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Doing More Stay Interviews Now Means Fewer Exit Interviews Later

Today’s job market is volatile. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021. Around the same time, there were just over 11 million open positions. If your organization has higher than average staff turnover, it's important to discover the reasons for their departures so you can develop proactive solutions. Employees are a good source of these insights and stay interviews effectively gather them.


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What Is A Stay Interview?

The past 18 months have required businesses of all sizes to learn to navigate unprecedented labor situations. Due to the pandemic, some organizations are transitioning to remote work, while others have been unable to do so. Companies with in-person employees are shouldering the responsibility of creating safe and productive workplaces while simultaneously managing employee concerns over COVID.


But the pandemic isn’t the only friction point. Some employees have taken this time to reassess what’s important to them. If their current situation doesn’t align with their life goals, they may decide that now is the time to exit.


If employers don’t stay tuned in to these concerns, they are unlikely to see the impending yet possibly preventable resignations on the horizon.


So how do they do that? How can employers get clued in? Short answer – conduct stay interviews. Unlike job interviews that filter skills, experience, and fit, stay interviews are more conceptual. The manager’s goal is to inquire about how the employee is faring in the current work environment, including any challenges or concerns and opportunities for upward mobility. Understanding the “stay factors” is essential to retaining your existing workforce.


Losing an employee is expensive, both to your finances and your reputation. Being proactive here is to your benefit.



Stay Interviews and Employee Retention Strategy


To be universally beneficial, stay interviews should be baked into your overarching employee retention strategy. The time to reach out to employees isn’t when they’ve missed a deadline or called in “sick” three days in a row. Stay plugged in, and it can be in the most unsuspecting ways.


In a previous Talent Leader episode, Sherry Deutschmann, Founder of BrainTrust, and formerly LetterLogic, discussed “Lunch with Lucy.” She regularly treated employees to lunch to build a company culture of empathy, understanding, and support. These “stay interviews” weren’t performance reviews but opportunities for employees to share what’s going on in their lives. Perhaps they were buying a home or sending a child to college. Or they would share the challenges they were having at work or how they’d like to move up in the company but don’t see their path forward. By understanding what was important to her employees and giving them a safe space to be heard, she created a company culture with low employee attrition and morale.


Please note, the lunches were not called “stay interviews.” Sherry branded the lunches, including creating a fictitious persona named Lucy.

Once you hear from your employees, be sure to act on the information.


Keep Performance Interviews Separate


The purpose of a stay interview is to find out what makes an employee stay with your company, not to discuss how the employee is doing in their role. Conduct stay interviews separately from performance reviews because they have different objectives.


During a performance review, individuals are assessed on the execution of job duties, discuss pay and career next steps. The objective of the stay interview, on the other hand, is to re-engage, communicate, and build camaraderie with an employee. If you mix the two, you run the risk of confusing your employee on the reason for the conversation.


When conducting a stay interview, some example questions include:

  • What do you look forward to when you come to work every day?

  • If you could change something about your job, what would that be?

  • What can I (manager) do to better support you?


When conducting a performance review, some example questions include:

  • How often do you miss deadlines, and why are you missing them?

  • Describe a mistake you made and what you did to correct it?

  • What goals have you set for yourself, did you achieve them, and how?

As you can see, the tone and tenor of the questions are different and best discussed at separate times.


Final Word


For employers, these are indeed unprecedented times. One way to weather the storm is to build and retain a team of key individuals who believe in your organization's work and want to be a part of its success.


Stay interviews are an exception tool to add to the retention strategy toolbox. Providing employees a safe space to share hopes, dreams, and concerns promotes healthy dialogue and give employers insights to improve the work experience.

Also important as gaining insights during the stay interviews is showing gratitude. Saying “thank you” then following up with action shows staff that as an employer, you are as committed to their success as you are to the company’s success. That level of support is hard to walk away from.


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