Why Stay Interviews Are the New Exit Interviews

As an HR professional, you probably know that communication is one of your most powerful tools. From an employee’s first day, it’s your job to facilitate an environment in which he or she can thrive. When employees do choose to leave the company, exit interviews often shed light on what went wrong. But why wait until employees are already out the door to ask those questions?

Enter “stay interviews.” Stay interviews can help you proactively understand what employees love about your company—and what is getting in the way of retention. You want your employees to stay long term, so why not directly ask them what keeps them there? Plus, stay interviews give employees a safe space to share how you can better support and develop them.

Ready to bring stay interviews to your organization? Here are three tips for getting started:

1. Choose Interviewees Strategically

Interviewing every employee company-wide would be a daunting task for even the most consummate HR communicator. Your first challenge is to decide who to focus on. Are you relatively new to your company? Start small. Stay interviews are a great way to build trust and get to know what employees value about the company.

Have you been working there for a while? It may be time to build a formal process for conducting stay interviews. For example, schedule a conversation when an employee reaches a certain point in tenure or a set number of days after onboarding. Departments experiencing a period of high turnover may also benefit from ad hoc stay interviews to help you identify what is working for that team. You can also segment stay interviews by employee level to get a read on how each tier is feeling, from entry-level roles and beyond.

Whoever you choose to meet with first, creating an open dialogue about retention contributes to an environment where employees feel comfortable talking to you before putting in notice. Stay interviews are a mutually beneficial way to build trust and loyalty within your organization.

2. Ask the Right Questions

Unlike performance reviews, which are typically conducted by managers, stay interviews should be a direct conversation between HR and the employee. This conversation is not an evaluation of the employee’s work, but rather an open discussion on how they feel about the company. To be successful, ask a variety of questions that help uncover what employees believe the company is doing successfully to retain employees.

So how do you get to those answers? Here are some questions to use as a jumping off point:

  • What motivates you to stay? Open up the dialogue about why employees enjoy working there.
  • What de-motivates you? Learn what prevents employees from doing their best work and what would de-motivate them enough to walk out the door.
  • What percent of your time do you spend engaging in company activities? This tells you if employees feel integrated within your culture and have adequate work-life balance.
  • Do you have a best friend at work? This helps you find out if employees are connecting with their peers. If they don’t have strong friendships at work, they may feel disconnected.


3. Take Action to Build a Culture of Trust

By opening up this dialogue with employees, you contribute to a culture of listening. Employees will feel like they can provide ongoing feedback that’s truly heard.

Mary Lanier-Evans, People & Culture Officer of QuickStart Technology, introduced stay interviews when she first joined the company. She noticed early on that the employees in one of her remote offices struggled with trusting HR. She wanted to show them that HR is for the people—not a disciplinary or governing figure. She scheduled several calls with people onsite to find out what was really going on. By helping to resolve the problems that surfaced, she built a sense of trust and now those formerly timid employees go to her directly with any concerns that arise.

It’s time to put your stay interview practice into place. The sooner you identify strengths and weaknesses in your retention efforts, the faster you can improve them. It’s rare that you can change someone’s mind in an exit interview, but a stay interview gives you the opportunity to optimize your work environment and keep employees on board for the long haul.

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