How to Interpret Your Exit Survey Results

This guide is intended to help Admin users interpret aggregate feedback collected in your organization’s exit survey.


Unlike Engagement Surveys or other point-in-time surveys, exit surveys are “always on” and accrue new responses as employees leave your organization throughout the year. We recommend reviewing your exit survey data regularly. In small organizations with relatively low turnover, this might mean reviewing data after each exiting employee participates in the survey. In larger organizations or ones with higher turnover, this might mean reviewing data on a monthly or quarterly basis. 

Following the steps below can ensure you’re spotting important insights and getting value from this important feedback!

Part I: Understand the Overall Themes

Step 1: Review your Response Rate

Response rates for exit surveys are typically lower than response rates for an engagement survey or other types of surveys. A response rate around 40% is common for exit surveys, though some organizations struggle to reach this and other organizations far exceed it. Employee feedback, including feedback from employees who leave voluntarily, provides critical insight into the employee experience and the effectiveness of your retention efforts, so you should strive to hear from as many individuals as possible. 

Want to improve your exit survey response rate? Check out this resource!

Step 2: Assess the Top Reasons Why Employees Leave

If you’re using Quantum Workplace’s recommended exit survey, or a version similar to it, departing employees are asked which factors influenced their decision to leave. This simple question helps you identify the largest barriers to employee retention. Lack of career development, bad managers, not feeling valued…which reasons rise to the top for your organization? This information can help spotlight why employees leave or validate what you might already suspect.

Step 3: Understand Other Perceptions

Beyond understanding why employees leave, most exit surveys are designed to assess other important topics like perceptions of managers, senior leaders, career development, and employee engagement. It’s common for exiting employees to be less favorable on many topics compared to current employees, but understanding how exiting employees feel about these topics is still incredibly important. Here are two examples to bring this to life:

  • If very few exiting employees are favorable about career development, this may challenge your Employee Value Proposition if learning and development is a key promise. This evidence can create urgency in investing in L&D or warrant changing your EVP to better align with the employee experience.
  • If employees are unfavorable about manager effectiveness, this warrants further investigation, even if managers aren’t listed as the top reason for turnover. Managers play a critical role in communication, employee development, and setting the tone for the team. Exit survey data can spotlight if manager coaching or development is needed in order to retain employees.

Step 4: Look at Trends

Exit survey analytics will continue to collect as terminating employees participate in your survey. It can be helpful to look at trends in the following ways:

  • Month-to-month or quarter-to-quarter (e.g. monitoring changes in February vs. March or Q1 vs. Q2)
    • Has voluntary turnover spiked at certain points in the year?
    • Have the self-reported factors of why employees leave or their perceptions on other survey items changed in the year?

Consider how these trends might coincide with organizational changes (e.g. Was there a spike in employee turnover after a major change was announced?), external factors (e.g. Did turnover decrease as unemployment rates increased in the country?), or seasonal peaks to your business (If you have a busy season – such as tax season in accounting or holiday shopping in retail – do more employees leave before, during, or after your peak season?).

  • Year-to-year by month or quarter (e.g. January 2021 vs. January 2020 or Q1 2021 vs. Q1 2020)
    • Is voluntary turnover consistently high in a particular month or quarter of the year?
    • Do perceptions of departing employees tend to be similar in particular months or quarters of the year?

Understanding trends that tend to repeat year-after-year can better help you understand turnover and adjust your retention efforts, or even hiring efforts, accordingly.


Step 5: Compare Groups

Different groups of employees may have different reasons for leaving, and this information can be critical to your retention efforts. Here are a few valuable ways to explore your exit survey data: 

  1. Employee Performance

    Why are top performers leaving the organization? Does this differ from non-top performers? In order to retain your best talent, it’s critical to understand their experience and their reasons for leaving.

  2. Key Roles or Functions

    Which roles are hard to recruit, expensive to hire, or particularly important to your business success? Isolating this costly turnover can help you prioritize solving it.

  3. Tenure
    Your newest hires often go through a honeymoon period where the novelty of their job makes them excited about their role, gives them plenty of opportunities to learn, and motivates them to prove their worth to the organization. This isn’t the case in every organization, and new employees may leave if they didn’t encounter a realistic preview of the job in the recruiting process or if onboarding leaves them frustrated. Understanding turnover at different tenure points can help you solve the right problems.

  4. Gender, Race/Ethnicity, or Other Personal Demographics

    Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion continues to grow in importance for organizations. Understanding why females leave compared to men, or how underrepresented groups feel on their way out of your organization, provides essential data to your DE&I efforts.

Connect this information to the turnover rate by these same demographics so you can understand the unique perceptions of groups with the highest turnover.


Part II: Level up your Analysis

Step 6: Connect Exit Survey Feedback to Other Employee Feedback

Each type of employee survey that your organization conducts provides unique insight and value. Taken together, looking at surveys from across the employee lifecycle can provide an even more in-depth understanding of your employees' perceptions and experiences. 

Let's say that your exit survey results reveal that a lack of career development opportunities is the biggest reason why employees leave your organization. Further, let's imagine that whether or not employees see career growth opportunities for themselves has surfaced as a key driver of engagement on your employee engagement survey, meaning that career development has a larger impact on employee engagement than several of the other topics assessed. Taken together, these findings reinforce the importance of career development-- not only is it important to engagement, but it's also critical to retaining employees. 

Let's also imagine that in your employee engagement survey, you find that your top performers have less favorable views on a survey item assessing career growth and development compared to your average performers. This, combined with your exit survey and engagement survey results, could signal that top performers are at a higher risk for leaving. 

Now let’s imagine that you conduct a candidate survey that launches once a candidate accepts your job offer. The results from this survey indicate that the promise of career development opportunities was a key reason why candidates accepted your job offer-- in other words, employees enter your organization with high expectations for career growth and development based off information shared during the recruiting phase.

However, you also use an onboarding survey to hear from new hires, and based on their survey feedback, the job isn’t quite what they had pictured. Moreover, new hires are unclear on what opportunities for growth may exist in your organization. This is a warning sign to you that new hires may be confused or frustrated that their experience so far has differed from their expectations of the job.

In this example, data from your exit and engagement surveys make it clear that solving for career development is critical to employee engagement and retention-- especially for your top performers. Furthermore, your candidate experience and onboarding surveys indicate that high expectations for (and potential disappointment in) career development opportunities may begin as early as the recruiting and onboarding stages.

Solving for this problem won't be easy, but feedback from across the employee lifecycle makes it clear that this is a business problem worth tackling. A good first step to resolving this issue may be to launch pulse surveys or individual 1-on-1 conversations to understand what types of development opportunities employees are seeking.


Need more help? Contact your Account Manager or check out these additional resources:

The Importance of Creating Exit Survey Expectations from Day One
How to Estimate the Financial Impact of Turnover
How to Conduct a Turnover Analysis on your Engagement Survey Data