Exit surveys play a crucial role in understanding the employee experience, identifying areas for improvement, and informing organizational decisions. As HR professionals, it is essential to design exit surveys that yield valuable insights. Let us explore how to create effective exit surveys, discuss common challenges, and highlight their usefulness. 

Exit surveys are administered when employees leave an organization voluntarily (e.g., due to resignation, retirement, or contract completion). They can be in the form of invitations to participate in a survey, or they can be conducted over the phone in an interview style. Exit surveys serve several purposes: 

  1. Insight into Employee Departures: Exit surveys provide insights into why employees choose to leave. Understanding these reasons helps organizations address issues and reduce turnover. 
  2. Feedback for Continuous Improvement: Exit surveys offer a unique opportunity to collect candid feedback from departing employees. This feedback can drive positive changes within the organization. Exit survey data helps leaders address systemic issues. 
  3. Benchmarking and Trends: Analyzing exit survey data over time allows organizations to identify trends, compare results across departments, and benchmark against industry standards. 


Crafting and Effective Exit Survey Process 

Purpose and Scope

Before diving into specific questions, clarify the purpose of the survey. Are you aiming to improve retention, assess workplace culture, or identify managerial issues? Define the scope and tailor questions accordingly. 

Data Audience

A common challenge with exit surveys is that HR is the only group privy to the information; the data never makes its way into the hands of front-line and operational leaders. Thus, exit survey data becomes isolated and indirect in its effectiveness. Consider ways you can quickly share exit survey insights, such as posting common themes to company channels in Slack or Teams. Remember, this is not just HR’s data, this information belongs in the hands of those who can use the information to improve the employee experience and work to retain the organization’s top talent.  


Ideally, administer the survey just before an employee’s departure. This ensures fresh insights while minimizing recall bias. Sometimes capturing sentiment prior to departure is difficult. Thus, you may have to send the survey invite post-departure. In these instances, be careful to ensure that reminders do not become intrusive or annoying. Also, consider using a company that conducts exit surveys through phone interviews.  


This area is tricky. In some ways, we want to know why specific people are choosing to leave. We need to know who said what. A lack of anonymity, however, can discourage open and honest responses. One strategy to help solve this issue it to use a two-pronged approach. First ask whether the employee would be willing to participate in a traditional survey (their identity is known). If the employee is reluctant, then offer an open-link survey that is truly anonymous. This approach uses the anonymous survey as a backstop to at least gather as much information as possible.  


Designing the Right Exit Survey 

To make exit surveys more useful, consider the following strategies: 

Question Types: 

Closed-Ended Questions:

Use Likert scales (e.g., 1 to 5) to assess satisfaction levels with various aspects of the job, work environment, and management. For example: “On a scale of 1 to 5, how satisfied were you with your immediate supervisor?” Closed-Ended questions provide quantitative data that can be validated. They also allow for easy comparison. 

Open-Ended Questions:

Encourage employees to share detailed feedback. Here is one possibility: “Please describe the main reasons for your decision to leave.” These styles of questions provide qualitative insights and allow employees to express their thoughts freely. Open text questions can then be run through AI algorithms for categorization and further analysis.  

Topics and Themes

  1. Job Role and Responsibilities: Ask about the clarity of job expectations, workload, and alignment with the employee’s skills. 
  2. Work-Life Balance: Inquire about work hours, flexibility, and the impact on personal life. 
  3. Career Development: Explore opportunities for growth, training, and advancement. 
  4. Organizational Culture: Assess alignment with company values, inclusivity, and overall satisfaction. 
  5. Communication and Feedback: Evaluate communication channels, feedback mechanisms, and responsiveness. 
  6. Exit Process Experience: Gather feedback on the exit process itself (e.g., exit interviews, paperwork).

Timing and Frequency

Conduct exit surveys shortly before an employee’s departure to capture fresh insights. Consider follow-up surveys several months after departure to assess longer-term perspectives. Exit surveys that take place a few months after the separation benefit from a “cooling-off period” and they gather information after the employee is settled into a new culture and environment, which means the insights shared by the employee will be offered through a new lens.   

Data Analysis and Action

Regularly analyze exit survey data. Also look to identify common themes and actionable areas for improvement. Then, as noted above, find effective ways to share findings with relevant stakeholders. 


Sample Exit Survey Questions 

  • Job Satisfaction:
    • On a scale of 1 to 5, how satisfied were you with your role? 
    • What aspects of your job did you enjoy the most? 
  • Work-Life Balance: 
    • Was your workload appropriate? 
    • How often did you work beyond regular hours? 
  • Supervisor Relations: 
    • How would you rate your relationship with your immediate supervisor? 
    • Did your supervisor provide you with useful feedback? 
  • Organizational Culture: 
    • Did the organization’s values align with your personal values? 
    • In your opinion, were diversity and inclusion initiatives effective? 
  • Reasons for Leaving: 
    • What prompted your decision to leave? 
    • Were there specific incidents that influenced your departure? 

Download our list of sample survey questions for onboarding and exit surveys.


Common Challenges of Exit Surveys

Exit surveys have few challenges of which to be aware. These include the fact that the survey is voluntary, which means that participation can be low. In addition, responses are often biased. For example, disgruntled employees might disproportionately participate or leave feedback that is not objective. Also, surveys can lack the depth of face-to-face interviews. 

In addition, while exit surveys are valuable, be aware of the following legal implications:

  1. When storing data for benchmarking and future research, protect employee privacy by anonymizing responses
  2. Safeguard survey data to prevent breaches
  3. Avoid questions related to protected characteristics (e.g., race, religion). 


DecisionWise will help you create meaningful exit surveys

Well-designed exit surveys empower HR professionals to enhance workplace experiences, retain talent, and foster continuous improvement. By listening to departing employees, organizations can evolve and thrive. Remember that exit surveys are not just about collecting data; they are an opportunity to learn from departing employees and enhance the workplace for those who remain.  

Contact us

Contact our team to learn more about onboarding and exit surveys, as well as other opportunities to improve the employee experience in your workplace through pulse and engagement surveys. You can also review a sample survey of some our top selected questions for onboarding and exit surveys, as well as other lifecycle questions.


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