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Media Release

April 14 2009

Exit interviews reveal real reasons

Exit interviews can help reveal why employees leave a job.About one-third of employees who leave their employers to start a new job weren’t even looking for one.

Research by UniSA’s Centre for Human Resource Management has found that 31 per cent of organisational leavers are lured away by an unexpected job offer.

“With those poaching rates, employers had started to think that high turnover rates were unavoidable,” said Co-Director of the Centre, Professor Carol Kulik. “However that would not be true for everyone.

“For about half of those poached leavers, the job offer was the only factor motivating their move. They had been happy with their current employer until an attractive alternative promising more responsibility or better pay had created an irresistible pull.

“For this group, turnover probably was unavoidable. However, these leavers maintained considerable goodwill towards their former employer and could be a valuable resource for spreading positive word of month.”

On the other hand, Professor Kulik and fellow researchers Dr Gerry Treuren and Professor Prashant Bordia, believe that for the other half of the poached leavers the turnover could have been avoided. In exit interviews, these employees described two things that motivated their move.

“The first was the job offer, creating a pull,” Dr Treuren explains. “They would have resisted the pull, except that it occurred in close proximity to some kind of push experience from inside the organisation such as a bad experience with their manager or the performance appraisal process.

“These leavers consistently said that if the organisation had only addressed that one specific problem, they would have stayed. So if the employer had acted promptly, they might have been able to keep 15 per cent of their leavers.”

The researchers studied exit interviews, in which employees explained their reasons for leaving. The study was prompted by the unprecedented mobility of employees during the past decade, caused by Australia’s skilled and unskilled labour shortage. This research project is just one of several at the Centre that is examining attraction and retention.

The researchers found five distinct groups of leavers. One group was the poached leavers. For a second group, the major reason for staff leaving the organisation was to pursue a plan that pre-dated their employment, for example, to go overseas once they had saved enough money, to start their own business, to move interstate, or to follow a life-long dream.

“For this 22 per cent, the decision to leave the organisation has little to do with their actual employment,” Prof Kulik said.

About 15 per cent experienced a push factor alone – something that made it impossible for them to continue working. Usually the push was something that occurred inside the organisation, but a small number left due to personal factors that caused them to not want to work any more, such as a family illness.

“Another 7 per cent had a bad experience at work, leading them to leave the job without another one to go to yet, while 25 per cent left because they were dissatisfied and had found a new job.

“In this study, just over half of the staff who left the organisation did so because of factors largely not related to their job. But that leaves a lot of other employees who left because of a bad experience such as being passed over for a promotion, or because of ongoing unresolved issues.”

Dr Treuren says that organisations could learn some valuable lessons by studying their own exit interview responses.

“Exit interviews are very useful for an organisation that is trying to understand its turnover. By identifying the incidents that lead to resignation, the employer can design appropriate intervention strategies.”

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