The need to hire, retain, and motivate employees has never been more vital to the success of organizations. During this episode, we will discuss the strategic advantages of using employee lifecycle surveys to measure the key factors that contribute to a great onboarding experience and understand the main reasons for why employees leave.

Join DecisionWise COO, David Long, and VP of Consulting Services, Charles Rogel, as they review several employee lifecycle survey best practices based on years of experience working with hundreds of clients.


Charles: Hi, everyone. Welcome to our DecisionWise webinar today on Employee Lifecycle Survey best practices. My name is Charles Rogel. I’m the vice president of consulting services here and I’m joined by Dave Long, who is our Chief Operating Officer.

Dave: Hello. 

Charles: Today, we’re going to be talking about all things, lifecycle surveys, in other words, how do we measure people’s perceptions when they join an organization during their time that they’re there. And then finally when they leave or exit the organization. We’ll be setting this up, talking about some of our data that we’ve pulled from our database, as well as different strategies in terms of how to implement this successfully in your organization.

Dave, you want to take us to our agenda for today?

Dave: Yeah, sounds good. Lifecycle surveys are an important way that you can listen to your employees. So, we did want to talk about some of the employee voice data that we have in our benchmark that we have gathered from various different organizations. So we’ll look at that benchmark data just to see that and understand what most organizations are experiencing right now. We’re also gonna look at setting the listening strategy before we get into the nuts and bolts of life cycle surveys.

We will be talking about some of the most common life cycle surveys today. There are many lifecycle surveys out there, But we will be focusing on new hire onboarding surveys, exit surveys, and anniversary surveys. So that’s what we’ll go through today. Hopefully, the information we share with you will be helpful to you as you set up your listening campaigns in your organization. 

Lifecycle Surveys – Gathering Employee Voice

Before we talk about lifecycle surveys, I just wanted to point out some of the benchmarks that we have in our database around employee voice. Lifecycle surveys are all about gathering employee voice, specifically at specific times in an employee’s life cycle with an organization. In their tenure with an organization we’re gathering feedback along the way. And so what we’ve seen historically– and this is from employee engagement survey data– but what we’ve seen is usually some of the lowest-scoring items on surveys for most organizations have directly to do with employee voice, or in other words, “is my employer listening to me? Do they have effective methods for responding to suggestions for change?” 

Only 58% of people in our database agree with that. So, that means 42% of most organizations, almost all organizations do not agree that their employers listen to them and respond to them.” 

My opinions are sought on issues that affect me and my job” only 67% of the time people agree. And then “this organization values employees’ input, feedback, and suggestions.” Only 64% of employees agree with that. 

I think employee voice perceptions often lead to another conclusion that we see in employee surveys, which is that only 61% of employees think that senior leaders know what is going on in the organization.

This is a really important subject that we cover most of the time when we’re working, and Charles will know this, but most of the time when we’re working with other organizations, one of the first things that we’ll be talking about is how do you listen more attentively to your employees? How do you respond to them?

Charles: Yeah. And this has been big, especially as people are working more from home now, have less on causal interactions in the office. 

How do we make sure people are doing well and we’re listening and understanding their… whatever concerns or challenges?

Dave: Okay. So we understand that there’s a need for people to be listened to. At DecisionWise we use –and devotees of this webinar, people that have seen me and Charles present before will know– we like to put organizations on different levels of maturity and try to understand where they stand. And they go all the way from passive engagement, where they’re not doing anything to listen to their employees with regard to employee engagement and employee experience, to then the first step into it is to start measuring. And oftentimes organizations will start by just running an engagement survey on broad topics, 50 questions. They do it once a year and they make an effort to take action on those things. That’s a very easy first step into listening to and responding to your employees. But as commitment builds, especially among leadership, we start trying to drive engagement and positive employee experience through the leadership structure of the organization. That’s this third level that you see management, the management level and the maturity model that we’re showing. And that’s when we start thinking, let’s set a listening strategy that will be more comprehensive. And as we go from there, then we go to integration where we start accessing the HRIS and we start figuring out where are people in their employee tenure? Are they being onboarded? Let’s get some feedback in the onboarding process. Are they being promoted? Are they being trained? Can we get some feedback there? And we start integrating that into our systems. And that’s when we’re able to expand the listening campaign to these other areas, which is what we’re here to talk about today.

Setting a Listening Strategy

So, some basic principles on setting a listening strategy; one would be: every organization should have a strategy for how it will listen to its employees. A once a year engagement survey is not a sufficient listening strategy. That’s a one-time thing. Any plan to listen to employees should be accompanied by a plan to respond to employees. So, if you’re going to listen, then you also want to respond or else people will not feel like you’ve listened if you don’t respond. Respond doesn’t mean that you do everything they say, by the way, it’s just respond. You can respond and say, “oh, I really appreciate the feedback. This is why we’re not doing it,” as much as you can say, “this is why we’re going to do it.”

