How to Improve Exit Interview Participation Rates

Female HR staff person doing an exit interview with a departing coworker.

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Exit interviews are one of the best ways to get true and honest feedback from employees. The downside is that it takes some time to build up a significant amount of data from exit interviews. Increasing your participation rate, however, can help you get greater amounts of actionable information faster from your exit interviews.

What is Considered a Good Participation Rate for Exit Interviews

Research shows that the average response rate for paper and pencil exit interviews is approximately 30-35 percent. This means that a company with 2000 employees and a 15 percent turnover rate would expect to receive about 100 completed exit interviews per year. At this participation level, the organization is getting exit feedback from just 5 percent of the total employee population.

With just a little extra effort, you should be able to double that response rate. 65 percent or better is a good goal for exit interview participation. You can accomplish this with paper and pencil exit interviews, web-based online exit interviews and telephone exit interviews.

Measuring Your Participation in the Exit Interview

To measure your response rate, divide the number of completed exit interviews by the number of employees from whom you requested an exit interview. Ideally, the second number should equal the total number of terminations but for practical reasons, this is generally not the case.

As an example, if you have 125 completed exit interviews from 300 people whom you asked to complete an exit interview, your participation rate is 125/300 which equals .416 or 41.6 percent.

It is important to make sure that you have a good method in place to track this kind of participation. At a minimum, you want to track the participation rate at the start of an improvement project and then periodically thereafter.

An ideal scenario is to keep a running average that you can refer to regularly. This real-time number immediately alerts you to a fall off (or increase) in employee participation in exit interviews. An online exit interview management system should do this for you automatically.

Large companies might want to track participation rates separately for subsidiaries, large divisions or geographic regions. Small- to mid-size companies can generally benefit from a total participation rate for the organization.

If you decide that your participation rate in exit interviews could stand improvement, the next step is to analyze your current exit interview process. The two most important areas for review are:

  1. Why are employees choosing not to complete the exit interview?
  2. Are there logistical problems preventing human resources from getting the information to employees in a timely and effective manner?

Employees Not Completing Their Exit Interview

Some of the reasons that employees choose not to complete exit interviews are:

  • The exit interview is too long.
  • The exit interview questions are confusing or personally invasive.
  • The employee doesn't believe that the exit interview will be read or make a difference.
  • The employee is afraid of repercussions.
  • The employee is angry at the company.
  • The employee procrastinates or forgets.
  • The process is difficult or uncomfortable.

If you are using an exit interview survey with rated questions, 35-60 questions is about the right survey length. More than 60 questions begin to feel long and uncomfortable for the employee. If you surpass 70 questions, you should be prepared for higher numbers of uncompleted exit interviews.

Review your exit interview questions for simplicity. Put yourself in the employee's shoes and ask yourself how you would feel answering the questions. Avoid a lot of exit interview questions that ask for feelings and emotions.

Many employees are not in tune with their feelings (or if they are they may not want to share them with you). It is a lot easier for an employee to rate the effectiveness of a process rather than how they feel about the process.

Exit Interview Feedback Ignored

Employees will not complete their exit interviews if they believe that the feedback they provide will not be read or will be promptly ignored. It is important to let employees know that you value their feedback. When you do make improvements based on suggestions from exit interviews, don’t be afraid to tell employees where the idea came from.

Over time, employees will learn that you do listen. Once this becomes a part of the corporate culture, you can be assured of lots of open and honest ideas, suggestions and critiques.

Repercussions From Honest Feedback

Also, be clear with employees that honest feedback will not result in repercussions. Statements made in an exit interview should never be used to prevent future eligibility for re-hire.

There are many supposed experts that tell employees not to be honest on their exit interview form or not to complete one at all. They claim that companies use this information against the employees. Human Resource professionals know that this is nonsense, however, they still must battle this unfounded perception.

Angry Employee Feedback

Employees that are angry with the company may feel that they don’t want to help by participating in the exit interview. You can encourage these employees to vent their anger in the exit interview. Many of these angry employees are thrilled with the chance to have their voice heard – particularly if they know that it will be heard by senior management.

A clean and simplified process is also important. Whether it is web-based or paper and pencil, the exit interview form should be laid out nicely with an intuitive and easy to understand survey form.

Logistical problems are the second major area for review in your exit interview process. There are generally weak links in any process and exit interviews are no exception. Your examination should include the whole chain of events that begins when an employee gives notice and ends when the employee submits the exit interview.

Audit Your Exit Interview Process

You can begin to audit your exit interview process by finding out the following information.

  • How do employees generally give notice of their intent to terminate?
  • Who is the first person notified and how much notice is usually given?
  • Who tells the Human Resource division and how? How soon after the employee gives notice is HR notified? Who in HR is notified first?
  • Who is responsible for initiating the exit interview? When is this person(s) notified of employee terminations?
  • How is the employee notified of the exit interview? By whom? What method? When?
  • Is there clear ownership in Human Resources of the exit interview process? Do those involved in the process understand the importance and urgency of the exit interviews?
  • What is the employee told about the exit interview? In what ways are they encouraged to complete the exit interview? Are employees told more than one time and in more than one way?
  • Is the exit interview easy to complete?
  • When and where will the employee complete the exit interview? Is there easy access to necessary resources?
  • Does the employee have privacy with which to complete the exit interview if they are completing it at work?
  • Are supervisors and managers supportive of the exit interview process? Are they fearful of receiving negative feedback from employees? Are you relying on fearful supervisors to relay information about the exit interview to employees?
  • Is it easy for employees to submit their exit interviews?

Review each of the above audit questions and take a hard look at your exit interview process. Determine what you can do to improve each of these areas. After you finish your review, you can start to make improvements immediately.

Re-Measure Your Exit Interview Process

Some of the changes that you make will provide a noticeable improvement in participation rates very quickly. Others will require more time to effectively pervade the company culture.

Re-measure your participation rates at three months, six months, nine months and twelve months. By the twelve month mark, you should expect to see a dramatic improvement in your exit interview participation rates. This means you will have more data that can be used to limit turnover and increase employee retention.


You can increase the value of your exit interviews significantly by increasing the number of terminating employees who participate in the exit interview process. By reviewing and improving both the content and structure of the exit interview, along with your own internal processes, you can deliver a substantial increase in your participation rates.

Finally, consider the possibility that an actual in-person interview with an HR staff member might not only improve your participation rates but provide better information. You can't underestimate the value of follow-up questioning.


Beth Carvin is the CEO of Nobscot Corporation with a background in business, entrepreneurship, human resources, recruiting, sales and business development.