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Boost productivity and talent retention with regular check-ins

Having to backfill a role when an employee quits is not only expensive, but a high rate of employee turnover can also affect team morale and performance. A team that repeatedly brings on new hires spends time and resources onboarding and training that could be spent supporting current employees and enhancing their productivity.

Successful organizations, however, are finding that a key tool for employee retention is the stay interview.

These companies recognize that their best talent has choices. These employees are highly skilled in their roles and have a deep understanding of their industry and the company’s products and services. Stay interviews are a great way to ensure they choose to remain with their company rather than leave for a competitor.

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What Is a Stay Interview?

The stay interview is a semi-structured conversation, usually between a manager and each of the manager’s direct reports. It provides an opportunity for the employee to express how their current role makes them want to stay, how they would like to advance at the company, and what opportunities outside the organization could entice them to leave. The discussions evolve into action plans to ensure the employee remains engaged, enriched, and growing.

The stay interview is distinguished from other types of employee conversations, such as the one-on-one, annual and bi-annual reviews, and the exit interview. The stay interview should always take place separately from one-on-ones and annual reviews, and can be scheduled one to two times per year.

One-on-ones and reviews are similar to the stay interview in that they’re employee-focused, but stay interviews aren’t tied to an employee’s ongoing projects or performance. At the one-on-one, you’re checking where the employee is on certain projects, and annual reviews are more about the benchmarks that show how the employee has performed through the year.

There’s also a distinction in the balance of who drives the conversations in each of these types of meetings. Where the one-on-one or review may be more equally balanced between the manager and employee, the discussion in a stay interview is driven primarily by the employee. The manager asks questions, listens, and asks more questions. The intent of the stay interview is primarily to listen and gather information for an action plan that works for the employee.

One-on-ones and reviews are about how the employee is delivering on their performance for the organization. But the stay interview is about how the organization is delivering for the employee.

There are similarities between the stay interview and the exit interview as well. Like the stay interview, the exit interview provides useful feedback on an employee’s experience with the organization. It does not, however, provide the most opportune moment to retain talent. The stay interview is a much more gradual and long-term solution that allows people managers to assess where a company’s culture is excelling and where opportunities for improvement exist. Exit interviews benefit the company, while stay interviews benefit both the employee and the company.  

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Stay Interviews Boost Employee Retention

The relationship between a manager and an employee is one of the most influential factors in an employee’s job satisfaction. McKinsey’s 2022 Great Attrition, Great Attraction 2.0 survey cites “uncaring and uninspiring leaders” as one of the top three reasons people leave their jobs.

“In our client organizations at The Diversity Movement, one of the things we’ve seen […] is that an employee’s relationship with their manager has a direct link to retention,” says Donald Thompson, Co-Founder and CEO of The Diversity Movement. The stay interview is a highly effective way to establish, build, and maintain a relationship of trust between an employee and a manager. It helps create a space for psychological safety, which enables a manager and employee to drive deeper, more meaningful engagement.

When an employee feels free to speak candidly about their experience, an organization has an opportunity to learn what benefits, perks, and parts of the culture will help them retain their employees. These conversations can also reveal pain points and common themes within a team or within the organization.

The beauty of the stay interview is that the knowledge gained can be applied to plans specifically for individuals, or it can be applied to create change on the team level or even organizationally.

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Conduct an Effective Stay Interview

Try to plan stay interviews when both parties are onsite and can meet face-to-face. If one or both of the parties work remotely, the person conducting the interview should have their camera on and encourage the employee to do the same. Using a pen and paper to take notes rather than taking notes on a computer is another way to evoke a relaxed environment.

Ideally, the stay interview should be conducted by the employee’s direct manager. In a psychologically safe environment, the manager is the person who has the closest rapport with the employee. However, the interview can be equally effective when implemented by someone from the Human Resources team. When determining who will perform the interviews, consider factors relevant to your company such as the size of your workforce or where your managers are in their leadership journeys.

