Very often companies wait until employees exit to ask about their experiences – what worked, what didn’t, did they have adequate learning opportunities, how often did they receive feedback, etc.

Although exit interviews and surveys are valuable, it’s often too late in the game to have a meaningful intervention on that employee’s experience, particularly for those who are a regrettable loss. Many companies are then left thinking, “what if we were able to intervene, could we have retained that employee?”

To complement the retrospective approach that an exit interview and survey take, many companies are opting to make more use of ‘stay interviews’. A stay interview is a more proactive intervention that helps managers and companies get ahead of retention issues, enhance internal talent pipelines, and provides great insight into global areas for improvement as a company.

What is a Stay Interview?

A stay interview is a structured conversation meant to help managers understand what is important to an employee.  It’s an individualized conversation, not one to be had in a team meeting format, to get ahead of potential retention issues.

It’s a technique that helps build trust with employees, gathers perspective on their experience, what works, what doesn’t, identifies their motivations for staying with the organization, etc. Connecting with employees in this way creates a meaningful exchange that is personalized to the employee while providing keen insights back to managers about what makes worklife most significant to them.

To be effective, stay interviews should be focused, tailored to the employee, and an open, candid dialogue. It’s about asking questions and listening, with a commitment to follow-up. Like any other feedback or communication mechanism, employees will expect to see changes as a result of these conversations.  Don’t conduct them unless you are ready to commit to action.

Lastly, be mindful of your company’s orientation to feedback and communication.  If there are trust issues, or if the culture is not one based on candid feedback, this technique will unlikely yield meaningful information.

How Should Stay Interviews Be Used?

As noted, these should be targeted conversations with individual employees.  Integration of stay interviews into your cadence with your team is crucial, as it can be substituted for any one-on-one conversation. They should be deployed often enough to keep a pulse, but not so often that you ignore other important performance and development conversations with your team members. Twice per year helps this technique to be more effective, while leaving time and space for other important discussions.

Very often, this type of conversation is geared toward top performing talent and solid contributors.  Retention amongst this employee segment is of utmost importance to companies given their contributions to the business, and the increased cost of replacing higher performing talent. What is important to keep in mind is how to structure the conversation based on each employee.

What Should I Ask in a Stay Interview?

The focus of a stay interview is to thwart turnover, especially regrettable turnover. Therefore, you want to dig deep into motivation and values, go beyond just pain points and issues, as important as they may be for finding quick wins to improve the experience.

Don’t fear what you might hear from your employees either.  Be candid about what you can and can’t provide, listen thoroughly to their feedback.  Express your support and be genuine in your commitment to explore options and follow-up. Here are a set of powerful, baseline questions to incorporate into any stay interview:

  • Which aspects of your job make you eager to come to work each day? Which aspects do you not look forward to?
  • How well do you believe your talents are being utilized? What skills do you possess that you feel aren’t being utilized?
  • What makes for a great day at work? What is it that keeps you motivated?
  • What are you learning? What is something new you would like to learn this year?
  • What are you career aspirations? How are we doing in helping you accomplish them here?
  • Have you ever thought about leaving the company? If so, what caused you to consider leaving? Why did you decide to stay?
  • What are the biggest challenges you face? Is there anything you’d like to change about your job? Are there things you would like to change about your team or department?
  • What type of feedback would you like to receive about your performance that you are not receiving now? From me? From coworkers?
  • Do you feel we recognize you? If no, what kind of recognition would be meaningful for you?
  • What can I do better or differently as your manager?

Though not a mainstay practice yet in most companies, stay interviews are gaining momentum in organizations.  Less common is a stay or retention survey, though there are many instances where surveying a broader population of employees around stay intentions can prove useful. In companies where open and ongoing feedback aren’t integral to the culture, a stay survey may be a great approach to build up a culture of feedback.  You can gather confidential insights, which can help build trust across the employee base, as long as follow-up communication and action are taken.

From a broader talent management view, there are important initiatives that could be more informed with greater intelligence about intention to stay and it may surface new opportunities for proactive intervention. Let’s consider a few examples:

  • Company A recently completed their talent review process, and realizes that there is a host of new individuals considered Rising Stars in the company. This may be one population of individuals where tapping into their experience early on can ensure that these early identified future leaders stay engaged, longer-term.
  • Company B recently received results from their employee survey which indicated that the cohort of employees with two years of tenure or less have fairly low engagement scores and their intentions to stay are low. This is a sign of early turnover and a good time to intervene with a targeted follow-up survey.
  • Company C has long-standing issues with first year turnover in their Operations group. The company already deploys onboarding surveys for all new employees at month six and one year of tenure, as well as a suite of integration tools to best support managers and new employees. However, to gain even more intelligence about the Operations group, the company decides to deploy a survey supplement to the onboarding survey focused specifically on “stay” type questions.

The questions you would include in a stay survey would be different from those in a stay interview. Stay interviews are predicated on open dialogue, therefore, more open-ended questions are posed. In a survey, both from a best practice and user experience perspective, it’s important to construct the survey in a way that is easy to navigate and engage in.  You can take the concepts explored in a stay interview and craft closed-ended, Likert scale items, with the ability to branch open-ended items to obtain rich examples of what works, what doesn’t and how to improve.

Turnover is incredibly costly both monetarily and from the standpoint of disruption to team dynamics and ‘brain drain’ to the company.  More so, recruitment is much more costly than the ability of a company to retain its talent. Don’t wait for great talent to leave to learn what could have been done to make a difference in their work life.  Enhance your employee value proposition by leveraging stay interviews and consider how, when, and why a stay survey may be another meaningful touch point in your employee’s lifecycle.

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