I’d also say listening strategies should include both formal and informal methods of listening to employees. So, we’re going to talk about some formal methods today, but that last point is as important as any point as we’ll make in this webinar, surveys are not the only way to listen to your employees. Sometimes we forget, “oh yeah. These ears that I have those are things that I can use to also listen to my employees.” We’re talking about formal listening strategy here today, but also equipping your leaders and equipping your managers and your frontline supervisors with the tools and the skills that they need to be able to listen to and respond to employees is a huge part of your listening strategy and should be part of it. Today we’re talking about some of the more formal parts of your listening strategy.

Charles: Yeah, and this part really helps you get the quantifiable data. So now you have numbers and kind of support assumptions that you might have, and really present this to leadership. So that helps you make the case for maybe changes or things that you want to do. But people really want to be heard personally. So as you’re thinking of the listening piece, the personal in-touch moments matter a lot to employees.

Dave: And here we’re talking about responses to surveys that will be aggregated across many people. And to Charles’s point, we want to make sure we’re listening to individuals as well as they’re speaking up and as they have the courage to frankly, to bring up new ideas and ways of doing things, we want to make sure that those ideas are heard and many times the best ideas from the organization come from the people most involved in implementing the ideas. And so we want to make sure, I think just from a business practice, we want to make sure that we’re listening to employees in every way we possibly can. 

Employee lifecycle surveys then, and we can throw all surveys that we do into a category that we call employee experience. So we’re looking at employee experience surveys, but if we were to kind of position these along the lifecycle, we could get a timeline that says “look, there’s important plan moments in the employee experience.” 

We know the first few days that they’re with the company, they’re in the new hire mode. They’d just been through the interview process. We can collect some feedback about that. First few months with the organization to being onboard and trained –we can get collect some feedback about the onboarding process. When they hit their first year or the second or the third year we can get feedback at their anniversary. And then when they’re leaving the organization, we can also get feedback from “how was your experience while you were here?” 

Now, there are other types of lifecycle surveys if they’re going through some sort of training or if they’ve been through a promotion, there’s other things, but those are far less commonly used. And these are all supplementing, of course, an engagement survey, or even a pulse strategy where you can pulse twice a year or four times a year. They’re all supplementing kind of the larger feedback that you’re getting from the entire employee population, but what we’re doing by layering on different types of listening devices is that we’re trying to layer on and figure out and understand different parts of the employee experience without overtaxing your employees with too many surveys. 

So at the most somebody who is hired and leaves in the organization in the same year would have to answer three surveys: an engagement survey, new hire, onboarding, and I guess an exit survey. So they could answer four surveys, which is not too heavy of a load for an individual. But hopefully they’re not leaving in the same year they get there. But that’s why we do these surveys to see if they are leaving, why they might be leaving. 

New Hire and Onboarding Surveys

So talking about some of the individual kinds of surveys that we run or lifecycle surveys, I’m just going to start with new hire surveys. Now I’m going to group two of these together. We’ll talk about them separately because there’s separate surveys that we run, but they really work in concert with each other: the new hire survey and the onboarding survey. And that I think is for obvious reasons that we might look at this. Sometimes we call them both new hire surveys, and sometimes we call them both onboarding surveys but for the purposes of this webinar we’re going to say they’re two separate surveys; one is the new hire survey, and one is the onboarding survey. So when you’re looking at life cycle surveys, we’re trying to just understand specific parts of the employee experience.

One of the most critical parts is their very first touch points with the organization. And that’s what we’re trying to understand in the new hire survey. Here’s what we’re trying to answer with it. Are new employees getting what they need? Are they receiving training? Have managers taken appropriate time with them?

So that’s very basic. We’re not talking about, have they had every experience that they should have had? We’re just trying to find out really basically, are they getting the things that they need as a new hire in the organization? And notice, that’s a yes or no question. As we typically would do with an experience survey where we use a five point agreement scale, we’re not using this here. A lot of the things we’re asking on a new hire survey are going to be yes or no questions. Essentially what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to measure or trying to determine whether a basic onboarding process is being followed. 

So in a new hire survey, we actually use a three point scale. We’re going to say just to add a little more nuance to this, we’ll say yes, something happened or no something happened. And then within the, yes, we can say yes, this happened formally or yes, it happened, but it was informal. 

Charles: And we like to say, think of it as like the checklist of when someone gets to their workstation or whatever. There’s probably 10 things that need to happen: their computer needs to be set up, their manager introduces them to the team. All the, just the basic needs that someone has to start their workday need to be accomplished. 

Dave: And so we’re just trying to determine, okay, so we have a basic checklist and that checklist is likely to be common throughout the entire organization. If you have a basic onboarding process that says, Hey, we want these 10, 15 things to happen within the first couple of weeks that an employee is working here, then we can set that as an expectation throughout the whole organization, that these are all parts of the onboarding process. And now this is a way for us to determine whether or not that checklist is happening and is it happening formally or is it happening informally?

