Most employers have heard of the concept of exit interviews where a representative of the organization meets with an employee who is leaving the organization to talk through issues such as employee benefits, conversion privileges, repayment of any debts, and to listen as the employee voices suggestions and complaints. In a way, exit interviews that have generated information that is used to help other current employees has been viewed to be proactive, but too often this information is filed in a personnel file and never thought about again.
In recent years, many employers have begun to think differently. Instead of waiting until employees resign, they are conducting stay interviews to be truly proactive in listening to current employees. The goal is to enhance employee retention. After all, wouldn’t keeping good employees be better than trying to find good employees? Stay interviews are based on the concept of “re-recruiting”. Think for a moment of all the steps involved in the recruiting process, especially during this season of the great resignation. Employers build their brands so they can be “employers of choice”, which signifies a great workplace culture and environment. The organizational strategy is to attract and retain the best employees. With the scarcity of qualified candidates, a lot of time and energy is spent attracting candidates, and future employees are courted and treated extremely well in the process. Unfortunately, after an employee is hired and after the “honeymoon” phase where they are treated well by their manager and co-workers, employees often face the question of whether the real workplace environment and culture lives up to their expectations. The goal of re-recruiting is to focus on current employees to reduce turnover and one of the best places to start the process is with stay interviews. Stay interviews help the organization by providing information to management on the culture, the environment, work concerns, and possible workplace issues that employees may feel strongly about, such as communication, work/life balance, or the desire for more creative benefits and perks, such as flexible work arrangements.
According to the 2022 Ultimate Hiring Guide for Retention and Reducing Turnover from the software company, Journeyfront Inc., general life and career satisfaction have the greatest impact for employee turnover in the workplace. Stay interviews help employers know what is important to employees in order to provide the benefits employees need for general life and career satisfaction. They also help employers understand other drivers of turnover, including employees’ coping abilities, organizational commitment, job fit, job satisfaction, engagement or lack of engagement, stress/exhaustion levels, work/life conflict, and emotional stability. (https://www.journeyfront.com/the-ultimate-hiring-guide-for-reducing-turnover).
While regular recurring two-way communication between managers and their employees is important, stay interviews provide managers a targeted method of listening and learning through a structured series of questions in a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere. Stay interviews give an opportunity for employees to be heard and provide an avenue for managers to know how to help them with difficulties they have and with career development. Stay interviews are also a tool for HR managers as they provide coaching for managers on why employees stay, why they leave, and how to manage employees while providing motivation to stay. Most importantly, stay interviews provide a window into whether employees are happy and connected into the work and culture of the organization. As such, they provide the opportunity to enhance employee engagement.
Stay interviews may be conducted by HR personnel, however, there is often a greater benefit for managers to lead these conversations, if a manager has been trained in leading interviews. Done well, stay interviews provide the opportunity to build communication, trust, and positive relationships between managers and their employees. Below are a few “must-do’s” for those conducting stay interviews:
- Schedule the stay interview in advance and not during a time where the employee is stressed to complete a task or project.
- When scheduling the interview, give the employee the reason for it so the employee has an opportunity to think about what they want to say prior to the interview.
- Make sure the employee knows they are valued and appreciated before, during, and after the interview.
- Make sure employees feel they can reveal their feelings without any type of punishment or retaliation.
- Avoid performance-related and compensation-related questions. Remember that a stay interview should not be done as a part of a performance evaluation or when there is an issue with an employee’s performance.
- Avoid “yes” and “no” questions during the interview. Instead ask questions that begin with the words “what”, “why”, and “how” to bring about more thoughtful and helpful responses from the employee.
- Don’t be scared of a bit of silence and don’t fill that silence with talking. Some employees need to process through the questions and think through their answers before responding.
- Even if a manager doesn’t agree with what the employee says, keep in mind that what the employee is sharing their opinions based on their perception. A stay interview is not the time to verbally spar or argue. Instead, accept the information and value both their transparency and their opinion.
- Take notes during the interview in order to be able to follow up with action items afterwards.
- Remember, the goal of the stay interview is to build a relationship that involves trust, not just check the boxes by getting answers to questions that are asked.
Sample questions during a stay interview may include:
- What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?
- What do you like most about your work or about the organization?
- What do you like least about your work or about the organization?
- Why do you stay with this organization?
- What things at the organization motivate you in your work?
- Which of your skills, knowledge, and talents are being used in your work? Which aren’t?
- What could be done to make you more satisfied with your work and with the organization?
- What is the best way to recognize you for your work?
- How can I best support you in your work?
Once a stay interview is complete, managers should be sure to follow up with the employee to thank them, affirm that the information they shared is valued, and give a glimpse of what they plan to do next about the information the employee shared.
Managers should remember that stay interviews are not a “one and done” event. While formal stay interviews may happen less often, managers should remember that they need to check in on employees regularly, making sure that nothing is bubbling under the surface and ensuring that employees continually feel valued.
Finally, stay interviews that are done well may greatly benefit employees, managers, and the organization as a whole. However, before deciding to complete stay interviews, employers should assess whether stay interviews are a right next step for their organization. Is the organization at a place where employees will be open and honest because they are not afraid of retaliation if they share their feelings? Is the organization really open to making potential changes from the information that employees provided during stay interviews? If “no” was the answer to either of these questions, stay interviews could be more harmful than helpful.
For additional information on stay interviews, please contact us at www.NewFocusHR.com.
Written By: Kathi Walker, SHRM-SCP, PHR
Sr. HR Consultant
April 4, 2022