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SaskTel explores web-based exit interviews to get a clearer picture about why employees leave
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/27/2007

A recent audit at Regina-based telecommunications company SaskTel revealed it wasn’t making the most of its exit interview process, a key component of its employee retention strategy. For several years, the company used a web-based survey to conduct its exit interviews to understand why employees leave one department for another or leave the company completely.

While the Lotus Notes survey tool allowed the company to access the more than 4,000 employees spread across the province, it didn’t compile or analyze the data.

“Although we were conducting exit surveys, we actually weren’t doing a lot with the information. We were gathering data but we weren’t following through and analyzing that data. Nor were we reporting back to our executive and our departmental teams on a consistent or regular basis,” said Janice Koshman, the company’s HR manager of strategic planning. “Although the Lotus Notes was working well in that it allowed us to distribute the survey quite readily, because it was online and our employees are used to using online tools, we still needed to do a lot of work on the back end once we got that data. And we simply didn’t have the time.”

SaskTel’s search for a better solution

Exit interviews are an important tool for HR, especially when trying to understand turnover rates, improve retention and identify problem areas in the organization. SaskTel understood what it was missing by not taking advantage of the information it was gathering from employees and began to look for other platforms that would help them do just that, said Koshman.

“We want to be able to get at the data quickly and easily and be able to slice and dice it from a variety of angles so we really know what we’re looking at. We want to be able to pinpoint trends or problem areas in the company so we can develop action plans to improve the workforce,” she said.

New web-based platforms, like WebEx¬it by Honolulu-based Nobscot, can provide that kind of functionality. HR can immediately access all the surveys completed and run various reports, including a summary report that identifies, among others, top five and bottom five rated departments and divisions, the five areas of work that are most and least appreciated, the top reasons for leaving and red flags such as violence, harassment and discrimination. With a single mouse click, the data can be graphed to visually demonstrate what’s working and what needs to be improved.

“The whole point of the system is to identify where the issues are,” said Beth Carvin, a former 16-year HR veteran and the chief executive officer of Nobscot. “It was all designed around what would make things easier for an HR person.”

Lightening the load for HR staff was key for SaskTel, which has been in talks with Nobscot about purchasing WebExit, but the company has yet to make a final decision, said Koshman. SaskTel has had to cut staff so initiatives that reduce the workload for remaining employees can make a big difference in employee morale.

Measuring diversity

Koshman’s staff have always monitored red flag issues manually, but ¬WebExit’s glass ceiling module, a set of questions around employment equity and diversity, really appeals to SaskTel.

“It’s intended to help us measure the success of our diversity initiatives at SaskTel,” she said. “Certainly diversity is very high on our priorities in this company. We’re making a lot of strides on the recruiting side, recruiting equity candidates, and we want to make sure that we retain those really good employees.”

Written exit interviews, including the web-based platforms, also give employers a more accurate picture of how employees really feel about the company and their work experience compared to in-person and phone interviews, said Carvin.

“When an employee is talking to a person, even if it’s a third-party person, people don’t want to be mean so it’s sometimes hard for them to say bad things so they rate things a little higher than they really feel, whereas on the computer they go to town,” she said. “When given the choice, only 30 to 35 per cent of employees choose to be anonymous…. They’re really open and honest when they don’t actually have to talk to somebody.”

Web-based platforms also have twice the response rate compared to pencil and paper surveys that are mailed to employees after they leave, she added.

Personal touch missing?

Some HR professionals might worry the web-based surveys sidestep the personal touch of a face-to-face or telephone interview. However, when given the chance to speak to an HR professional, on average only six per cent of employees surveyed with WebExit choose to do so, said Carvin.

“Most HR people think in terms of personal touch, but what we found is that, at least with exit interviews, most employees don’t really want the personal touch with HR. We think they want to talk to us, but they can do just as well without talking to us,” she said.

SaskTel has noticed this as well. Even with the Lotus Notes survey, the company always gave employees the option of scheduling a telephone or face-to-face interview, but Koshman said the majority of the company’s tech-savvy employees prefer the online version.

However, personal interviews give the interviewer the chance to probe deeper when a response indicates an employee might have something more to say, she said. For that reason, SaskTel will continue to offer employees the choice of either an online survey or a personal interview, and Koshman said she’s considering “random face-to-face interviews to keep a pulse.”

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