It’s a Friday afternoon, and you are just about to leave work for the weekend when one of your most valued employees knocks on your office door to ask to speak to you. You see a piece of paper in their hand, and in that moment, you know what is about to happen. Your assumption was right. Your employee just submitted their notice of resignation, and you are in complete shock. As their final day is coming to an end, you conduct an exit interview to ultimately see why they are leaving the organization.
What if I told you that there was a way you could have prevented this employee’s resignation, and the key to them staying was really simple? The solution is called a stay interview.
Stay interviews can be more valuable than exit interviews because they are interviews, conducted by managers with their employees, to understand why they continue to work for the organization and what might cause them to leave. According to Susan Heathfield, “At the exit interview, it’s too late to identify and solve the problems or help your exiting employee accomplish the goals he or she is leaving to obtain” (Heathfield, 2018). Although the concept of the stay interview may mirror that of the exit interview, this method is used to retain and motivate employees.
Conducting stay interviews with employees is a great opportunity to build trust and open communication. It can also gauge a sense of engagement and satisfaction. Bill Conerly stated, “Hard data proved the top reason employees quit is they do not trust their managers. Stay interviews are the absolute best trust-building activity…and therefore the best retention tool” (Conerly, 2018). However, in order for this concept to work, there must be buy-in from senior management because employees will expect a positive outcome from their interview. Otherwise, the trust gained from these meetings will quickly dissipate.
The interview should be conducted by the employee’s manager, not the Human Resources representative. Again, the key is to develop a strong working relationship between the employees and their manager. It is important to note that the interview should not happen around annual reviews, so the employee will not correlate this meeting with their performance. The questions should be provided to the employee in advance, so that they can prepare their responses. To ensure a successful discussion, “The manager may jot notes during the meeting, but the focus of a stay interview should be on the conversation. The manager should actively listen and engage the employee in an open-ended conversation” (Heathfield, 2018).
Once all of the meetings have concluded, the leadership team should debrief and review the data collected from the interviews. Managers should be looking for patterns across the organization and share ideas that employees suggested. Remember, employees will expect a follow up from their meetings. Find a small overarching concern across all departments and implement an action plan. For example, employees may have expressed the desire for casual dress days. The company could test out casual Fridays. This is an inexpensive solution and will increase employee morale. For the more complex concerns, pick one or two to work on at a time, and create a long-term action plan. Again, follow-up with employees on what the company has decided to work on and the steps they are going to take to get there.
While you cannot fix every problem an employee has, or you may not agree with what they constitute as an issue, employees want to feel heard and understood. After conducting effective regular stay interviews, your organization should see an impact on employee morale and ultimately an increased retention rate.
For sample stay interview questions, adapted from Rebecca Reott’s presentation ‘Get Them To Stay,’ please click here.