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.
Known as stay interviews, these conversations are a great tool managers can use to gauge employee satisfaction, company culture and shared thinking on how to improve and grow the organization. Businesses that conduct stay interviews can retain top talent, engage their employees better and lower employee attrition in ways others cannot.
What is a stay interview?
A stay interview is an interview or, more likely, a conversation, between a manager and an employee, with the purpose of learning what keeps that team member working for the company as well as any aspects of the organization that need improvement or change.
It could be argued that employee surveys essentially do the same thing as a stay interview. However, holding one-on-one conversations with as many team members as possible teases out much more information for leadership to work with. This is primarily because fixed survey questions don’t allow for follow-up questions or contextual details. The dialogue started in a stay interview can uncover more actionable insights than a static questionnaire.
What are the benefits of a stay interview?
There are countless benefits to developing and maintaining a stay interview program. Here are 10 reasons why you should consider incorporating this tool into your employee management plan:
- 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 in management and fosters loyalty. Employees rarely leave bosses they like and respect. On the contrary, a GoodHire poll found that more than 80 percent of workers would potentially quit their job because of a bad manager — time to improve those manager-employee relationships!
- It promotes an outlook of teamwork and togetherness: One of the big differences between “stay” and “exit” interviews is that 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, conducted when a person leaves an organization, 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 aren’t serving team members well.
- It assesses the health of your company culture: A FlexJobs study found that 62 percent of people quit their job because of a toxic company culture, making it the number one reason why people quit. Assessing the health of your organization is paramount, and stay interviews are a chance to gauge your company culture as employees experience it. Is your workplace thriving, dynamic and engaging or dismissive and stagnant? Cultivating an engaging, inclusive, dynamic and strong culture is an ongoing act, not a singular destination, and stay interviews can be used to assess your progress.
- It helps retain top talent and leaders: In addition to preventing turnover contagion, 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 lets you assess individual employees’ well-being: It’s possible to maintain a healthy company culture yet have individual employees who struggle within it. These staffers often go unnoticed, especially if most team members are giving high marks to the culture overall. Checking in and assessing the individual personally as well as the overall 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 (if not more) about what your competitors offer their workers. During stay interviews, 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 employee benefits or practices that other companies are experiencing success with. This is a great way to find out what aspects of competing workplaces are most intriguing to your team members.
- It helps you develop more effective training programs: Once you receive employee feedback through a stay interview, you can home in on requests, desires or hopes that involve employee or supervisor training. Stay interviews can highlight areas of strong interest so you don’t waste time training employees in areas they don’t value or need. In turn, these development programs can also help you retain employees. Guild’s American Worker Survey Report found that 74 percent of workers are “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to quit if offered additional educational or career opportunities somewhere else.
- 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 their suggestions, but when a manager takes time to focus on the individual thoughts and experiences of an employee, the team member 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 don’t cost anything. All they require is for leaders to make the time for such conversations and take the feedback they receive seriously.
A recent worker satisfaction study by business.com found that 61 percent of workers are seeking or planning to seek new jobs. There are many reasons why employees leave; stay interviews can help you unearth those reasons before they affect your retention.
How do you conduct a stay interview?
An effective model for a stay interview is not difficult to create. Here are eight simple steps to get you started.
1. Schedule it ahead of time.
Planning the meeting with your employee in advance helps keep the interview organized and on point and shows the team member how important it is 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 from the start that no one is in trouble. Share the purpose of the meeting so the staffer can think ahead about the thoughts and ideas they want to share.
3. Hold 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 discussion in 15 minutes. Allot about 45 minutes for the meeting in the hopes that rich dialogue and an exchange of ideas will fill up the time.
5. Show that you genuinely value employee feedback.
Make sure the team member understands that this is not just an empty exercise as it has practical value. If employees believe you genuinely care about their feedback, they will invest more in their sharing.
6. Plan your questions.
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 you can use for these conversations. The best questions to get employees to share rich and detailed ideas are open-ended.
Here are some questions you can use when conducting a stay interview:
- What energizes you the most about your current role?
- What would make your job more satisfying?
- Do you feel recognized and valued for the work you do?
- In what ways do you like to be recognized?
- What type of self-improvement or career development opportunities are you interested in?
- How would you describe your current (and ideal) work-life balance?
- What do you like most (and least) about the company culture?
- What type of technology would make your day-to-day tasks easier?
- As your manager, what can I do to better support you?
- Would you recommend our company to someone else? Why or why not?
- What might tempt you to leave?
7. Communicate the next steps.
Once the interview is complete, share with the employee 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 can’t always meet with all employees, sharing the feedback from the stay interviews you do conduct helps everyone feel informed and in the know.
When you follow up with the team:
- Make no promises: When managers conduct stay interviews, they should not promise any changes or timelines.
- Thank employees publicly for their feedback: One of the best ways to encourage ongoing informal feedback is to thank workers for sharing their ideas and suggestions for improvement.
- Make it an ongoing process: One stay interview is good. Repeated (such as annual) stay interviews are much better. As the company changes, employees grow and change too and your industry evolves. Learning what is on your employees’ minds is essential to maintaining a desirable company culture and an engaged workforce that is prepared for the future.
What are the do’s and don’ts of stay interviews?
For stay interviews to be successful and for employees to get excited about them, employers and managers can follow the best practices below.
- 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.
Skye Schooley contributed to this article.