What Is a Stay Interview with Employees in the Workplace?

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The stay interview is preferable to an exit interview because, in a stay interview, you ask current employees why they continue to work for your organization. At the exit interview, it’s too late to identify and solve the problems or help your exiting employee accomplish the goals they are leaving you to obtain.

The results of a stay interview give you knowledge about what the organization can improve now and how you can retain your remaining, valued employees. You also learn what your organization or department is doing well when employees identify what they like about their current job and employer.

Stay Interviews Provide Opportunities to Build Trust

The stay interview is an opportunity to build trust with employees and to assess the degree of employee satisfaction and engagement that exists in a department or company. Employees prefer to work in an environment that cares about and wants to understand their thoughts, needs, and feelings.

Stay interviews are preferable to employee satisfaction surveys because they provide a two-way conversation and a chance to ask questions, then follow up on ideas. They also deal with current employee happiness or concerns, not with how the employee felt last month or over the past quarter or year.

Determine Readiness

If you decide to conduct stay interviews with your best-performing employees, approach the process carefully. If your organization has a culture that encourages open communication and employee involvement, these interviews are an effective tool for identifying areas that need improvement.

If your organization lacks trust and open communication, stay interviews may be a waste of time—or worse, you may get bad answers that mislead you into making ineffective changes. Your assessment of your organizational culture in areas such as staff turnover, innovation, sales per employee, employee longevity, attendance, total sales, and profitability tells you a story of whether your organization is in a position to hold stay interviews. Anonymous employee satisfaction surveys may be the way to go first.

If your organization’s climate lacks trust, you may also want to conduct team building and trust-building activities first. Then, when employees feel as if you are serious about improving the work environment, and they have seen some changes, you can add stay interviews.

Make Stay Interviews Effective

If your organization decides to conduct stay interviews, you must commit to making positive changes. Otherwise, it's the same as what employees experience when no action occurs following employee satisfaction surveys and people won't take the stay interviews seriously.

When you make changes, inform employees these resulted from their suggestions and responses in stay interviews. Employees will not automatically make that connection.

How to Conduct Stay Interviews

The employee's manager should conduct stay interviews. Human Resources staff can help with difficult interviews, but the stay interview should encourage open communication between an employee and their manager. The manager is the person who can most readily make an impact on the employee's daily working conditions.

Before conducting a stay interview, managers need training on how to conduct the interview, questions to ask, how to build trust, and how to listen effectively. This training will result in a productive interview worth everyone's time investment.

The manager may jot notes during the meeting, but the focus of a stay interview should be on the conversation. The manager should actively listen and engage the employee in an open-ended conversation.

What to Ask

Start your stay interview with positive, easy-to-answer questions such as "What do you look forward to every day at work?" As the interview progresses and the ice is broken, you can ask tougher questions. Select questions from your list that appear to have the most utility for your organization—for example, "How could we support you better?" Unless an employee has a lot of thoughts to offer, the stay interview should take 30 minutes to an hour.

When you ask an employee to participate in a stay interview, don’t expect to open it by asking if they're thinking of leaving. If they are, expect a well-rehearsed answer that leaves no bridges burning. But, this won’t give the information you need to help your organization become more attractive. Instead, you could wind up with a question about what would tempt the person to leave the company.

Over time, you'll find the stay interview questions that yield the most useful information. As employees see their organization respond to their concerns and needs, the stay interview process will have a positive impact on employee morale.

What to Do With the Data

If your organization decides to embark on stay interviews, HR should provide the opportunity for managers to discuss the results, look for patterns across the organization, and share ideas gleaned from the employees.

Debriefing allows the organization to determine what needs to happen in individual departments and what is better addressed on a company-wide basis.

Be careful not to trivialize how employees perceive a department or organization. You may disagree with the views expressed, but they are real to the employees who are participating in the stay interviews.

Explaining away the responses, making excuses, or becoming defensive will derail your quest to understand employee satisfaction. After all, the goal is to create an organization that retains its best.