questions hero.jpg

Here Are Answers to Four Common Questions About Exit Surveys and Stay Interviews

i4cp’s ExitMetrix – the next evolution of exit surveys and stay interviews – helps companies better understand why their top talent is leaving and identify strategies to retain them. But whether you go with i4cp’s solution or decide to conduct exit surveys and stay interviews in house (if so, you should also read this article on why exit surveys often fail), here are answers to four common questions we hear:

What are the differences between an exit interview or survey and stay interview or survey?

An exit interview or survey collects information from employees who have left the organization, whereas a stay interview or survey gathers information from active employees. While both approaches collect information, the goals and questions used in each are different.

Exit surveys are in many ways a report card. The goal for gathering exit data is to understand a former employee’s experience and feelings about the company. By learning about aspects of the employment experience from the employee point of view—the good, the bad, and the ugly—you can target areas to strengthen and sustain as well as areas needing improvement. This information can be especially useful if your organization is experiencing high unwanted attrition.

Stay surveys are more future-focused. The primary goal of a stay interview or survey is to influence employee retention. In addition to questions that ask for an evaluation of the organization’s policies and practices, stay interviews and surveys contain questions that have a future focus. For example, stay questions cover satisfaction with use of the employee’s skills and abilities in their current role, as well as the employee’s level of confidence in the availability of future growth opportunities.

What are the pros and cons of each?

i4cp’s research has found that nearly 80% of organizations gather some form of exit data. The advantages of this are that former employees provide a different and richer view of the employment experience, while lessons learned from former employees can prove helpful to creating an enhanced employment value proposition. The disadvantages are that exit data-collection suffers from low participation rates, less than candid input from people who are reluctant to “burn bridges”, and inconsistent administration and follow-through.

Stay interviews and surveys are new to many organizations, but interest in them is growing as many HR leaders choose to focus on the actively employed, rather than on those who have already left the organization. Advantages to this approach are that employees frequently appreciate the opportunity to provide input on their work experiences, higher participation rates, and the information gained can be used to address and remedy possible attrition/retention issues. The disadvantages are that some organizations survey their employees frequently, so an additional stay survey may prompt survey fatigue. Even a very well-designed stay interview can’t overcome situations where there is a lack of trust by employees in the HR function or in the organization’s senior management.

When should you choose a 1-on-1 interview approach for gathering exit or stay data information and when should you use a survey?

While there are no hard-and-fast rules for this choice, some considerations that might be helpful are:

  • Interviewer availability: 1-on-1 exit interviews are usually conducted by an HR staff member, so one important factor to consider is availability of a trained interviewer. This may sound obvious, but lack of prompt follow-through after an employee’s decision to exit is a common reason for low participation and HR people in most organizations are very busy.
  • Interviewee availability: When the persons whose opinions you seek is not easily present for an in-person or phone interview, an online survey approach is appropriate.
  • Large populations: 1-on-1 interviews—both exit and stay—are appropriate when the number of people to be interviewed is manageable by a single interviewer or interview team. Large populations benefit from consistent data collection, which is a strength of the survey approach. The relative ease of conducting online surveys makes them convenient to administer, tabulate, and report.
  • Desire to give personal attention: When the purpose of the study is to focus attention on a small number of people, an interview is appropriate.
  • Sensitivity: In situations where individuals whose opinions you seek may have an issue with a personal interview or prefer a more confidential communication vehicle—or when you don’t want an individual to feel singled out—the more impersonal survey approach is preferable.

Should you conduct an exit or stay study when your organization already conducts an employee engagement survey?

This is a judgment call. Engagement surveys may contain questions that mirror some items commonly found in exit and stay interviews. Two surveys, asking similar questions and coming close together in time, may give the impression of lack of coordination and lack of responsiveness.

On the other hand, exit and stay interviews generally contain unique questions, especially about an individual’s personal employment experiences and, in the case of stay interviews, their perspectives on their own and the company’s future. One helpful point of view is to consider the engagement survey and exit or stay surveys as complements that together provide a richer understanding of the employee experience.


Patrick Murray is i4cp’s Vice-President for Surveys and Assessments, responsible for ExitMetrix exit and stay interviews and surveys. He can be reached at .