How Not to Do Exit Interviews: The Toll for Taking the Wrong Exit

Exit Interviews provide the most timely opportunity for an employer to receive feedback of an employee’s experience. Only when an employee quits, can we uncover, with accuracy, why they quit. It is a valuable window for an organization to view constructive feedback, as well as to ensure employees leave the organization on the best possible terms. However, if used incorrectly, feedback can result in a head-on collision, and bad publicity for the employer when not handled with care.

Just ask Michael Stuban. Or, you can ask 2,000 of his fellow employees that received his exit interview answers in an email blast [1]. Stuban, an employee of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission for 35 years, started out as a toll collector and worked his way up to retire as a midlevel manager. However, Stuban did not drive off into the sunset to quietly live out his golden years. In his exit interview questionnaire, typically sent to just HR, Stuban took the road less traveled and aired his grievances to every employee, complaining about “the phoniness,” and “no morale” and how executives are “out of touch with the average employee.”[2]

As a manager, it would be difficult to receive his feedback even if it wasn’t distributed to a couple thousand people. Unfortunately, the Chairman of the Turnpike Commission took it personally. He dismissed Stuban’s comments, and hit reply all to the email: “Mr. Stuban… I don’t believe we ever met, and after reading your Exit Questionnaire, I am grateful that we didn’t.” [1] 

Stuban, while aggressive in sending it out to 2,000 employees, was correct when he reflected that “He [the chairman] did miss the point. If it was an effective company and someone told you there are problems and no morale… someone should check it out.” [1] The collection of employee feedback is only as effective as how it is used. Organizations have 3 choices:

  • Let the feedback pile up with minimal use
  • Leverage the exit interview tips collected to affect change and drive their team towards an engaged and inspired vista, or
  • Ignore the blind spots, respond defensively to feedback, and crash into your own workforce

Addressing and accepting Stuban’s criticism would demonstrate to current, future, and past employees that feedback is taken seriously. The Chairman’s response displayed the organization’s lack of receptiveness to employee opinion. Now many could assume the Pennsylvania Turnpike does not listen to staff feedback, or worse, that the company does not care.

Getting it Right: Get Uncensored Feedback You Can Use

It takes more than a single exit interview questionnaire to understand the state of a workforce, but there are key takeaways. We support the PA Turnpike Commission for conducting exit interviews. It is an important, and often overlooked first step to ensure critical information about your workforce does not leave with your separating employees.

Road rage like this can be minimized by using a reliable third party to gather exit interviews. Whether it is an Exit Interview, a Stay Interview, or a Pulse Survey, feedback is most valuable when it is valued. While Stuban shared his feedback and was candid (often an issue with surveys managed in-house) the volley of emails quickly turned south. Instead, leadership could hear valuable feedback to drive data-driven workplace decisions for the thousands of employees who chose to stay and could have a better experience. Third party exit interview software can serve as a safe intermediary, and deliver the feedback as insightful and actionable data points, rather than as noise from a disgruntled employee.

Employee Retention Idea #92: Roll Down the Windows to Listen

Resist the urge to be deflective, defensive, or apathetic (all easier to accomplish with a third party listening for you). An employee deciding to share their experience is data. Data is king. Stay open and consider that their experience, as subjective and biased as it seems, is the truth to that one person. When you listen for trends across data with an open ear, you get a shot at making the organization a better place for current staff who feel the same way. What disgruntled employees have to say, however fast and furious they may say it, may not just be road rage, but a flare signal for some roadside assistance.


[1] Bender, Willam and Brennan, Chris. “Philly Clout: Turnpike manager rips his bosses in email minutes before retirement.” The Philly Inquirer 2 Dec. 2016


Author: Gabriel Stavsky
Talent Management Consultant
Date: 10/11/2017



After the Election: The American Workforce – Are we Still a Team?

As the American President-elect was announced in the early morning hours, many predictions followed. Few are exploring the impact on the workplace. The line between work and life, blurring for the past 20 years, allow for the strong emotions we feel at home to impact who we are at work. Like many workplaces around the world, we have a diverse workforce at Retensa, including American and International colleagues who exist across the political spectrum. Our assumptions about the next four years generates excitement, sadness, or even anger.

We discovered early on in our discussions that no matter what, we are still a team.