One of the questions we often get because again, as Charles mentioned, we’re going through a checklist. This is a process survey we’re saying was the process followed, should new hire surveys be confidential? Charles, why don’t I ask you that if you were to have the client ask you that, what do you think?

Charles: So typically I say, no, you want individual responses. It’s much like a customer satisfaction survey where, if the food is cold, you want to know where at, you want to remedy the situation with the customer as quickly as possible. And so with this, if someone’s terminal wasn’t ready when they sat down or they didn’t get a tour of the facility or something, you can follow up with that and help to intervene a bit and make sure that happens.

Dave: One of the things I should mention is that this new hire survey is usually given to employees within the first 15 to 30 days that they’re with an organization. So we launched this early. We separate it from an onboarding survey, which we’ll talk about in a minute. We launched this early, and just asking yes or no questions, a really common question, for example, on a new hire survey is, “did your manager set aside time to meet with you?” If that hasn’t happened in the first 30 days of an employee’s experience, that’s probably something we want to know. And we’ll probably want to contact that manager to say, “Hey, could you set aside time to meet with your new employee? They haven’t really had any time to meet with you.” 

So again we’re looking at these things that we think should happen. And so my first inclination is to say, that they shouldn’t be confidential. If you are a low trust organization where you feel like we just need to make everything confidential, I’m okay with that too. And we can still gather this information and look at it holistically and look at the whole organization and say, “how do we improve our process or improve our adherence to the process?” You can certainly do that, but a lot of the time we do not make them confidential. Of course, that’s up to every organization that does this. 

Other things that you can include in your new hire survey: employee net promoter score. So very early indication and the employee net promoter score for those of you who are not familiar with it is just a 10 point scale that says, “on a scale of one to 10, how likely would you be to recommend this organization as a great place to work?” And, include that and just see, hey, early on, is this person having a good enough experience that would recommend it to other people seeking a job. You can collect open-ended feedback. Oftentimes that’s a good to have just a non-specific question to say, “is there anything else you need as part of your onboarding process, or is there anything you’d like to tell us about your onboarding process?” 

New hire survey, because we’re still very fresh off of this person joining the organization, is also a good thing to collect feedback about the hiring process. Now, there are some organizations that will run a recruiting survey to all recruits. It’s an interesting tact to take to interview a bunch of people and say, “Hey, we don’t want you to work here” and then say, “tell us about your interview experience. Do you think it was fair?” And of course people that weren’t hired by you are going to say, yeah, no, I don’t think I got a fair shake or whatever. It’s almost like sending an exit survey to the people that you have terminated. 

So I would prefer to collect feedback about the hiring and recruiting process from people that have actually joined the organization so they can be constructive about… this was vague or I really would have appreciated it if we had four interviews instead of nine. To get that kind of feedback about your hiring process I think it’d be very valuable to gather in the new hire survey. And then also procedural items like benefits enrollment, like how was that for you? It doesn’t just have to be things that your managers are taking care of. It can be just other parts of the of the new hire process, which can be sometimes arduous. Can we get feedback on that and make some of those processes a little bit easier for people to handle?

So let’s transition from talking about new hire surveys, which again, focus on the process, are usually within the 15 to 30 days of an employee being hired, and now we’re talking about onboarding surveys. So, oftentimes people will come to us and say we’re looking for a 30, 60, 90 survey and a 30, 60, 90 survey is we’re going to survey people at the 30 day mark, the 60 day mark, and the 90 day mark. We’re more of a 30, 90, or a 15, 90 sort of approach because these different surveys have different purposes. The first survey is to say, “are we following an onboarding process?” and the second survey is to say, “how well did that onboarding process work? Was it effective?” So, let’s look at some of the differences between new hire and onboarding surveys. 

New hire surveys, as I mentioned, happen in the first 15 to 30 days. Really, an onboarding survey– because we’re measuring more of the outcomes of the onboarding process– we try to give that a little bit of time, so we don’t send that out until about 90 days. And sometimes even up to 120 days after someone’s joined an organization, we’ll start collecting that kind of the, more of the onboarding outcome feedback.

The second thing would be a new hire surveys. New hire surveys ensure new hires are introduced to the company using best practice processes. So we’ve set up best practice processes. We’re trying to make sure those are followed. As we transitioned to the onboarding survey, we want to make sure, “okay, the best practices processes were followed, but did they get the outcomes that we want? Did they effectively engage employees and enable them to do the work that we’re asking them to do?” 

Third thing I would say is as I’ve mentioned before, new hire surveys, as we’ve mentioned are a yes, no. Onboarding surveys. We’re going to go to the agreement scale that we use in other experience surveys. So five point agreement scale from strongly disagree, all the way up to strongly agree so that we can match some of the data that we collect on the onboarding survey with some of the data that we might be collecting in our other listening devices, like an engagement survey.

