Santiago Jaramillo: Don’t wait until the exit interview for feedback

Along with visions of six-pack abs and inbox zero, this time of year is likely to inspire job searches. January is the biggest month for job changes, and nearly a fifth of workers are looking for better opportunities right this minute.

Who probably isn’t looking? Engaged employees. People who believe in what they do and know they’re valued by the company they work for. So whatever the date on the calendar, losing employees is a sign there’s room for improvement, and if you wait until the exit interview to identify problems, you’ve missed the boat.

Finding out why people leave is important. Finding out before they leave why they might be disengaged does a lot more for your workforce and your business. One Glassdoor survey found that 23% of new-year job hunters are hoping to track down a greater challenge.

Creating a more engaging work experience is possible—and imperative to retention. The alternative is losing employees at a time replacing them is especially challenging and costly. The average cost per hire has been trending upward over the last five years—increasing quickly. It’s also taking longer than ever to fill open positions, more than 36 days on average.

Companies can put a real dollar amount on the value of keeping employees around. Yet many still wait for the exit interview to figure out where they can do better. Exit interviews serve a valuable purpose but come with downsides that might be getting in your way. Employees with one foot out the door aren’t terribly invested in the process and might not be as forthcoming as you’d like. Worse, whatever data is collected from these surveys tends to get filed and forgotten. Having it on hand also provides a “we’re already collecting data” excuse that keeps companies from getting employee feedback regularly, before turnover occurs.

By the time you see turnover, whatever inspired it has been hanging around for months. Maybe years. It rarely happens the way it’s portrayed on TV, with an employee slamming back a chair and storming out of the office. Employees are much more likely to stay put, gut it out and hope for positive change—which means you have time to address the problem before an exodus takes place, if you make an effort to uncover it.

The cost of replacing employees extends beyond recruitment and training. Productivity slumps and morale takes a hit as others increase their workloads to pick up the slack. Goals often fall by the wayside and even customers begin to take notice and might start jumping ship. The business impact of turnover is wide and deep.

Exit interviews can’t address all that. So reframe the question from, “What makes employees leave?” to, “What makes them want to stay?” Waiting until top performers are out the door to get feedback is a lot like waiting until you’re stuck by the side of the road to address a low fuel light. You can correct the situation, but it takes a lot longer, might damage your fuel pump and keeps you from getting to your destination on time.

Data helps demystify what keeps employees engaged and exactly how that engagement pays off. Measure employee engagement, diagnose concerns and work toward solutions before they become turnover-inducing catastrophes. Doing so regularly is like putting gas in the tank when the needle dips below the 25% mark—a simple step that keeps you moving forward.•

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Jaramillo is co-founder and CEO of Emplify.

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