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How to use stay interviews to improve retention 

Exit interviews attempt to gain insight into why an employee is moving on and what you could have done to encourage them to stay. While exit interviews can serve a purpose, they are almost always ineffective at retaining high performers.

Instead, you can conduct periodic stay interviews to better understand how valued employees view their jobs and your company—before they start devoting their lunch break to firing off resumes to competitors.

Stay interviews demonstrate to your employees that you value their input and contributions. Stay interviews can be a key retention tool against costly and time-consuming turnover.

The costs of high employee turnover can translate to a loss of profitability, low workplace morale, and a deteriorating product quality. But stay interviews can help turn the tide, provide useful insights to retain employees, and make your company a better workplace.

The cost and inefficiency of hiring and training new employees can impact turnover and damage employee productivity and morale. Over time, high turnover can result in:

  • Reduced revenue and profitability
  • A bruised company reputation
  • Low workplace morale
  • Decreased employee productivity

Additionally, modern consumers are savvy, and some may become wary of doing business with companies that have a new account executive every few months, don’t receive the expertise they expect on a service call, or get a sense that the employees they interact with aren’t happy. In short, employees are the most valuable asset a company has access to—don’t squander them by treating them poorly. 

Stay interviews are a useful strategy that addresses these potential risks before they become realities. Through stay interviews, managers can stay well connected to their team members to better understand their mindsets and the issues that may be impacting their productivity, morale, and commitment to your organization.

Stay interviews are conversations that help managers understand why employees stay—and what might cause them to leave. In an effective stay interview, managers ask standard, structured questions in a casual and conversational manner.

Typically, most stay interviews take about a half hour, two to three times yearly. Yet, while the time commitment is minimal, the potential benefit is considerable as they provide insight into what factors are encouraging your employees to stay and the issues that might be prompting them to consider leaving.

These check-ins can be particularly valuable with high-performing employees to connect with them well before they may seriously consider leaving. You can get their direct feedback on what motivates them to stay with you and what might entice them to work for someone else.

By understanding your top performers' core motivations, you can offer them the proper compensation to keep them at your business. For example, Gallup reports that 64% of employees seek a better work-life balance. Instead of getting that from another company, you can restructure to give your best employees more freedom.Stay interviews point you in the right direction toward boosting employee engagement and decreasing churn.

Stay interviews offer a true win-win for your company and your employees.

The fact that you are conducting these interviews sends a strong message to your employees that their voice matters, and they can share any concerns or appreciation for what is working well.

Stay interviews help you identify early warning signs that could lead to higher employee turnover. This can be particularly useful in identifying trends that may be impacting several of your top performers. This gives you the time and rationale to make meaningful changes demonstrating that you’re responsive to employee concerns while reducing the chance of a mass exodus of your best people.

It’s difficult to quantify the precise role of stay interviews in keeping your best performers and reducing your overall turnover rate. Yet, research has consistently found that companies with strong engagement benefit in myriad ways, including boosted retention, increased employee satisfaction, and better profitability and ROI.

To conduct effective stay interviews, you need to establish a clear process that all employees understand. As the purpose of stay interviews is to gather information you can use to improve employee satisfaction, you should give them lots of notice to think of ideas. Equally, if they haven’t done a stay interview before, it’s good to explain what they are and why they’re occurring.

The final step lets you show your employees that you care about what they said in the meeting. Nothing will undermine the success of stay interviews faster than not acting upon the concerns and problems that an employee has raised.

In addition to proper planning and goal setting, it’s crucial to conduct the interviews thoughtfully and strategically. It directly impacts the ability to get candid and clear employee feedback. Some of the key considerations when conducting stay interviews include the following.

Your employees are busy, and their time is valuable. Scheduling a spur-of-the-moment stay interview shows disrespect for those realities and may cause your employees to be more wary or concerned that a performance issue prompted the meeting.

Be transparent about what a stay interview, why you are conducting them. Make clear that the feedback you receive aims to proactively identify any issues or barriers to success and capture ideas for potential improvements.

It’s important to let your employees know what a stay meeting is and give them ample time to prepare for a stay interview. Ideally, you have already clearly stated the purpose of the meeting. It’s good practice to provide your employees with a detailed outline of the issues you aim to discuss so they can collect their thoughts and be well-prepared to express them when you sit down for the interview. Conducting employee satisfaction surveys before stay interviews can also provide you with key insights that you can delve into deeper during the interviews.

A stay interview should feel like a conversation, not an interrogation. The setting you choose can go a long way in conveying that message. Choose somewhere that is comfortable and private for the employee you are interviewing. Stay interviews are best held in person, where you can take some cues from body language and have an engaging conversation. If you need to do the interviews via videoconference, choose a convenient time away from the heart of the workweek.

Stay interviews are the opposite of employee performance interviews. In essence, your employees are evaluating the performance of your management team and your organization as a whole. As such, you want to make it clear that this conversation is completely separate from a performance review—and what they say will have no influence on that important conversation.

The best stay interviews strike a balance between asking some predetermined questions and allowing the conversation to head in other unanticipated directions to better understand what your employee is thinking and feeling. The best stay questions should help employees understand the following.

Everyone likes a compliment—even those who may say otherwise. With that in mind, think about framing questions to convey your appreciation. One way to approach that is to highlight something they excel at or one of their recent wins. A word of warning: don’t exaggerate. Employees will sense if you are trying to overstate their accomplishments, which could have the exact opposite effect of what you are striving for.

Strong performance is highly valued and ultimately the key to an employee’s—and your company’s success. But winning isn’t everything. Employees need to understand that you don’t just care about their results but also who they are as a person and the challenges they may face from time to time. Showing authentic empathy and understanding reassures employees that you value their thoughts and opinions.

Stay interviews allow you to get insights into employees’ challenges, often before they worsen to the point that they consider jumping to a new job. Make it clear to the employee that you value their feedback and that you aim to do what is possible to address problems or make improvements.

The best stay interviews identify both problems and opportunities. Maybe you learn that several employees will be more productive and engaged through a hybrid arrangement that blends remote and in-office work. Or you may find that a top performer gets satisfaction from helping others succeed so you can look for mentoring opportunities to meet that need. These actions show your continued commitment to investing in your employees and ensuring they thrive and grow in their careers.

Stay interviews can elicit a range of potential low-cost changes that can make a difference in how employees feel about their work life. You might uncover that employees are feeling burned out by the end of the long week. Instituting a policy that allows employees to log off at 2pm on Fridays can demonstrate that you heard them and are doing something about it. Or perhaps altering your office space will allow for more spontaneous collaboration or greater privacy. These actions demonstrate responsiveness and understanding that can, over time, build stronger engagement and loyalty.

While exit interviews may still have a place at your company, adding stay interviews to the mix will help to decrease the need for them. Stay interviews can keep your team engaged, satisfied, productive, and motivated. For a low-cost, high-reward system that can decrease employee churn, it doesn’t get much better than stay interviews. If you need the tools and technology to run internal employee surveys, collate results, and drive engagement, find a SurveyMonkey plan that works for you.

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