New hire surveys measure adherence to the process. Onboarding surveys measure outcomes of the process, or to be more frank, they measure effectiveness of the process. We went through the process. Did it effectively do the thing that we were asking it to do? 

The fifth thing would be as we’ve talked about, a new hire survey may not be confidential. An onboarding survey on the other hand, because now we’re talking about real experience and how somebody is perceiving their experience. Not just didn’t happen. We’re talking about, “was it a good or a bad experience for you?” Now, an onboarding survey, the one that happens at 90 days, is always going to be a confidential survey. I’ve never run one of these that was not a confidential survey.

Charles: Yeah. And that’s because the questions, like you mentioned, are more similar to your engagement survey. So now they have an opinion, right? They’d been there long enough, they’ve had experience with their manager and team that even have an opinion about the company. So let’s ask those questions to see if that’s still a good perception that they have.

Using Onboarding Surveys to Improve Processes 

Dave: Let’s talk about onboarding process improvement. Every organization has an onboarding process. Whether you’ve actually sat down to design the onboarding process or whether it’s just happening to you right now you have a process. And maybe it’s a completely erratic process. Maybe it’s not a standard process, but you have a process. And maybe it’s reinvented every time you get into a new employee. 

We would encourage you to have some basic things that become part of your onboarding process: meetings with managers, introducing people to their teams, making sure that they have the equipment that they need, training programs early on in their experience, letting employees deliver impact early on in their experience with the organization. 

We would encourage you to come up with some best practices that enable you to do that and really get an employee up and running quickly. And these best practices can be disseminated throughout the entire organization so that everybody’s doing a similar process and doing the same thing. The first step in this is that you design a process.

The second step becomes, you implement the onboarding process with HR managers. You make sure everybody’s following it, or at least you train them. So they know here’s what the process is and you ask them to please follow it. 

Charles: The good news is when you tell him we’re going to do a survey to measure it, they pay attention more.

Dave: Yeah. That’s step three, new hire survey verifies or holds people accountable to the onboarding process that we’ve established. So if we want to make sure that the onboarding process is happening, then we’re going to give a survey out that says, “Hey, is this onboarding process that we’ve designed, is it happening?” And that’s really the main purpose of the new hire survey. And then, the onboarding survey verifies the process was effective. And we’ll talk about the two things that we’re looking for to make sure that the process was effective, but we are just essentially saying, “is it accomplishing the outcomes that we were looking for?” and if it’s not, then we go right back to the top to say redesign or adjust the onboarding process and start the process all over again, until we have an onboarding process that is really delivering on the outcomes that we’re looking for.

Charles: And some of the things I’m hearing lately are, again, many people got hired during the pandemic and there’s a lot of people that haven’t met personally face to face with their manager or their team for over a year and a half. And then some of them, we hear complaints about, we had to go virtual training. And so everyone had to take their training and onboarding process or classes and make them virtual. And the effectiveness of those is somewhat sketchy in some places. And so now we’re getting some feedback and input to say, are we equipping our people well enough to perform the task?

Dave: Yeah. And I was looking at onboarding results with an organization the other day, one of the biggest issues that has happened over the last two years, they’ve been running an onboarding survey for many years with us for four or five years. The change in their onboarding results has been some of the things that maybe they took for granted in the past, which I would define as team socialization. 

They don’t know the team members, they’ve never met them in person, they maybe have never had a one-on-one conversation with most of their team members. That’s stuff that we took for granted pre-pandemic that you don’t have to go out of your way to create experiences for them to meet their teammates. Whereas now if a lot of people are working remotely– and a lot of organizations have changed to that as a permanent work arrangement– now you have to be a little more deliberate about your process to make sure some of that socialization happens so that they’re integrated with their team. And maybe that means that you have to take some of those things that happened informally in the past and make it more of a formal thing. Set up a Zoom or Teams meeting for a new employee to meet and talk with each member of their team for 15 or 20 minutes in the first couple of weeks they’re there.

So I agree with Charles that we’ve really seen changes to the way onboarding has happened. And a lot of that has been, “oops. These are things that we’ve just used to happen and now we have to make them happen as part of our onboarding process.”

So key findings of new hire and onboarding surveys: the key finding for a new hire survey is we’re verifying the processes and practices were followed. With the onboarding survey we’re looking for two things: one is the onboarding process has successfully prepared employees to do the work, and then the onboarding process successfully prepared employees to want to do the work. So I’m able to do the work, enabled, and I’m engaged. I want to do the work. 

So enablement and engagement are the two things that we focus on in an onboarding survey. One of the questions that maybe we could talk about this a little bit, Charles, is do we care that the onboarding process was followed? If it did not successfully enable and engage the new employees who went through it, do we care if we followed a good process?

Charles: I think, yeah, you need to measure that first because if it was followed and it’s not working well, then, you can adjust it but if you have no data, then you’re just flying by the seat of your pants. 

