Leaders are combatting the talent shortage by interviewing current employees to stop attrition before it starts.
By Kate Grimaldi
For decades, exit interviews have been a standard tool used by HR executives to glean feedback from employees who have resigned. In the wake of The Great Resignation, it is easy to wonder how things might be different if leaders could go back in time and try to work through issues with employees before they decided to leave.
Time travel is not possible, but HR leaders can prevent exit interviews with a more proactive approach that is now regaining popularity: the stay interview. A stay interview is a one-on-one meeting with a manager or HR partner to understand what an employee enjoys most about their job, explore any concerns, and uncover future opportunities that are personally motivating. Unlike exit interviews, these conversations are not used for one specific moment. They should be an instinctual tool for managers to use at any time, with very little preparation. They are just as important for an employee who has been with the company for six months as an employee who’s been there six years.
Today’s employees want to belong and be a part of something. They want to grow as individuals and be successful, and they crave collaboration, communication, and connection. With anxiety remaining at such elevated levels, empathetic conversations that encourage employees to be vulnerable and honest can pull fears or interests out in the open, instead of sweeping feelings under the rug—which can then lead to resignations. When managers have conversations with employees about their feelings, it makes the employee feel heard and opens doors for future opportunities. And if these conversations happen across the organization, they can serve as a monitoring system to signal the changing needs of the workforce. Because stay interviews happen at a moment of trust, leaders have a better chance of uncovering information they may not hear in more formal settings.
While easy to use, there are some best practices that will ensure all parties get the most out of stay interviews. It all starts with a trusting relationship. The conversation is most effective when there is a relationship already built between the employee and their primary manager. Managers usually have stronger relationships with their team members, so they would have the best chance of guiding a meaningful conversation. If the manager relationship is new or there is not a real bond, then the employee may feel more comfortable talking with HR.
Managers need to set a tone of empathy and signal they are listening. To demonstrate these qualities, the manager should start by giving the employee options for a time of day when they will not be rushed or distracted, and give them the option of a video chat, phone call, or a live meeting. It also helps to send a short message or video describing the intent of the meeting to check if the employee is feeling heard and valued, and to spot any new opportunities for their development.
When framing the interview as a conversation, the leader must walk the walk by staying completely immersed in the answers they receive, playing back what they heard, and keeping the dialogue flowing. It is important to make sure employees genuinely feel their answers and opinions are valued. Nonverbal cues like leaning forward, maintaining eye contact, and avoiding distractions, will ensure a better conversation. As with any interview, building rapport will ease any nerves before diving in.
According to a Work Institute study, 78% of the reasons why employees left their jobs were deemed preventable by the employer.
The stay interview should cover the employee’s current situation and mindset about the job and the team, along with their feelings on the company and the things that excite them about the work. Those areas will uncover the most useful information for retention.
Open-ended interview questions are best, and the manager should choose ones based on the situation and the employee. Some helpful stay conversation questions include:
- What excites you about coming in or logging in to work each day?
- What projects or tasks would you like to do more of? Less of?
- What kind of feedback is most helpful for you?
- What makes you feel valued here?
- Where do you see yourself moving into a new role or upward in the company?
- What talents or skills are you interested in developing? How can we help?
- What is the “why” for doing your job?
- What is it about the company that keeps you here?
- How do you think our company could improve the employee experience?
- What might cause you to consider looking elsewhere?
Once a stay interview ends, the real work begins. It is important for the manager to thank the employee for sharing their thoughts either via email, chat, or video message. They can summarize the conversation and outline specific points that will be discussed with HR or leadership. A noticeable attempt to resolve or address issues will make a big difference. And if there is not an actionable response that can be taken, the interviewer should at least make sure the employee feels heard.
If HR has socialized stay interviews with people managers, and they are putting them into practice—ideally every quarter—then the company will gather a wealth of information about workforce needs. Managers should at least share top-line observations, so the HR team can spot patterns and common concerns.
There are also HR tech platforms that offer surveys to test out any hypotheses that come from the stay interviews. These inputs can guide future programs and benefits, along with internal communications. New tools including consumer-like communication platforms, videos, and modern analytics dashboards also give HR a more holistic view.
It is more important now than ever to deliver an employee experience that meets employees where they are, and the best way to get there is through listening. Simply put, stay interviews can help reduce the need for more exit interviews.
Kate Grimaldi is the senior director of enterprise talent strategy for Paylocity.