While pretty much all companies interview potential employees before hiring them, some organizations also interview employees when they’re on their way out the door. While the goal may be a noble one—the employer wants to know why their employee has decided to leave in an effort to improve the workplace for those remaining on board—there are those who argue that conducting exit interviews is not the best way to boost retention. Their solution? The stay interview.
“So many companies know about exit interviews, but that’s closing the barn doors after your horse escapes,” said Kevin Kruse, a business consultant based in Buck’s County, PA, and author of We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement. “Besides, when people are on the way out, even if they hate their boss or think their company is just horrible, few are going to burn a bridge. My pitch for stay interviews is that they are among the most effective ways to improve retention and to keep people motivated, and at the same time they’re one of the easiest and most affordable things that you can do.”
According to Annette Franz, the stay interview shouldn’t really be looked at as an interview at all. “It’s not a survey, it’s not an interview; it’s really a conversation that you’re having with your employees over time,” she said. A customer and employee experience executive based in Southern California, Franz has spent the past 15 years of her career working in small to mid-sized businesses, in addition to offering counsel to others managers through her blog, CX Journey. She notes that while she favors holding stay interviews at least every quarter, these discussions can remain ongoing in a less intensive manner through weekly one-on-ones with employees—something she is a fan of, even when she’s managed teams numbering as many as 25.
Franz also urges her counterparts to start off new employees right by conducting stay interviews 30, 60, and 90 days after they’ve joined the company. “You’re now investing all your time and effort and resources to train this person to become a productive member of your organization, and then what happens when 90 days in you find out that it wasn’t a good fit?” she said. Stay interviews held early on help to establish whether or not the individual is indeed a good match for your firm, and it also demonstrates to the employee that you’re committed to them.
Because stay interviews are not the same as performance reviews, they tend to be—or should tend to be—informal. While Kruse notes that he’s a fan of an unscripted approach in the interest of eliciting honest, candid feedback, he offered up some potential questions to shape the conversation: How are things going? What do you enjoy most about your job? What is most challenging about it? “That gets at the basics: what do we want to keep doing? What do want to stop doing or improve?” he said. “And then a really important question that is sort of the proxy question for measuring someone’s level of engagement is to say, ‘Tell me, do you see that you can have a successful long-term career here at XYZ Company?’” This directs the conversation towards a discussion about the employee’s vision for their career path: What does their dream job look like? Where do they want to be in five years? What is their ideal working environment like? What kinds of projects do they want to be working on? These types of questions help both parties develop a concrete plan that helps the employee work toward achieving these goals.
Dick Finnegan, CEO of C-Suite Analytics, a research and consulting firm based in Longwood, FL, and author of Rethinking Retention in Good Times and Bad, and The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement & Retention, reminds employers that if they are asking for this feedback, they need to listen to it with an extremely open mind. Say, for instance, that an employee declares that they are no longer going to tolerate missing their children’s birthdays, no matter how many projects they need to close. “As a leader, you would be tempted to say to yourself, ‘Well, look, we can’t make that happen,’” he said. “But then you would say to yourself, ‘Well, why can’t we make that happen?’” That’s not to say that you should try to cater to your employee’s every whim, but in many cases, the information they are giving you can help you to improve the workplace for everyone—including you.
However, stay interviews are only effective if trust has already been established between employer and employee. “Imagine you don’t have a great relationship with your manager, or something is going on in that relationship, and the manager comes up to you and says, ‘Hey, if you had another job offer tomorrow, what would that job offer look like?’ You’d be going, ‘Am I getting fired?’” Franz said. Employers should communicate what the stay interview is and the reasons behind doing it, which means that employees should be equipped with the set of questions the employer is planning to ask ahead of time. “It’s part of building that trust and that relationship to go ahead and hand the employee the questions and let them know what this is and why we’re doing this. Be open and honest about it.”
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.
What Happens Next?
Stay interviews are only as good as what follows, requiring employers and employees to continue communicating and acting upon what was discussed. Perhaps the employee has requested additional training to acquire new skills that will move their career forward. They may have expressed interest in being mentored within the firm, which would require the manager or employer to investigate whether or not someone is willing to fill that role. Or maybe the employee has declared having difficulties in completing their tasks due to larger issues in the organization, such as poor communication.
Annette Frank, customer and employee experience executive, urged managers to draw up an action plan based on what was covered in the stay interview, and then to address it through the course of their communication with the employee, such as during regular one-on-one meetings. “Some of those things are big things that may take some time, and some of those things are things that you may not even be able to do,” she conceded. “But I think it’s great to let the employee know: I heard you. I will share it with the executive team or whomever it is that it will take to help us act on these things, and if we can do something about it, great. And if not, here’s why. Keep it an open dialogue.”