Dave: If it wasn’t followed, how do we know if it was effective or not? So the answer is yes, we care that the onboarding process is followed. Whatever it is, whether it’s effective or not, we need it to be followed in order for us to get data on whether or not it worked. And if we can get data that it didn’t work, now we can change it and make it more effective. So the answer is yes, we do care that the onboarding process was followed because we want to be able to be in this mode of continuous improvement.

Honestly, that’s true for any process that you’re trying to improve in the organization, especially these ones related to experience. Many times when we’re trying to create a great experience for our employees we’re just guessing we think this’ll be a good thing. That guess can be supported by focus group data or interview data or things like that. But really what we want to do is once we’ve implemented something experience-wise is to get feedback from our employees to see did this get the outcome that we wanted. And if it did we keep doing it, if it didn’t, then we need to tweak it or we need to adjust it. Very true with the onboarding process.

So enablement and engagement quickly; to define these two things, enablement is: employees have the means, ability, and authority to do the job they’ve been hired to do. And engagement is: employees have excitement, dedication, and passion for the work they’ve been hired to do. So we have everything that they need in order to do the job, including the authority to do the job. And they have everything that they need to be excited to continue to do the work. That’s quite a trick after 90 days, you want them to be excited. And usually after about six months, that’s when the excitement starts to drop off precipitously. Maybe we should be talking about a six month survey too. 

So, diving deeper into both enablement and engagement, here’s some of the factors we measure in order to determine if somebody has been enabled: do they have the tools they need to have the information that they need, or do they have the training that they need? Do they have the right working relationships and network within the organization to get the job done? And have they been able to already make a contribution? That’s a really important thing that we want to see in an onboarding survey. 

When we’re looking for engagement, we’re saying, do they have a sense of meaning or purpose behind their work? Do they feel comfortable in the culture? Do they feel like they belong there? That’s the connection. Do they have career goals that motivate them? Do they feel like they’re on a growth path? Do they feel like they have a future in the organization? And also do they feel like the future of the organization is going to be successful? So those are some of the things that we look for to determine whether or not an employee is effectively being engaged. All of these things are things that we’ll measure on an onboarding survey. 

The fun comes where we start comparing the process to the outcomes. And so in every onboarding survey, we will ask some questions to measure the engagement of the people taking the survey. We have some people that are taking the survey that when they’ve taken the survey, they’re more engaged and sometimes people take the survey and they’re less engaged. 

What we see here is the statement that people were responding to is, “my manager set aside time to spend with me.” 78% said, yes, that happened formally, 15% of the more engaged population said yes, but that happened but it was informal, and then 7% of the more engaged population said, no, I’ve not had that.

And then when we look at the less engaged population, it’s almost like a huge stark difference. Only 46% of them said their managers formally sat down with them and spent time with them, 19% said that happened, but it was informal, and then a whopping 35% of this group, that’s less engaged said yeah, that didn’t happen at all.

So this is matching our new hire data, the yes/no, with our onboarding data, which is to say, were they engaged or not engaged or more engaged or less engaged, and then see what is the difference between this group that’s more engaged and less engaged. And what’s the difference in our process. This happens to be the biggest gap that they saw. And so we determined that an important part of the process is maybe not being followed as much is that managers are setting aside formally time to meet with their employees. And obviously they’re going to begin doing that in the organization here. 

Charles: And one thing I’ll add in terms of the onboarding piece, we usually find in our employee survey results that the first-year employees score higher than other tenure groups throughout the organization. However, they also are the largest population that leaves your organization. So sometimes that’s due to job fit. So as you’re thinking about how you’re measuring, what are we selling? And then, what are they actually experiencing when they join the organization in terms of job, role responsibilities, things like that? That’s a very common problem. So part of that you can build into the onboarding process to see is this the role I was hired for?

Dave: A pretty common question is, “does the role that I am fulfilling match the expectations I have when I took the job.” Pretty common question on an onboarding survey. And it’s a pretty interesting one for people to answer.

Charles: And so some of this data not only is about your onboarding process, but also your hiring process and interviewing process. Are we setting this up the right way when we bring people on? Because if you’re just trying to hire as many warm bodies as you can, you’re going to see more attrition out of your new hires. But if you set expectations pretty clearly, then you’ll see people stick around longer.

Dave: Maybe just take it’s time for a couple of questions. Someone asked you to have sample surveys for the new hire and onboarding process? We do those should be available on the website. So we do have sample surveys for those. 

Exit Surveys

Okay. Let’s talk about exit surveys. As I mentioned before, these are the most commonly used surveys among our life cycle surveys. Oftentimes when organizations are just dipping their toe into lifecycle surveys, they’re going to say we’ve got this attrition problem. And we really want to look at this first and understand the reasons behind the attrition in our organization. And so exit surveys become a common first foray into lifecycle surveys. 