How we choose to move forward in turbulence and uncertainty can help strengthen or weaken the meaningful work we do. Each of our expectations, values, and intentions for this company’s culture are as true today as one week ago. We want to share with you how we focus on strengthening our team, which you can consider bringing to your workplace:

    1. Leadership: Build Unity through Inclusion

In any crises, we look to our leaders for guidance. Ensure that leadership communicates the importance of the team regardless of how someone voted. Highlight the impact, if any, from the election to your company or to your clients. Focus your organization on working together. Let everyone know what resources they have available, such as an anonymous box for feedback, counseling resources, or open door policies. The most dangerous thing for any leader to do when your workforce is divided is to choose a side. Dismissing a group is nearly the surest way to enrage them.

    1. Identify the Noise: Pulse Your Employees

The quickest way to understand what is going on in your organization right now is to ask for feedback. We use the TalentPulse platform to instantly survey anyone (including remote employees) at any time. A short 5 or 6 question survey can be sent when a big event occurs (e.g. change in location, leadership, or resources) to gauge how best to manage the issues before they hit the workplace. In this case, we crafted questions that unpack what impact this has on teams, individual’s lives, and relationships. Including both multiple-choice and open-ended questions help understand how the organization can provide support, and shows employees that listening matters.

    1. Conflict Management: Leverage your Tools

We do our best to leverage the tools and practices we provide to our clients. If your employees have already had training on how to manage stress, or conflict, consider providing a refresher Conflict Management course and highlight how they can manage difficult conversations (internal and external). To make sure our team is most prepared to manage their lives in and out of the office, we also reviewed tools from our Communication course. Listening with intention brings the empathy that rebuilds connections.

    1. Create Opportunities to Unite

People disagreed, and it may have pushed them apart. Now create opportunities for your organization to come together. Over the next few weeks, we have scheduled more departmental breakfasts, after-work events, team games, and food tastings for all of our team members. We recommend keeping topics light and fun while supporting your culture. If you are looking to improve employee morale, create “play” time that supports the values you want to see in the workplace.

Very few company’s staff all voted for one candidate. If your employees are affected, the organization is affected. It would be a mistake for leadership to pretend that everything is the same as it was before. Build unity through messaging, pulse your employees to uncover the truth about where people are right now, leverage communication tools, and create opportunities to be a team together.

Feel free to reach out if you want more information on how to roll out these services at your organization. And for Retensa’s team members, partners, and clients – we are here to support you to keep engaging and inspiring your workforce at every opportunity.


Posted: 11/9/2017

Sustaining Performance During Mergers and Acquisitions

Managing expectations to maximize merger or acquisition performance can be daunting, especially when supervisors are unsure how the new organization will emerge.

Involving both firms’ communication strategies before and during a merger will reduce financial and personnel losses.

“The reason we are at the table is that we can… determine whether this is, from a holistic point of view, a good deal or a bad deal. We have input in shaping what the deal should be or whether we should pursue it at all from a HR standpoint.” – James Otieno, VP, Compensation & Services, Hewlett-Packard

Employees feel powerless, paranoia, doubt, and low morale become contagious. Communication is critical to neutralize the uncertainty. The fear of being part of the inevitable layoff can be minimized if the workforce is kept current on the progress and next steps of the reorganization. Employees should be informed if (and how) their role will change in the new organization. To mitigate productivity losses, companies can provide what is known, and what is not known, on a regular basis (in the company newsletter, or at the start of monthly meetings). Otherwise, ambiguity about their future will cause employees to withdraw from others and avoid their commitment to responsibilities.

It is sometimes a difficult necessity, but the new organization may have to downsize its workforce. For those that will stay, a formalized transition process is critical. That process must address changes in their role and workload, integrate new work procedures and provide realistic job previews into the (post-merger) workplace. These practices will dramatically optimize merger and acquisition performance, decrease cultural conflicts and ultimately turnover.

Communication Practices to Support Organizations in Transition

The human capital angle of the merger is a crucial part of the entire financial picture. Within the organization’s financial investments, HR will focus on salaries, benefits, and contracts. However, the acquiring company is purchasing customers as well as a new organizational culture, and the emerging organization will encounter friction if new work processes are not gradually introduced. Sudden, drastic changes will erode confidence in employee’s role in the firm’s future. During transitions, frequent employee feedback is the tactic which will mediate workplace stress, maintain productivity, and sustain the quality of customer service. Lack of attention here risks the loss of valuable employees and customers.

Additionally, executives of the acquired company should ensure equitable opportunities for its key personnel as part of the deal. This negotiation is essential to prevent the exodus of talented managers. High-performing employees will quickly depart a firm that overtly favors tenure over performance.