The person conducting the interview should follow an 80/20 rule: The employee should be doing about 80 percent of the talking, and the person interviewing should limit their talking to about 20 percent of the conversation. The primary role of the interviewer is to keep the conversation moving with questions and follow-up comments that take the conversation deeper. Focus on building trust, listening, and understanding.

Some managers may be nervous about performing stay interviews because they fear that what an employee needs or wants lies outside their control. But the goal of the interview isn’t necessarily to meet every request or resolve every issue; it’s to establish a dialogue that empowers the employee to discuss their values and goals. The employee should walk away from the stay interview feeling heard.

It’s also vital that the person conducting the interview be ready and open to hear some difficult feedback. This is essential for maintaining a psychologically safe space where an employee can feel free to speak respectfully about their experiences and concerns without fear of repercussions or retaliation. 

Managers can prepare for these interviews by seeking advice or reading tips on navigating difficult conversations.

Ultimately, allowing an employee to voice concern or dissent helps an organization to innovate. It helps to push the company further in their creativity and their way of thinking. People managers  have to be humble, not react in a defensive manner, and know that any hard feedback they receive is a starting place to build a conversation. 

Questions to Start the Conversation

Female University Or College Student Having Individual Meeting With Tutor Or Counsellor

The conversation in a stay interview can be somewhat fluid. The important thing is to guide the conversation in such a way that makes the employee feel comfortable and confident about talking about their experiences and concerns. If an employee works in one line of business but has an interest in growing into another, this is the environment in which they should feel free to express those ambitions. If they witness exclusionary behavior being normalized in their work environment, the interviews exist as a safe space to give voice to those feelings and concerns.

As a starting point, the interviewer can use the following sample questions, which were compiled by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). These questions have been researched and found to be reliable and valid across multiple industries and organizations. They’re designed to help understand why employees stay, and what an organization’s culture looks and feels like from the perspective of the employee.

  1.  What do you look forward to on your commute to work?
  2.  What are you learning here, and what do you want to learn?
  3. Why do you stay here?
  4. When was the last time you thought about leaving us, and what prompted it?
  5. What can I do to make your job better for you?

After the Stay Interview

After the interview is over, it’s vital that managers follow up with the employee. Some, but not all, stay interviews will spark specific actions. 

If that is the case, organize the information into a spreadsheet to determine a course of action on the individual level, as well as analyze the feedback for patterns that need to be addressed at the team or organizational level. If multiple interviews reveal the same concerns about a team or the organization, the issue should be dug into more deeply. 

A commitment to action following each stay interview is essential in continuing trust-building efforts. A stay plan should be shared with the employee, along with any follow-up communication, within two weeks of the interview.

The stay plan is a course of action co-created by the manager (or HR) and the employee. It’s an extension of the conversation that provides concrete steps, which are assigned to the interviewer and the employee. The stay plan may look different from one employee to the next based on their needs and concerns. Most effective stay plans will include a process of goal-setting or career-planning. 

It’s important to note that not everything shared in a stay interview will have actions attached to it. However, it’s still important to follow up after the stay interview to acknowledge and validate what was shared. This step is crucial for trust-building and continuing to develop a deep level of psychological safety.

Part of an Ongoing Dialogue

A well-conducted stay interview, a thorough strategy of action within a stay plan, and conscientious follow-up conversations are crucial elements of an inclusive culture that values trust and engagement. These steps will not only increase a company’s employee retention, they clear the path for authentic dialogue that can help an organization learn, innovate, and grow. 

Learn more about stay interviews, and discover other ways to transform your workplace culture and create an atmosphere where everyone can do their best work with MicroVideos by The Diversity Movement. These 600+ bite-sized videos bring you actionable tips, inclusive language advice, and strategies for strengthening organizational culture. 

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Katie Gaebel, Ph.D., is the Director of People and Culture at cfm Distributors, Inc. She has spent more than 12 years in career development and learning spaces and has extensive background in higher education and nonprofit work. Connect with her on Linkedin.

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