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Moving Employee Feedback From Anecdotal To Analytical


By Beth N. Carvin and Kerrie Main

“I was afraid I was going to kill someone,” said a pharmacy technician at a well-known healthcare organization in her online exit interview. While no HR professional wants to hear these words, how they are acted upon can turn turnover problems into employee retention.

This particular organization was using a data-driven exit interview process, so HR was able to see that this employee’s experience was part of an overall trend occurring in the pharmacy division, and that it was not an isolated event.

While some view the purpose of exit interviews as being about understanding why a particular employee is leaving the company (and sometimes to make a counteroffer), this is short-term, anecdotal, individual-focused thinking. To think analytically, exit interviews should be viewed as an opportunity to learn about the company and make changes and improvements. One way to move from anecdotal to analytical is to think about your employee feedback programs in a new light.

The Problem With Anecdotal Feedback


Anecdotal employee feedback is from the perspective of an individual employee—his or her stories with particular complaints and problems, based on his or her own perceptions and experiences with the organization. The problem with this kind of employee feedback is that it only takes into account one person’s story, which may or may not be accurate. It’s anecdotal, and HR risks jumping to conclusions and going in the wrong direction or dismissing it completely without solving it. While the feedback is often interesting, it’s too risky to base business strategies and planning on it.

Analytical employee feedback takes into account the perception of the organization as a whole and can be used to learn what can be done from an overall systemic standpoint to improve the work culture/experience. It uses all the anecdotes and examines them for trends that are occurring throughout the organization.

Rather than making decisions based on one employee’s complaints or irritations, analytical feedback allows HR to aggregate data to identify trends (and even bright spots!) with actionable information. They can see if particular issues are recurring, as well as where they are happening (i.e. divisions, departments, work locations, within an employee demographic, etc.), and then they can solve problems.

In the example organization, if HR had assumed that the pharmacy technician was just not capable of doing the job or she was just a problem employee, the bigger issue—that a number of employees were not getting proper training— would have never been solved.

The Solution


Rather than looking at each individual exit interview in a vacuum, exit interviews should be looked at as pieces of puzzle that come together to create a picture of employee turnover drivers. Exit interview data can be analyzed to identify areas of concern, trends that may be driving turnover, and what actionable items can be implemented to better the organization. The healthcare organization was able to look at all its exit data and see that many employees were leaving because they did not feel they had enough training to do their jobs well. With that information, they went to senior management with a solid case for revamping the training program.

In the past, it was challenging to make the move from anecdotal to analytical. For example, each company would collect files of individually completed exit interviews. The forward-thinking organizations would enter the results into a spreadsheet and use that to track trends. Today there is sophisticated technology designed specifically to allow employees to complete exit interviews online and have all the results available for HR to review and analysis. These exit interview management systems allow organizations to look at the numbers, identify the trends, and then use the anecdotes to highlight or illustrate the situations uncovered.

Tips For Making The Change


Organizations that want analytical employee feedback should focus on several key aspects of the exit interview process.

  1. HR should manage the employee survey process. It’s not appropriate for managers to conduct exit interviews with their resigning employees. The reasons for leaving that an employee tells a manager will be vague and not accurate. A more data-driven approach would have employees complete online exit interviews and HR analyzing the results to uncover the trends.


  2. Ask the right questions. Organizations need to use a combination of quantitative (numerically rated) and qualitative (open-ended) that will allow for trending and analysis.


  3. Set up a tracking method to easily view averages. Small companies with low turnover rates can use something as simple as a spreadsheet, while larger organizations and those with high-turnover positions like tellers, call centers or nurses, should use an exit interview management system.


  4. Have a methodology to view and aggregate the data. Use internal benchmarks to identify areas that are above and below the average. Look at higher-than-average areas to see what divisions/departments are doing well and replicate the success in other areas. Look for the lower rated areas to identify problems.


  5. HR must make time to look at the gathered data – having analytical information won’t be of much help if it’s not used!
The healthcare organization was able to solve their retention problem because they looked at their turnover drivers from an analytical perspective. While their issue was truly a “life or death” matter, every organization can benefit from moving their own employee feedback from anecdotal to analytical. This type of approach is where art and science come together, and HR has the opportunity to find that perfect balance between the two.

Originally published on HR.BLR.com on June 17, 2013: link

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