For many businesses, interviews are conducted during the hiring process or when someone leaves the company. However, there are also benefits to interviewing employees at various points in between. Stay interviews are a great tool that more managers should use to gauge employee satisfaction, company culture, and shared thinking on how to improve and grow the organization. Managers who conduct stay interviews can retain top talent, engage their employees, and lower their employee attrition in ways that others cannot.
What is a stay interview?
A stay interview is an interview, or more a conversation, between a manager and an employee, the purpose being to learn what keeps that employee working for the organization, as well as any aspects that need improvement or change.
Some may feel that employee surveys do the same thing a stay interview does, but you could argue that holding one-on-one conversations with as many employees as possible teases out much more information for leadership to work with than fixed interview questions that do not allow for follow-up questions or contextual details.
Stay interviews can help you reduce overall attrition, retain top talent on your team, and assess your employees' wellbeing within the workplace.
Stay interview do's and don'ts
In order for these conversations to be successful, and for employees to get excited about them, business owners and managers need to disarm these discussions so employees know what they are and are not. Here are a few tips.
- Create a setting of collegial conversations between team members and leadership that genuinely solicits ideas and feedback from employees.
- Invite employees to share what is awesome and not so awesome about their employer.
- Schedule and plan your meeting with the employee (one on one).
- Foster an open, fun, creative, conversational, trust-based and strategic discussion.
- Offer ongoing meetings with as many employees as possible.
- Acknowledge that this is the first part of two; there will be follow-up on the shared ideas, information and proposed changes.
- Don't make this discussion any type of performance review or personal reflection of the employee sharing the feedback.
- Don't promise employees that their suggestions will be followed up on specifically as described, or at all.
- Don't only meet with employees when things are going badly.
- Don't meet with employees in a group setting; these interviews should be conducted individually.
- Don't be judgmental, argumentative, hierarchical or combative.
- Don't make these conversations a one-time event with no follow-up discussion. The company at large should learn what ideas were shared during stay interviews and whether any changes or improvements are being planned based on employee feedback.
What are the benefits of a stay interview?
There are several benefits to developing and maintaining a stay interview program.
- It builds trust and employee loyalty. When employees see that their supervisor cares enough to check in and seek ideas from them, it promotes trust of management and loyalty. Employees rarely leave bosses they like and respect.
- It promotes an outlook of teamwork and togetherness. One of the big differences between "stay" and "exit" interviews is stay interviews focus on idea-sharing between colleagues who both want the same thing – an awesome future and overall experience with the company. Exit interviews often zero in on the negative, without a healthy balance of acknowledging the positive.
- It addresses problems in the early stages. With effective stay interviews, companies can head off problems before they get too large. Stay interviews are a preemptive opportunity for companies to change policies, practices or related aspects that are not serving team members well.
- It helps retain top talent and leaders. In addition to lowering employee turnover, stay interviews offer an opportunity to gather as much information as possible from key team members about their employee experience. Are they happy? Do they feel engaged? What aspects of the company need to evolve or change for them to consider it an "employer of choice"?
- It assesses the health of your company culture. Stay interviews are a chance to gauge your company culture as employees experience it. Is your culture thriving, dynamic, and engaging, or dismissive and stagnant? Cultivating an engaging, inclusive, dynamic culture is an ongoing act, not a singular destination.
- It lets you assess individual employees' wellbeing. It is possible to maintain a healthy company culture yet have individual employees who struggle within it. These employees often go unnoticed, especially if most team members are giving high marks to the culture overall. Checking in and assessing the individual as well as the company culture is equally important and a huge gain for leadership.
- It shows how you compare to your competition. Your employees probably know as much as you do (or more) about what your competitors offer their employees. During these discussions, don't be afraid to ask what employees are seeing in the job market or the industry. A good question to ask employees is, "What are our competitors offering in this area?" You could also see what they think about benefits or employment practices that other companies are experiencing success with.
- It helps you develop more effective training programs. Once you receive employee feedback, you can zero in on requests, desires, or hopes of change that involve employee or supervisor training. Stay interviews can highlight areas of strong interest so that you don't waste time training employees in areas they do not value or need.
- It energizes employees. The simple act of checking in and asking an employee's opinion can go a long way. You won't always be able to follow the suggestions, but when a manager takes time to focus on the individual thoughts and experiences of an employee, the employee often leaves the interaction energized and determined to do their part to make the company better.
- It's an expense-free tactic. Last but not least, stay interviews do not cost anything. All they require is for leaders to make the time and take the feedback they receive seriously.
How to conduct a stay interview
An effective stay interview model is not difficult to create.
1. Schedule it ahead of time.
Planning the meeting with your employee helps keep the interview organized and on point, and shows the employee how important is it to you.
2. Share the purpose and expectations of the meeting.
Some employees feel anxiety when managers ask to meet with them. Make it clear that no one is in trouble. Share the purpose of the meeting so the employee can think ahead about the thoughts and ideas they want to share.
3. Conduct the interview in a comfortable, quiet and casual setting.
This is not a conversation to have on the fly. Take time to relax the employee and ease into the discussion.
4. Allow enough time for a meaningful conversation.
Do not attempt to have this conversation in 15 minutes. Allot about 45 minutes for the meeting in the hopes that rich dialogue and exchange of ideas will fill up the time.
5. Show that you genuinely value employee feedback.
Make sure the employee understands that this is just not an exercise; it has practical value. If employees believe that you genuinely care about their feedback, they will invest more in their sharing.
6. Plan your questions (do not wing it).
You don't need to ask 20-plus questions to have a successful stay interview, but if you don't have any specific questions planned, it might turn into a simple conversation that leads nowhere.
There are many good interview questions that you can use for these conversations. The best questions to get the employee to share rich and detailed ideas are open-ended. These are some examples that the Society for Human Resource Management recommends:
- What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?
- What do you like most or least about working here?
- What keeps you working at this company?
- If you could change any one part of your job, what would that be?
- What would make your job and overall work experience more satisfying?
- How do you like to be recognized for your work?
- What talents do you have that are not being used in your current role?
- What would you like to learn more about, within or outside of your current role?
- What motivates (or demotivates) you?
- What can I do to best support you as your manager?
- What can I do more of or less of as your manager?
- How would you describe our company culture to a brand-new employee?
- What might tempt you to leave?
7. Communicate the next steps.
Once the interview is complete, share with employees what the follow-up will look like. Tell them that leadership will share what ideas will and will not be acted upon and why.
8. Share feedback with the entire company.
Although managers cannot always meet with all employees, sharing the feedback yielded from stay interviews with the entire company helps everyone feel informed and in the know.
When you follow up with the team, remember:
- Make no promises. When managers conduct stay interviews, they should not promise any changes or timelines.
- Publicly thank employees for their feedback. One of the best ways to encourage ongoing employee feedback is to thank them for sharing their ideas and suggestions for improvement.
- Make it an ongoing process. One stay interview is good. Repeated (e.g., annual) stay interviews are much better. As the company changes, employees grow and change, and your industry evolves, learning what is on your employees' minds is essential to cultivate a desirable company culture and an engaged workforce that is prepared for the future.