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



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