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Workplace Culture

We know about exit interviews. What about “stay” interviews?

Jana Kasperkevic Jul 30, 2019

We’ve all heard of exit interviews, those awkward one-on-ones with your boss or human resource manager before you leave for another job. Now another kind of employer-employee interview is gaining in popularity: the stay interview.

With the unemployment rate near a 50-year low, there are roughly 1.3 million more open jobs than there are people looking for work. Companies are relaxing their requirements and enhancing their perks in order to attract the best candidates or poach employees from competitors. 

But some employers are going on the defensive, conducting in-depth interviews not with potential candidates but with existing employees. The goal is to find out exactly what it takes for an employee to stay put. 

“A stay interview is about the company’s performance and the manager’s performance,” said Cara Silletto, president and chief retention officer of employment consultancy Crescendo Strategies and author of “Staying Power: Why Your Employees Leave and How to Keep Them Longer.” 

“You are not talking to them about what they need to work on as an employee. You are saying: ‘Hey, employee, how do you feel about working here? What’s working for you? What’s frustrating you? If you could have a magic wand and change something around here that would make it a better place to work, what would you change?’”

For stay interview to be effective, Silletto says questions need to be open-ended and there should be no repercussions for employees who answer honestly. Such interviews can reveal a lot more than exit interviews with departing employees who “don’t want to burn bridges,” she said. Employees who are leaving are more likely to extol the positives of a new job than dwell on the negatives that caused them to leave in the first place.

Colleen Pfaller, founder and chief executive of Cincinnati-based recruiting firm A Slice of HR, is often called in to help small businesses that suffer a high rate of employee turnover. If one of Pfaller’s clients is having issues retaining employees, Pfaller goes straight to the source —  existing employees.

“Just sit them down. ‘What’s going on? Why are people leaving? Tell me, really.’ It could be a million different things,” she said. “I’ve seen where they don’t like the travel policy. We are quick to say: ‘Oh, it’s pay.’ Or ‘that person wasn’t a good fit.’ But sometimes it’s crazy stuff. There might be a manager who acts differently when nobody is around.”

In a recent Harris Poll survey on behalf of recruiting agency Yoh, 53% of respondents said they would leave if their boss showed lack of respect for staff in lesser positions. Other reasons employees said they would consider leaving were managers who break promises (46%), overwork employees (42%) or have unrealistic expectations (42%).

Finding out the reason people are leaving is just half the battle, according to Pfaller; the other half is addressing that reason. That’s the risk to doing stay interviews.

“By asking those questions, you’re opening that door to make real changes,” she cautioned. “If you’re not open to making the changes, don’t ask the questions. But if you really want to get to the heart of why people are leaving, ask them. And in most scenarios, they’re going to tell you, because they want it to be a great place to work, too.” 

Focusing on retention can be time-consuming, especially since HR is already in charge of hiring new staff, benefits, payroll and investigating any employee issues that arise. It’s why Silletto recommends that companies hire retention strategists or retention managers, instead of bringing on another recruiter. 

“I have nothing against recruiters,” said Silletto. “I think they are great but most companies don’t need another recruiter. They need a retention specialist that’s going to focus on why are people leaving, when are they leaving, and to look at the data and figure out those escape routes.”

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