Three purposes of exit surveys; let’s simplify this down to the very core purposes of an exit survey or at least the way that we see an exit survey. 

One is to determine the reasons for exiting employees leaving the organization. 

Second, is to establish a profile or multiple profiles of exiting employees. So we can take all this information together and say, hey, here’s some signs that one of your employees might be leaving the organization. They usually fit this profile. 

And then the third is to gather recommendations for magazine employees on how to improve the organization. A lot of people leaving the organization are not leaving because they hated the organization, they’re leaving because they just got an opportunity elsewhere. In fact, most of the people say they’re leaving the organization because they got an opportunity elsewhere and they care enough about the organization to want to share some feedback, and you can collect that information in exit interviews when you sit one-on-one with employees, but it’s much easier categorized and aggregated when we do it in survey form. And so it’s really good to get some of that advice from exiting employees when they’re leaving. 

The top reason people say that you’re leaving an organization is to pursue growth or development elsewhere. That’s what we’ve seen in our database. It’s almost every organization that we survey with, we’re going to get the same answer from exiting employees, “hey, I left the organization because I had a great opportunity somewhere else.” I’m going to challenge that and say that an employee exits an organization, that’s going to be a more nuanced situation. 

So when we say that we’re looking for a reason for leaving, really what we’re looking for are reasons– plural– for leaving. And so when we do an exit survey, we’ll say, yes, what’s your top reason for leaving? The majority of people will say I’m leaving because I just had this great opportunity. It was too much to pass up. I question, why did they go looking for that opportunity? I’m not like most people, but I don’t get job offers in my email on a regular basis. It’s something I think Charles does, but the rest of us don’t get job offers. We’ve actually gone and pursued opportunities and there’s a reason why we’re pursuing opportunities to begin with, and so an exit survey is the opportunity to say, Hey, rank your top reasons for leaving the organization. We usually go three deep. And so they might say, yeah, my number one reason was that I had a growth opportunity. But my number two reason is that I’ve just completely frayed. I’m stressed. The workload has gotten to be too much for me. That’s another reason why I’m leaving, and the third one is I just didn’t like my manager very much.

So now we have a more nuanced profile of an employee who says, yeah, I have a great growth opportunity. That’s why I’m leaving. Technically. That’s why I quit my job. But if we’re looking at this, I went looking for that other job or the other opportunity because I was stressed out and my manager wasn’t doing anything to help. So we want to get that kind of nuance when we’re doing this and we want to get it from the right people.

So when we’re doing employee exits, we have these three categories of people that are leaving the organization. And there’s probably more categories than this, but I’m just gonna simplify it and say, We have people that are leaving because of involuntary termination. These are the people that are being fired probably for performance or from misconduct or something like that. They’re leaving the organization. They did not want to leave the organization. The organization is triggering the exit and not the individual. The second group is people that are leaving the organization willingly and the organization really regrets losing that employee. They hate to see that person go. And the third category is voluntary termination where the organization, let’s just put it this way, does not regret losing the employee. So there’s these three categories of employees. 

The one that we care most about is the second category. People that are leaving the organization voluntarily and that was somebody that the organization wanted to retain. Do we care about the exit survey data from people that were involuntarily terminated? We maybe do. That’s possible. Understand that it’s going to be extremely negative. We might care about that, but I think most organizations will avoid sending surveys to the person that’s been involuntarily terminated. 

I’ve got an extra point on here. There’s a rare fourth employee. The organization terminated the employee, this was an involuntary termination, and the organization is still disappointed to lose the employees. There’s a rare fourth employee. That’s out there as well. it’s usually through a forced layoff or something like that. So should we ask involuntary terminations to complete exit surveys. Charles, What do you think? 

Charles: I’m always a fan of getting the most data you can, and you can always parse out the results and look at them separately. Usually, when people are let go, we understand that they might not be their best performers. We look at our talent pool and who we have and who we can afford to lose. So it might be helpful. I don’t really have a strong opinion. 

Dave: The reason why I would say leave them in the pool is because sometimes, especially with exit surveys, we try to do this and it’s HRIS driven. So we have an integration set up with an HRIS system that says an employee is leaving or an employee has left the organization, and that triggers a survey to go out. Most of the time that HRIS does not tell us this person was involuntarily terminated or voluntarily terminated. So oftentimes we just say leave them in but if you’re really looking for purely the reasons for people voluntarily leaving the organization, asking someone who is exiting, who’s just been terminated, “why are you leaving?” is maybe not the best use of a question. 

One of my favorite ways to classify exiting employees is by this metric that we call regret or non-regret. Really if effective analysis of the exit survey data will mean that you’re going to focus on really mostly the employees you hope to retain. You can get good information from all of your employees that are leaving the organization. That’s not to say we should only survey the people that we regret losing, but to be able to say, all right, these people that we really hope to retain, what are some of the things that they’re telling us about why they left? 

