· Eve Church  · 8 min read

The Link Between Stay Interviews & Employee Retention

Interviews: love ‘em or hate ‘em, if you work in HR or management you’re going to conduct them. And if you fall into the ‘loathe them’ camp when we say you should be doing more than job and exit interviews your initial reaction might be to stop reading. But wait; let’s talk about the stay interview!

Interviews: love ‘em or loathe ‘em, there’s no escaping the fact that if you work in Human Resources or you’re a manager or team leader, you’re going to find yourself conducting them at some point.

And if you fall into the ‘loathe them’ group, when we say that you should be doing more than just job interviews and exit interviews, your initial reaction might be to stop reading!

But bear with us as we explore the link between stay interviews and employee retention and engagement.

It goes without saying that you need to interview candidates for your company’s vacancies. And chances are your organization conducts exit interviews for departing employees too.

After all, knowing why someone is leaving offers great insight into your company culture, business practices and/or managers.

And those insights often enable you to make changes or adjustments where necessary.

Read more: Don’t Go! Retention Strategies to Increase Employee Loyalty

So what’s the deal with stay interviews? After all, if your employees have no intention of resigning anytime soon, why rock the boat?

Well, knowing why people choose to stay with your company is often just as valuable as knowing why they leave. Let’s take a closer look.

If an employee isn’t thinking about handing in their notice, surely there’s no need to try and retain them? How is employee retention even an issue? But there is a link. Let’s face it, it’s a rare employee that stays with an organization for life - especially these days.

The days of a job for life are long gone and if you want to increase your employees’ length of service and reduce the chances of them getting itchy feet you need to be proactive.

What is a stay interview?

So firstly, what exactly is a stay interview? As the name suggests, it’s an interview - usually a one on one between a manager and their team or department member - in which the aim is to find out why an employee continues to work for the company.

Read more: Sabbaticals & Career Breaks: Should You Hire Returnees?

Like any interview, this takes the form of the manager asking questions, but crucially, they should allow the employee to speak freely and do most of the talking.

This will enable them to put in place a proactive plan to increase the chances of that employee staying with the company.

Read more: Why You Need to Start Taking Company Reviews Seriously

And if you’re already rolling your eyes and thinking “I don’t have time for that!” consider the long term benefits. Falling to retain employees is costly, time consuming, stressful and a hassle.

Sitting down with your people for 20 minutes apiece once a year will be a lot less painful in the long run!

When should you conduct stay interviews?

There’s no hard and fast rule as to when you should hold your stay interviews but a little bit of research into the resignation dates of your people might hold some very helpful clues.

For example it’s well known that the danger period for people quitting is in the first three months of joining a company. If you’ve noticed a pattern of new hires not going the distance this would suggest that you need to conduct stay interviews as part of your new hire onboarding process.

Read more: Why You Need a New Hire Checklist & How to Create One

Or perhaps your business is seasonal or has times where it is naturally busier. In which case holding your annual stay interviews during slower periods is probably a good idea.

And if you’re suddenly seeing a spike in employees resigning, this would suggest that it’s critical that you start scheduling some stay interviews as soon as possible (and combining the information learned with that gleaned at your exit interviews.)

What questions should you ask in a stay interview?

The goal is to find out why your people are sticking around. So ask them! You can then expand on their answers and ask more questions to gather more inside insight. For example:

  • What’s the best thing about working for {insert the name of your company here}?
  • What do you enjoy most about your actual job?
  • Is there anything we can do to make your job better/easier/more fulfilling?
  • Is there anything you don’t like about working for {insert the name of your company here}?
  • Do you have any thoughts on the way the company is run? Your department?
  • Is there anything you don’t like about your actual job? What are particular challenges - and how can we help solve them?
  • Are there any skills you would like to learn that would help you perform better?
  • Where do you see yourself this time next year? In five years? Ten?
  • Has the job turned out to be what you expected when you joined the company?
  • What is your team’s dynamic like? Do you like your team?
  • What makes you stay at {insert the name of your company here}?

That last question of course is your biggie. The one that you hope will really help you get down to the nitty gritty. But of course you can ask any questions that are pertinent to your organization and to help you amass the knowledge that you’re really looking for.

Open ended questions work well and will encourage an employee to open up and, hopefully, give you some positive feedback.

As well as encouraging employees to talk, whoever is conducting the interview should also make sure to listen. The aim is to find out why people are staying: the main reason and other additional reasons too.

As Human Resources and management, you want to know why these things are important to your people and you can then use the intel learned to help create an even better company culture.

For example, more than one of your employees has mentioned that they really like the fact that your company offers duvet days as a perk. Clearly the fact that you care about the mental health and wellbeing of your people has struck a chord.

What could you do to take that information and run with it? Offer subsidized gym memberships? Encourage employees to take walking meetings?

Read more: 4 Ways to Prioritize Your Employees’ Mental Health

Or maybe your generous annual vacation allowance has won you fans among your employees. If so it could be worthwhile looking at similar policies: how much leftover annual leave do you let your people carry over? How do your maternity and paternity leave policies stack up?

Remember, this isn’t just valuable knowledge for helping to retain existing employees; it also falls under ‘good to know’ when it comes to advertising your vacancies and attracting top talent.

Finally, and although it may seem counter-intuitive, you should also ask why an employee would consider leaving your company. If the same answers keep cropping up again and again you should probably take a closer look.

For example if too many members of staff are taking issue with their commute, would you be willing to allow flexi time work so that they can miss rush hour?

Or perhaps allow people to work remotely or from home for a day or two a week?

Read more: How To Embrace the Idea of Your Employees Working Remotely

And if one of your top people tells you that they’d be tempted to join one of your rivals for a pay rise, you can then make the call whether to head danger off by implementing a plan.

For example, a salary increase further down the line or a promotion, maybe.

The reasons why stay interviews increase employee retention

Asking for feedback makes employees feel more ‘seen’ and that in turn will increase their loyalty. It’s vital, however, that feedback is acted upon where viable and possible, otherwise it will just look like you’re paying lip service.

Making changes that employees have already stated will make their working life easier or better will lead to happier and more productive staff…and greater employee retention.

But make sure you tell your employees about any changes you’ve implemented - that’s just good PR!

Similarly, let individuals know if you can’t address an issue and explain why. Honesty and transparency on your part will normally be highly appreciated by the people that work for you as it shows respect.

A yearly stay interview is also great for showing employee recognition - which in turn creates engagement and loyalty.

It will have a positive knock-on effect on your relationship as employer and employee, especially if you ensure the lines of communication are kept open so that you foster a culture of feedback, making it clear this is not just a yearly window in which employees get to have their say.

And when a manager and their team are openly communicating in a respectful fashion, this leads to greater morale, a more efficiently functioning team or department, and employees who are less likely to hand in their notice due to not getting along with their boss.

Conclusion: stay interviews and employee retention

While a stay interview will typically be a one on one sit down between a manager and an employee who directly reports to them, feedback should be shared and solutions implemented on a wider basis.

To increase employee retention overall is the aim and while implementing any changes where possible and devising a stay plan for each employee is an important part of the process, this is also an unmissable opportunity for all departments and the company as a whole to continue to improve.

Happier employees and managers. Greater productivity and team morale. Increased employee retention.

These all result in a better company culture - and one that will help you attract higher caliber candidates for your vacancies. Still think the stay interview sounds like too much trouble?

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