What Exit Interview Data is Telling us About the “Great Resignation” – by Chris Gee, PhD

There has been plenty written about the “Great Resignation”, however many of the articles are descriptive in nature, and primarily focus on trends and demographic data points (e.g., age, industry, tenure etc…). What seems to be missing from the conversation is insight provided by the actual people leaving these jobs.

Self Management Group has been providing validated psychometric assessment products for over 43 years, including confidential and anonymous e-exit interview surveys. The following article relies on aggregated exit survey data from Jan 2018 through Jan 2022, breaking the file into pre / post covid groupings. In doing so, the attempt was to look for differences across this time period with respect to why employees are leaving their jobs.

One of the first trends to become apparent was the increase in voluntary termination rates among employees with 18 – 24 months tenure. The rate of voluntary termination jumped 300% during the pandemic within this cohort. This seems to align with some of the trending figures published in other articles, and appears to suggest that this group is currently the most susceptible to turnover.

With respect to termination reason, “Career Change” showed the largest increase over the pandemic. This particular termination reason increased 33%, while the previously more common reasons of “Compensation”, “Relationship with Manager” and “Corporate Culture” all remained relatively steady. This seems to suggest that some of the current turnover is consistent with pre-COVID turnover, but that there is a large additional cohort of employees who desire relatively significant change (e.g. what we could call highway changers). This is supported by qualitative comments such as “The company was great, my manager was great, the compensation plan was great. It was just not a great fit for me. I couldn’t be who I needed to be for this job”.  This type of turnover is particularly difficult for organizations, as it is somewhat out of their control. The pandemic appears to have created an environment where some people have taken a hard look at their lives, and have chosen now to make some relatively large scale changes (this is the same explanation for the mass exodus many cities are seeing, with people fleeing to suburbs and other areas with more space) .

The final significant difference, which piggy-backs slightly off the previous point, is the proportion of employees who voluntarily terminated from their position without having another job already lined up. This figure doubled pre/post March 2020. Again, this seems to suggest that there may not be a specific reason why these employees are leaving, but rather they have simply decided that their current situation doesn’t fulfill something in their life, and as such, they desire to make a relatively significant change. Obviously many of the government supports that are currently in place to help unemployed individuals may have made such a decision slightly easier to make, nevertheless, these do seem to be relatively happy employees who are still choosing to terminate their employment.

If anything, this data reinforces the need for organizations to be in tune with their employees and to measure their engagement and satisfaction on a consistent basis. Consequently, employing tools like SMG’s Engagement Assessment and Organizational Effectiveness Survey would allow leaders to monitor the pulse of their employee population, while simultaneously getting proactive insight into the factors driving employee satisfaction. I think organizations will need to become more fluid and adaptive moving forward, and in order to do so effectively, information from employees must not only be collected, it must be valued and ultimately actioned.