Anita listens carefully as Alex talks about the professional development opportunities that await at his new company. She can’t believe she is actually having this conversation with this valued employee. As a human resources representative, Anita is well aware of The Great Resignation, but Alex has been a standout at the organization from the day she led his onboarding session seven years ago. He goes on to mention that he loves the interest the new employer shows in his career. With so much focus on new hires lately, he says he has felt rather invisible in his current role.
Anita nods and writes down what he says. Silently, she fumes that these issues never came out sooner. The organization could have taken steps to give Alex new opportunities and proper recognition. Exit interviews like this are worthy, she reasons, but gathering employee feedback in enough time to potentially keep a high-performing worker from leaving would be much better. Anita believes her employer needs to conduct stay interviews, and the sooner the better.
What is a stay interview?
A stay interview (sometimes called a retention interview) is a one-on-one meeting between an employer and an individual employee to gain insight into what makes the worker stay at his or her position and what might entice the person to seek employment elsewhere. What motivates this valuable employee to come to work each day? What changes would lead to greater job satisfaction? Answers help with the retention of top talent by identifying specific actions the organization could take to strengthen an individual’s employee experience.
Like an exit interview — which companies perform when an employee leaves — a stay interview is an important informational tool. Both provide clues as to why someone departs or remains. However, the timing of a stay interview proves beneficial because it allows employers to be proactive. Exit interviews assist with making changes that may improve the work environment and reduce employee turnover down the line, but they are rather “too little too late” when someone is already headed out the door.
“Ultimately, stay interviews can help organizations identify and address potential issues before they become reasons for employees to leave,” says Melissa Terry, CFA at VEM Tooling. “By listening to their employees’ feedback and making changes, companies can improve retention rates, enhance employee engagement and productivity, and create a positive work environment.”
While employee surveys provide feedback from all team members, companies usually reserve stay interviews for specific individuals. They typically choose exceptional workers and others who the organization worries most about losing. Some places also conduct stay interviews with new employees after six to eight months as part of their onboarding process to see how things are going before that critical one-year work anniversary.
“The value of stay interviews lies in their ability to help us retain our top talent,” says Shirley Borg, head of human resources at Energy Casino. “By conducting these interviews, we are showing our employees that we value their contributions and are committed to their growth and development. Additionally, we are able to identify any issues or concerns before they become major problems that could lead to an employee leaving.”
Just as no set rules exist about who to invite for a stay interview, employers also determine the frequency as they see fit. If the company does yearly performance reviews, it may want to do stay interviews on the half year. This timing offers another point of conversation away from the annual review. In today’s tight and ever-changing labor market, many experts recommend increasing the number of stay interviews conducted with each chosen employee to catch potential issues faster.
What goes on in a stay interview?
Most frequently, the employee’s manager hosts the stay interview since this leader knows the person well. If, however, concerns exist about this relationship or about how honest the worker’s responses to this person will be, someone else can handle the interview. This substitute might be a skip-level manager, an HR representative, a member of the organizational development department, or an outside consultant.
Schedule a stay interview in advance rather than springing it on someone unexpectedly. This action allows for thoughtful reflection beforehand. Budget roughly 20-30 minutes. The exact length will vary by how much the employee brings up during the meeting.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) suggests opening a stay interview with a statement such as, “I would like to talk with you about the reasons you stay with (Company Name) so I understand what I might be able to do to make this a great place to work for you.” Let the person know you want him to speak freely without fear of retaliation or judgment. Also, clarify that this meeting is a conversation and not at all a performance review.
Using a template can keep the dialogue flowing and ensure areas the company wants covered get addressed. The template often contains open-ended questions, which tend to solicit more valuable feedback than those of the yes-no variety. (Asking “Are you happy working here?” yields less meatier info than asking “What elements of our company culture make you most happy?”)
Stay interview questions vary by organization. Frequently covered subjects may include:
Professional development desires.
Scheduling, including flexibility and remote work.
Utilization (or under-utilization) of skills.
The best part of the job.
The worst part of the job.
A thing the person would change about the job.
Ideas to increase job satisfaction.
Accomplishments of which person is most proud.
Things that would make the person consider leaving the company.
“By asking these types of questions, I gain a better understanding of what motivates my employees and what challenges they may be facing,” says Kamyar K.S., Fractional Chief Operating Officer and established business consultant. “This information helps me to make necessary changes and improvements to the workplace, which ultimately leads to higher employee satisfaction and retention. Moreover, conducting stay interviews demonstrates a genuine interest in employees’ well-being and career growth. It sends a message that the company values their contributions and is committed to creating a positive work environment.”
During a stay interview, the interviewer should listen more than talk and try to stay conversational rather than formal. The interviewee should leave the discussion feeling good that the organization recognizes and appreciates her efforts and loyalty. The person also should know that the company is open to making changes that would bring more job satisfaction.
At the interview’s end, thank the employee for his time. Confirm that comments will be taken seriously, but avoid over-promising. Jot notes to remember what was said.
Follow-up after a stay interview
Don’t gather information during a stay interview only to let it collect dust. As Saj Munir, founder of Chorlton Fireworks notes, “Stay interviews show employees your concern for their experience and that you want them to work for you for a very long time. But, while these retention discussions might be encouraging for morale, if you don’t act on their suggestions, that trust could be lost. Maintaining the momentum of your dialogue and making sure your top talent is pleased may be done by acting promptly on an employee’s feedback and keeping them informed of the status of longer-term adjustments.”
With a better handle now on this valuable employee, take action to boost the odds of retention. Based on what you heard, what could be done to improve employee satisfaction? For instance, say someone had done a stay interview with Alex from the opening. Learning about his desire for career development, plans could have been enacted to enroll him in an online course, let him represent the company at a conference, or choose him to mentor a new hire. Knowing that he felt underappreciated, the company could have looked at his stated preferred ways of being recognized and demonstrated thanks more often.
Sometimes, the stay interview leads to the conclusion that everything is “fine.” Don’t take that great news for granted. Think about the factors this person says keep her staying with the company. Work to maintain and even strengthen those things. If, say, opportunities to take on “stretch” projects motivate this employee, make a point of offering them.
Effective stay interviews generate more than just information on the respondents. They offer insight that the company can apply to improve employee retention rates in general. Perhaps several employees mention in their stay interview that the company’s outstanding medical insurance plan is a draw for them. Leaders looking at budgetary cuts would want to avoid touching this benefit.
Similarly, knowing what encourages current employees to stay helps in figuring out how to promote the company to job candidates. If top performers routinely mention paid time off to perform volunteer work as one of their favorite things, chances are good that new talent may find that attractive, too.
Lastly, note that stay interviews may end up helping with retention in a somewhat unexpected way – building trust. Knowing that the employer has sought out information in the past on what makes this company a great place at which to work, an unhappy worker may feel comfortable bringing up problems as they arise. Voluntarily giving this heads-up at a time outside of a stay interview or performance review allows for addressing the situation quickly. And most employers would rather do that than watch a valuable employee head out the door.