, compared to Generation X nurses.

But here’s where Generation X and baby boomers converge — both enjoy a certain degree of empowerment — a factor that had “little impact on millennials,” according to research from West Virginia University School of Nursing.

Why does this matter? Finding ways to increase job satisfaction and fix what’s broken affords healthcare facilities the opportunity to improve nurse retention, according to an article by Strategies for Nurse Managers.

Exit interview data tells a complete story

When designing an exit interview survey, Shanahan suggests asking no more than 10 questions. However, there’s no exact rule.

He said survey questions should focus on four key areas:

  1. Turnover reduction
  2. Areas for improvement
  3. Litigation avoidance
  4. Healthcare compliance

“It is key in healthcare to identify any areas that may expose the healthcare entity to litigation risks,” Shanahan said. “If the employee is exiting due to what they perceive as illegal, that could be a red flag.”

Staff who work in billing and coding may submit documents to government agencies, either directly or indirectly, he said. It’s important to know their level of involvement.

“If they witnessed documents being falsified for any reason, this could expose the healthcare organization to legal issues as it relates to the False Claims Act,” he said.

Just because the HR team creates an exit interview questionnaire does not guarantee the information will go to good use, Tibbels said. One mistake organizations make is failing to dig into the exit interview data that tells the story.

It’s important to “mine the data and look for trends,” Tibbels said.

When turnover is high, a root-cause analysis is a useful way to understand the problems. Exit interview data is the vehicle that gets you to those answers.

She suggests sharing that information with supervisors and upper management capable of making real change — even when shocking information surfaces.

Some examples of shocking feedback, “could be a difficult relationship with another team member and it comes out in the exit interview,” Tibbels said. “Could be examples of discrimination or sexual harassment.”

Transparency is key. To understand what’s not working in the workplace and reduce turnover, try to determine whether leadership training is needed, Shanahan suggested.

Ask questions related to employee satisfaction around career advancement opportunities and what changes would improve workplace culture.

Some organizations use pencil and paper for the exit interview, Tibbels said. Others prefer online surveys — and some use both.

“We also offer a phone number on the exit interview in case they want to share more information,” she said.

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Elise Oberliesen

Elise Oberliesen has 15 years of combined media and marketing experience. Her work appears on corporate blogs and publications, such as the LA Times, Chicago Tribune and AARP. Her specialties include healthcare, high tech and finance. Elise is a member of the Association of Healthcare Journalists and founder of Big Mountain Media.