There’s a difference between losing the average employee and losing an employee that was a priority for you to retain. Add a regret and not regret demographic value to each voluntary termination, provide that to whoever’s doing your survey. Make sure they have that as a demographic because now I can look and say, okay, the people that I really regretted, this is what they’re saying. And that regret/non- regret can be determined by an HR business partner in the area, but really you should be informed by the manager who lost the employee. So it can be hard to gather that information sometimes, but I think that the organizations that make the effort to gather that information really do not regret – It’s a not regret situation – for organizations who make that effort. 

The other thing that we can do to analyze employee exits is to add termination data to the annual survey. Charles, I know this is a thing that you like to do where we take the annual survey and six months later, everybody who left the organization put that in as a demographic and see what were they saying on the engagement survey six months ago.

Charles: So before they left, what were they feeling? You’ll see differences. We see them all the time. They do score lower typically than the rest of the population overall. There’s certain areas or things that are bothering them more than other employees, maybe it’s around workload or growth opportunities, but it does give you a sneak peek into their perceptions right before they were leaving, especially that six-month window. So again, if you’re doing a survey every year, you could take their list of terminated employees from that six-month window after the last survey, pop it back into your data from the year before, and look at those results. 

Dave: It gives you the opportunity to create a more complete profile for someone leaving your organization. You always were able to– and you can do this with your HRIS –determine what’s the age group that’s leaving. What’s the tenure of the people that are leaving. What positions are they leaving for? You can look at it by gender. You can look at it by race or ethnicity. Demographically, you can look at that data really easily using your HRIS. 

Now, if we add this to the annual survey, you have an entire population that we can also say, let’s layer on to that demographic information experience data. How were they feeling in the months leading up to their exit, not just with their exit interview or exit survey, which is good information too. But when they weren’t in the position of leaving the organization, what were they saying about their experience? And now we can create a real profile of the people that are leaving the organization that includes both demographic and experienced data.

Charles: And many clients have a at-risk population. So they’ll say these are the three job roles that we really want to focus on because they’re hard to hire for, low retention. So we’re trying to solve this problem. So let’s really analyze that. 

Dave: Tough to replace. I bet if we did a straw poll, everybody would raise their hand and know exactly the two or three employee populations that are priority right now to retain. So any way we can get more data on them, especially experienced data, it can be very helpful.

Anniversary Surveys

Okay. The last type of lifecycle survey that we’re going to talk about today is actually probably the least common that we use of all the ones that we’ve shared with you today. And again, there are many other types of lifecycle surveys that you could implement, but this is the last one we’re going to talk about, which is the anniversary survey.

I am a huge fan of anniversary surveys as a supplement to all the other surveys that you’re doing. So just really quickly, cause most of you maybe have not heard of an anniversary survey or even worked with an anniversary survey in the past. Anniversary surveys are surveys sent to employees on their anniversaries to gather general information about their experience with the organization of the previous year. Responses from these anniversary surveys can be aggregated monthly, quarterly, and annually.

So the nice thing about anniversary surveys is usually–and some organizations aren’t like this–but a lot of organizations will have hired people throughout the year. They hired a bunch of people in January, February, March, people’s hire dates will be scattered across the year. And so sending them a survey on their anniversary allows us to get an ongoing pulse of the organization because every time someone hits an anniversary, it’s a milestone for them. It’s usually a time when people are reflecting and evaluating the experience that they’ve had to send a quick survey to say, tell us more about your experience working with us over the last year, and the great thing about this is it can be aggregated. 

I usually keep these very simple with three question types. One is the employee net promoter score that we talked about earlier in this presentation, EMPS where we say scale of one to 10, how likely would you be to recommend this organization is a great place to work? 

The second is an open-ended question and it is not positively framed. It’s not negatively framed. It’s simply, tell us more about your experience working with this organization over the last year. And we are able to look at that open-ended question, natural language processing and see information aggregated across all employees to see what are they talking about when they’re talking about their experience, and was it positive or negative. 

Then we can also include in this employee experience items, things that maybe come from a larger question set like an engagement survey. So if we’re working on communication or something in our organization, and we want to have an ongoing pulse of what people are thinking about that thing. We could ask a five-point agreement scale question that says, this organization communicates well with all employees about what is going on and get some information on that. See if we’re improving throughout the year. 

The core anniversary survey will just have the first and second type and then some organizations in order to gather additional feedback will add the anniversary or the additional five-point agreement scale questions. 

Charles: But still we’re talking about a survey with five questions? 

Dave: At maybe the most, right? Yeah. A very short survey in comparison. We’re really just trying to get somebody’s feedback and really quickly get their feedback in order to drive as much participation as possible. The most valuable, thing from this, is to be able to see how your net promoter score in the organization is moving up and down from a month to month basis. And also, if you wanted to look at it quarterly, you look at it quarterly and just see how is morale in this organization tracking over time? 

