Why every organization needs to conduct “stay interviews”

For many, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant 14-months working from home trying to navigate Zoom, little-to-no work/life balance, and still meeting the demands of the job. While this has been a challenge, a new reality has also risen. Employees are finding new jobs that may offer new benefits like more pay, more work/life balance once things further return to “normal,” or a permanent work-from-home arrangement.

With this churn in the workforce, employers need to figure out what keeps current employees happy to avoid attrition, lost productivity, and low engagement. While engagement surveys can be an easy step to gain all employee feedback, employers may feel overwhelmed with the amount of feedback they receive and what to do with it.

To help streamline efforts and to focus on the people that matter to the organization and its future, the “Stay Interview” is a key tool that HR leaders should be using and encouraging organizational leaders to do the same especially with high performers, top talent, and successors.

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What is a stay interview?

The “Stay Interview” is an opportunity for the manager to take time to talk to their team members 1:1 about what keeps them happy, motivated, and engaged at work. It’s separate from a performance and development conversation as the manager, or HR leader, asks the employee specifically about what they want and what they need. It’s a time to listen.

We make assumptions about what keeps people happy within their roles, but the “Stay Interview” enables us to address those assumptions specifically. Equally important, it creates an opportunity to pivot if we’re incorrect and ensure that we’re giving top employees what they need to stay and to keep performing.

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While it may be awkward to have this conversation, it should be viewed as a positive step. It means that the organization and its leadership are taking the time to listen to what top employees want and an opportunity for the organization to proactively make a plan to meet their needs.

Select key interviewees and schedule meetings

As “Stay Interviews” are time-consuming, HR may want to review who the top talent is across the organization and provide recommendations on who should be prioritized. If HR is not involved, managers can still complete this exercise with their team members whether it be all, if they lead a small team, or just a select few who they see as critical to the business.

After designating the interviewee pool, schedule the interview. Give the interviewee, the employee, context on what the intent of the conversation is when scheduling it. Ensure they know it’s a good thing, as unexpected meetings with little context can cause concern and anxiety — the opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish here.

Schedule ample time. “Stay Interviews” are a time for HR and leaders to listen to what employees want. These should not be rushed through, so scheduling an hour assures plenty of time. You may not use it all, but setting the time aside sends the message that these people matter and you have the time to give them.

You may even want to send the questions ahead of time to give the employee a chance to review and consider their answers. You want this to be a meaningful dialog, so give them the opportunity to prepare properly.

Conducting a stay interview

During the interview, leave the laptop and phone somewhere else. These conversations should be casual and open. Come ready to listen, but do plan to take notes.

You may be unsure of what to ask. Consider the prompts below and feel free to ask employees to share more. Also, consider what you can realistically do with the information that you receive as that may impact what you ask. You don’t want to give false hope, but some of that information may also be used to sway others on changing policies, rewards, and benefits to retain talent.

For example, if you have a CEO who doesn’t agree with people working from home regularly, you may decide to stay away from questions that address that topic directly as it relates to balance. But, this could be the perfect opportunity to get feedback to share upwards to defend the case of a work-from-home policy as not having one may result in losing key people.

Sample questions include:

  1. Tell me about a “great day” at work recently. What were you doing and what made it “great”?
  2. What could we do more of / less of / same of to keep you engaged in your role?
  3. What could I do as your manager more of / less of / same of to keep you engaged in your role?
  4. If a recruiter called you from another company, what would tempt you to leave and why?
  5. Where are there barriers in your role and in your work that you think could be removed?
  6. Why do you stay here? What else would keep you here?

After collecting answers to these questions, HR and managers can use this feedback in various ways. HR can use it to make larger recommendations to senior leadership on ways to keep top talent while managers can use the feedback to pivot their style or support their teams while finding ways to give the employee what they are asking for.

While the “Stay Interview” may be new for some, it should be a key part of any organization’s people management toolkit. It provides HR and organizational leaders with critical feedback that can be used to keep talent happy and show employees that the organization cares about them.