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Listen to employees’ questions to stop their exits

Can you hear me now? Companies that listen to – and really hear – employees’ questions are more likely to avoid costly replacement hiring and onboarding.

4 min read


Listen to employees’ questions to stop their exits

Nick Fewings/Unsplash

Want to know why some employees are exiting and how keep more employees on board? Truly listen to your employees.

Job resignations have increased by 23% over pre-pandemic levels, according to Daniel Zhao of Glassdoor. Many potential employees are either unable to pursue a position due to child care and other life logistics, while others — to quote that great employment prognosticator Meatloaf — have moved from “I would do anything …” to “… but I won’t do that.”

Listening to employees’ questions and concerns may help prevent their exits and the related costs. What matters most to employees? It’s different for every person.

A Netflix employee asks a question

Michael Lin loved the first 1.5 years of his career as a senior software engineer in Netflix’s growth division. The company’s open culture, which gave Lin the freedom to ask questions and find the answers, was a 180-degree departure from his previous employers. 

The memos for every product decision were available for all employees to read. It was like getting paid to do an MBA,” writes Lin in a blog post

As time passed, Lin’s learning had reached a plateau, and he was interested in a lateral transfer to product management. Lin spent two years trying to make it happen: Netflix gave him exposure to the product management team through various partnership opportunities. But he ultimately realized that a full-fledged lateral career move would never happen. 

The employer didn’t truly listen

“I thought if I just tried harder, I would eventually get the job,” writes Lin, but “Netflix doesn’t have a process in place to support horizontal role changes like this.” 

He said he’d “never seen an engineer successfully transition” to the company’s product management department.

Lin ultimately negotiated a severance package and struck out on his own, providing consulting, training and coaching. 

Pixar employee asks several questions 

Lindsey Collins, who most recently produced the film “Turning Red” for Pixar Animation Studios, began working for Pixar a quarter of a century ago. 

She had always worked in traditional animation, so her transition to computer-generated animation thrust her into unfamiliar ground. 

“I would just write down questions,” Collins says in the “Embrace the Panda: Making Turning Red” video. “Is the render farm [a system that produces computer-generated imagery] a zoo?” she would ask. She learned that a “cookie” in the CGI world does not come in flavors of chocolate chip and sugar; it’s a tech term.

The employer truly listened

Collins progressed from being the lighting manager of “A Bug’s Life” in 1998 to co-producing “WALL*E” (2008), then producing “Finding Dory” (2016) and “Turning Red” (2022). 

“One of the things I love most about Pixar is that I’m still asking questions, with the same amount of freedom and safety as the first day I got here,” Collins notes.

Hear what they need; don’t just explain what you can do

Employers shouldn’t oversimplify these stories by concluding that Lin left solely because his questions about a lateral transfer went unfulfilled or that Collins stayed because she finds the spirit of inquiry alive and well at Pixar. Listening to employees’ questions is nuanced, but if an employer doesn’t act on those needs, other companies will. 

Competition is fierce for employees as the Great Resignation pervades the workforce. It’s costly to recruit, hire, onboard and retain new workers, especially when the veteran worker they’re replacing was consistent and had average to above average performance. Find ways to keep current workers on board — really listen to employees’ questions — if you want to avoid employee exits. 

This is a good time to check in to make sure your individual managers are listening and that your C-suite is equipping them to a) be receptive to questions and b) act on what they learn.

Paula Kiger is the vice president of special projects at Digimentors, a social media consultancy. She was previously the nonprofit sector editor at SmartBrief. You can find her at her blog Big Green Pen, on Instagram, at LinkedIn and on Twitter.


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