Author Branham On Trust, Exit Interviews And Why Employees Leave

Over the past year, 1,000 people who left an employer told author Leigh Branham the reasons for why they left.
Those reasons, captured in a post-exit survey, contribute greatly to the new release of the second edition of Branham's best-seller, The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave.
The original edition was based on feedback from nearly 20,000 surveys. 
The updated book includes insights regarding some additional new survey questions, such as:
  • Was there a triggering event?
  • How long did it take until you actually left?
  • What could your employer have done to make you want to change your mind and stay?
  • Did you look for another job while still employed.
Eye-opening highlights from the book reveal that:
  • The cost of losing the average employee is one times their annual salary.  That means that  company with three hundred employees, an average employee salary of $35,000, and a voluntary turnover rate of 15 a year is losing $1,575,000 per year in turnover costs alone.
  • Employee turnover is not a single event; it is really a process of disengagement that can take days, weeks, months, or even years.
In the book, Branham teaches readers how to:
  • Avoid employee-job mismatches.
  • Build an environment of mutual trust and confidence.
  • Understand the emotional impact of compensation and recognition done well.
  • Leverage exit and turnover data (often from exit interviews) to increase employee retention.

Last week, Branham spoke to me about:
  • Trust in senior leaders
  • Exit interviews
  • The impact of e-mail and texting on employee turnover
  • What surprised him the most about the answers to the 1,000 post-exit surveys
Question:   Where would you put the current trust in senior leaders?  Is it at the lowest it's been since you've been in the business world?

Branham:   I would have to say yes, unfortunately.  When I entered the business world in the 70's, we assumed leaders were competent and trustworthy.  Even in the 80's and early '90's, they were good stewards and heroes--Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch, et. al.  But things changed during the boom years and greed took over for many.

Then came Enron, Worldcom in 2002, then the crash of 2008 exposed the depth of corruption.  It was a devastating double whammy that had the effect of disappointing everyone in the workforce while, paradoxically, causing the issue of senior leadership to start showing up on their radar as more of a factor with regard to how much discretionary effort they were willing to give (engagement). 

The consulting and survey firms, Towers Watson and Kenexa came to the same conclusion as Mark Hirschfeld and I did in our book, Re-Engage, based on our analysis of 2.1 million engagement surveys--trust in the integrity, competence, and compassion of senior leaders is now the number one factor in employee engagement, in spite of the fact that the conventional wisdom says it's all about the manager. 

Yes, it's all about the manager, but it's the senior leaders who set the tone and culture and the example for managers to follow.  Yet, the most commonly used employee survey in the world today--Gallup's 12 questions, contains not one question about senior leadership.
QuestionIf a business can't hire/use a third-party to do the exit interviews, how best should they be done to elicit the most candid feedback from the exiting employee?
Branham:  First, I would say they should explore finding a way to afford it if that's the issue because the outcomes are almost always superior. That's because some employees simply will not tell any company representative the real reason they are leaving no matter how trustworthy they may seem. 

But if paying a third-party is not in the cards, they should find the most trusted person in HR to conduct the interviews, make sure they know the data collected is important, then train them in the finer points of conducting an exit interview, especially with regard to follow-up questions.  For more on this, see my appendix in The 7 Hidden Reasons  Employees Leave on exit interviewing.

Question:  When reading the 1,000 post-exit surveys that inspired the updated edition, what in those surprised you the most?

Branham:  I think the biggest surprise was how closely the new data resembled the data from Saratoga, despite the changes in the economy since the first edition came out in 2005, especially that the seven-reason themes were the same and that nine of out 10 primary reasons for leaving were push factors instead of pull factors, again exactly the same as Saratoga's data showed.
In fact, of the 39 possible reasons for people to choose from on our web survey (, none of the 11 "pull" reasons ranked higher than number 23 on the list.

I expected senior leadership to be a major factor, but didn't expect it to be the number one reason. I didn't necessarily expect "insufficient pay" to be the number two reason, but when I consider the pay freezes and small annual pay increases that have been widespread in recent years, it's understandable.
Question:  How has the increased use of e-mail either helped or hindered employee turnover versus a time when employees engaged in more in-person and phone engagement compared to e-mail exchanges? 
Branham:  I do think e-mail and texting have depersonalized manager-employee interaction, as has the increasing trend toward the remote workforce. 

Many younger workers have admitted to actually ignoring voice messages entirely and don't return them.  I'm not saying we shouldn't use e-mail and texting.  I'm saying we should use all communications media at our disposal to:
  • check in with direct reports
  • ask how they are doing, what they need
  • ask for their ideas and really listen and take action on the good ones
  • make sure they know what's expected
  • give frequent feedback
In other words, they should manage the way the best sports coaches coach.  Face-to-face is best, but when face-to-face is not always possible, the phone is next best, then e-mail, then texting when it's urgent 
One of the consistent reasons employees leave is they have managers who don't communicate in any of these ways.  In fact, I've seen research that 60 percent of employees don't get enough feedback and that only one in five employee accomplishments is acknowledged by managers. 

Thanks to the book publisher for sending me an advance copy of this book.


Popular posts from this blog

6 Ways To Seek Feedback To Improve Your Performance In The Workplace

Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader

How To Pump Up Employee Involvement