As the working world becomes more complex and employee tenure decreases, organizations are looking for better ways to engage their workforce.  Career Partners International (CPI) works with firms around the globe to align employee and employer goals through a multitude of techniques.  Exit interviews gather useful information about why an employee is leaving. Employee engagement surveys are used to obtain the pulse of the organization.  Stay interviews take this a step further, providing actionable information through direct communication.  This method allows managers to obtain a better measurement of job satisfaction and engagement, ultimately reducing employee attrition within targeted groups.
A stay interview is a structured conversation, usually between a manager and an employee, designed to discover pain points and motivational drivers. Broader than a discussion about projects or performance, a stay interview uncovers the root cause of an employee’s decision to remain in their job. Companies leading the pack in stay interviews often have highly talented people they don’t want to lose or are in industries known to have high turnover.
Stay interviews are more specific and future-oriented than exit interviews.  Organizations can better predict and reduce employee turnover by taking corrective action based on resulting feedback.  An employee can decide to leave at a moment’s notice, or they can decide to stay because their manager took the time to ask a question, show they care, and respond in a meaningful way.  The initial act of conducting a stay interview often generates goodwill with employees.  It is, however, crucial to follow up these interviews with meaningful action to maintain the positive impact.
It’s important to speak with the groups of employees that matter most to the organization based on business and employee retention goals.  Potential interviewees might include:

Emerging leaders and high potentials
Affinity groups such as women, people of color, LGBTQ community
Hard to fill technical skill sets such as nurses, software engineers, or scientists
Newly transitioned employees due to a merger or acquisition
Millennials or Gen Z

There are many ways to conduct stay interviews including surveys, focus groups, and expert HR consultants. Companies may be reluctant to conduct stay interviews because they can be time-consuming and it may be difficult to react meaningfully to the feedback. Hiring a third party to conduct stay interviews can save time and simplify the development of proposals for productive action.  Additionally, using a third party telegraphs the importance of the process and allows for more candid responses.
Another way to get started is by teaching managers to ask stay interview questions during regular employee meetings.  Develop interview guides with consistent questions to better identify patterns across the company. Sometimes managers may ask every question in an interview, other times a talkative, articulate employee may provide deep insights with just a few prompts. Stay interview questions should be tailored to the goals of the organization and might include:

What is different here that makes you proud to be an employee?
Is your manager effective? If so, what do they do that you value the most? If not, what do you wish they would do more often?
What do you like most or least about working here?
What might tempt you to leave?
What talents are not being used in your current role?
What would you like to learn here?
What motivates or demotivates you?

Reluctance to conduct stay interviews may stem from concern over receiving feedback that isn’t actionable, such as a desire for a raise or promotion. There may be no money in the budget, no available position, or the employee may not be qualified to make their desired move. In these scenarios, honesty is the best policy.  Reiterate these conversations are intended to identify how the company can evolve to better support the needs of valuable employees.
When an organization decides to conduct stay interviews, it’s vital that leaders make a commitment to understand the findings quickly then act to show genuine care and follow-through.  With managers and employees invested in the process, it is imperative to make changes within the organization’s control. Initially, changes need not be major; a few small, yet visible improvements can go a long way as more complex and strategic adjustments are analyzed.
Sustaining the momentum of stay interviews requires continued steady attention to connecting with employees. Some ways to keep it going include:

Continue to connect with employees to assess satisfaction and level of engagement
Communicate progress and celebrate successes
Offer workshops for all managers so they can periodically meet with their employees and query them to discover the talent reality
Train internal HR staff in how to conduct focus groups and report findings via a readily available, easy to use tool

Stay interviews are a valuable retention tool when conducted properly. Be sure to spend time coming up with questions that will yield the most valuable feedback. Have that million-dollar question such as, “What is the one reason you stay with the company?” Imagine the value to the organization if managers knew every employee’s response and acted to make it a reality.
 
Written by Kim Littlefield, Senior Vice President, Keystone Partners. A CPI Firm
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