Why Stay Interviews Are the Best-Kept Secret to Retention

Today’s post comes to us from the Executive Director of The Workforce Institute, Chris Mullen, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, SPHR. 
We’ve heard a lot about the Great Resignation — tens of millions of workers have left their jobs, millions may not ever return, and it seems no employer is safe from this mass employee attrition. 
Or are they? 
Last week, I wrote about new research from UKG, which found that more than 15 million U.S. workers who quit their jobs during the pandemic now regret that decision. If that many people have had second thoughts about leaving their past employer, then the question becomes: How do we keep our top performers from making that regretful decision in the first place? 
The answer: stay interviews. 
Stay interviews are perhaps the best-kept secret to retention. They’re a critical touch point with workers (just like regular 1:1 check-ins), they help build trust in the workplace, and they let people know you’re listening (only 14% feel they’re being heard). These are all key for employee retention. 

What are Stay Interviews? 
Before we go any further, it’s worth a quick definition or refresher. A stay interview is a 1:1 meeting with a key team member where you discuss the parts of their role and their work environment that keep them engaged. They’re preferably conducted in person, or at least on camera, when done in a virtual environment. 
A stay interview has three main objectives: 

  1. Learn what your employees enjoy about their role, function, and your company (listen). 
  1. Learn what your employees dislike about their role, function, and your company (listen). 
  1. Reinforce two-way communication between you and your employee (build trust). 

Incorporating stay interviews into your retention and employee engagement practices can help you learn what matters most to your people and what they’d like to see improve — long before they consider another job opportunity. 
In other words, a stay interview helps ensure you don’t have to conduct an exit interview. 
Best Practices for Stay Interviews 
Stay interviews are powerful retention tools, if you know how to use them correctly. Here are a few best practices for effective stay interviews: 

  1. Set aside specific time just for the conversation (put down the phones, set your status to “Do Not Disturb,” and do your best to avoid any distractions). 
  1. Give your employee a heads up on the purpose of the meeting and what to expect (consider sending them the agenda and questions to help them prepare — see below). 
  1. During the meeting, ask if they have any questions about the stay interview (set expectations for the meeting upfront). 
  1. Remember: It’s a two-way conversation (the goal is to learn what’s on their mind and why they still work at your company, in your department, and in their role). 

Best Questions to Ask in a Stay Interview 
Now that we know what a stay interview is and how to conduct one, what kinds of questions should we ask? Here are some questions to consider asking during a stay interview: 

  1. What responsibilities and/or projects do you enjoy working on, and why? 
  1. What responsibilities and/or projects don’t you enjoy working on, and why? 
  1. What talents are not being used in your current role? 
  1. What are you learning? What would you like to learn? 
  1. When was the last time you thought about leaving? What prompted it? 
  1. What can I do to make your work experience better? 
  1. What can I do to support you more? 

And the catch-all question: 

  1. What question(s) do you wish I would have asked you? 

As you can see, it’s going to take some trust for employees to open up to you. But it’s well worth the work, as just the act of conducting a stay interview can improve an otherwise-diminishing situation. 
Our aforementioned study on trust in the workplace found that, when employees feel their voices are heard: 75% feel more effective at their jobs, 71% feel more confident to share ideas and feedback in the future, and 71% want to stay at their companies longer. 
Moreover, according to the new UKG research on those who resigned during the pandemic, nearly two in five employees who didn’t have stay interviews said it would have made an impact on retention. 
A final word of encouragement: If you conduct a stay interview and an employee still decides to ultimately leave, don’t lose hope! Keep the bridge intact, keep an open mind, and, even more importantly, keep in touch. According to the study, millions of pandemic-era job quitters are open to boomeranging back to their previous employer, and 77% of employees who did boomerang said their manager conducted at least one stay interview. 
We’re just getting started! We’ll have plenty more on stay interviews — and boomerangs — in the coming weeks here at The Workforce Institute!