The nice thing that the net promoter score question is that it correlates really well with engagement measurements, and it correlates really well with attrition measurement. So it walks the line between those two things. One to 10 scale. How likely would you be to recommend this organization as a great place to work? The 10 point scale, depending on how somebody answers it, people are divided into promoters and detractors. The score is calculated for those who are wondering the number of detractors, it’s actually the percentage of detractors subtracted from the percentage of promoters, not the number of detractors. The number of promoters. It serves as a proxy, as I’ve mentioned for both employee engagement, overall satisfaction, and also it can be a proxy for employee attrition as well or the likelihood of them leaving the organization.

The other nice thing about ENPS is it can be used across all of your different surveys. If you use it in your engagement survey or your onboarding survey. You can compare it to your anniversary survey. You can compare it to your exit survey. You can compare it to whatever other life cycle survey, and you can also compare it to your annual engagements survey.

The open-ended text item, as I mentioned, should be neutrally framed, neutrally worded, and it should invite as much detail as possible. So we’ll often say, Hey, in as much detail as possible, will you please describe your experience working for this organization over the last year? And hopefully, if they give us enough detail, then we can get lots of rich data using natural language processing to first understand was the general sentiment of the comment that they left positive neutral, or negative? And the second thing is what were they talking about? And we can aggregate that across the whole organization. 

So again, just giving you really good information from a very simple process of anniversary surveys, you can get very rich data, but with a very simple survey. 

Someone asked in the questions, is this the standard NPS scale, Zero to 10 instead of one to 10? I believe it is. The actual standard scale is zero to 10. Good point.

Okay, and employee experience items can be included. This is the third type of survey item. We would say include no more than five. I think most organizations that are gonna include these five-point agreement scale items in their anniversary survey would include maybe one or two. Just on things that they may be working on that year, that they want some ongoing feedback for. But I would say it’s much more common for them to use the two questions, the ENPS question, and an open-ended text question.

Charles: And these might be topics around communication, but there were usually organization things. Again, you’re monitoring this across the organization. You’re thinking as an organization, how are people perceiving us? Because your annual survey will get into the weeds about their team and manager and other things, but this is more general.

Dave: And it solves a pretty good problem of how do you get a random sample from the organization? Assuming hiring happens at random intervals, then it’s random whether you were hired in January, February, and hopefully, you’re getting the opportunity to hear from one 12th of the organization every month that you put out an anniversary survey and that’s enough for us to get a general feel for where they stand in terms of their overall favorability with the organization. Are they feeling like a promoter or a detractor? And what are they saying? What’s the feedback they’re giving about their experience?

Avoid Survey Fatigue

Last thing that I’m going to say before we sum things up is try the best you can to avoid survey fatigue. The nice thing about lifecycle surveys is some of them are only surveys that you ever only ever answer one time in your experience with an organization. The anniversary survey of course, is one that you answer every year. But the onboarding survey, the exit survey, the new hire survey; you’re not going to create fatigue by sending those out. It’s a great way to build a listening campaign because we can gather information, critical points of the employee experience without wearing out the organization with survey fatigue.

Charles: And then I like your point here: respond to it. You got to take action. If it’s going into a black hole, people are going to get frustrated.

Dave: Yeah, and that’s true. And fatigue really comes from a couple of things. Yeah. You can be asking them too many questions, but it really becomes tiring to answer survey questions when you feel like it’s going into the black hole. 


Okay. Just a few last words here in summary of what we’ve covered today. Thank you for joining. Some of the things that we’ve covered: remember that the employee voice is one of the most negative things, negative experiences that employees have with the organizations they work for. Consistently the lowest scores in our benchmark have to do with, does my organization listen to me? Do they respond to me? Do they care what I have to say? And oftentimes that drives this idea that senior leaders don’t know what’s going on in the organization because they don’t listen to me. 

Set a listening strategy that builds over time. You don’t have to do all of this at once, but if you’re not doing anything, consider doing an engagement survey. And once you get into the flow of collecting that feedback, then maybe you layer on exit surveys and then you layer on onboarding, and maybe you, at some point, want more ongoing feedback and you would layer on an anniversary survey where if you want something about specific moments like promotions, a specific moments like training courses and things like that. You can always layer those in as well but get those big initiatives going first and then start layering on. 

A new hire and onboarding survey as we’ve stated can be very effective at helping you improve the onboarding process and especially improve the outcomes that you’re getting from the onboarding process. As you kind of work through that continuous improvement cycle that we talked about earlier. 

Exit surveys are great to understand why people are leaving and to create profiles for the people that are exiting an organization. 

And the last thing is that anniversary surveys can be used as an ongoing pulse of the morale of the organization and can be very useful for that.

Those are the ones that we wanted to cover today. Hopefully, the information has been helpful and useful to you as we’ve gone through it.

Charles: Thanks to everyone for joining us. Look forward to having you join us on our next presentation. 

Dave: Thanks, everybody. Have a great day.