How ‘Stay Interviews’ Can Easily Help You Win the War for Talent

Aside from the goodbye after-work drinks and best-wishes emails, what most commonly happens when someone leaves a company?

That’s right: Exit interviews.

You know what questions are asked:

What did you like most about your job? What did you like least? Do you think your manager gave you the tools you needed to succeed? How did your role change and evolve? Was your work and accomplishments regularly recognized?

My favorite: What suggestions do you have for the company? How can we improve?

They’re my favorite because they’re questions asked at the wrong time. Nothing can be done to change the result once they’re asked—the employee is already on their way out.

No about-turn coming your way.

So, when’s the right time to ask these questions?

When the employee is still an employee, says J.L. Baker, CEO at GattiHR.

As the labor market tightens, employers are losing the upper hand they enjoyed just two short years ago when the amount of talent far exceeded the number of available jobs. There are now more jobs than qualified candidates, and competitors are poaching unsatisfied workers at a record pace.

Baker says there’s a way for employers to keep more of their prized employees. The solution: The stay interview template. He says that asking the right stay interview questions can quickly turn the Great Resignation into the Great Retention for your clients.

He says to think of stay interviews as exit interviews for employees who haven’t handed in their two weeks’ notice. With the right questions, they won’t for a long time to come.

Here are five questions Baker suggests you ask before assembling your best stay interview toolkit.

What are the Benefits of Stay Interviews?

Stay interview questions allow the best human resources leaders and management to understand what employees like about the organization—and what sorely needs improvement, Baker says.

“Given the labor shortage and the substantial number of positions lingering unfilled week after week, your employees’ happiness and engagement should be top of mind,” Baker says. “When conducted properly, stay interviews promote trust and foster employee loyalty.”

In addition to allowing management to show they’re invested in the employee and appreciate their contributions, stay interviews also enable management to address under-the-radar issues before they become glaring red flags.

“Candid responses to stay interview questions allows leadership to show they can and will act when trusted with sensitive information about critical issues,” Baker says.

Baker adds that when it comes to performing stay interviews, it’s all about curating the right culture, which is one of the essential things current and potential employees are considering in greater depths.

“Stay interviews allow leadership to gauge the company culture and check its tempo,” Baker says. “Are employees engaged? Is the current culture an attractive one, inside and out?”

Creating a cadence for stay interviews promotes a healthy communication channel between management and employees and, therefore, better business.

“Once the trust is established and recognized, employees are more likely to come to leadership with not only concerns, but with ways to improve the culture and business,” Baker adds.

This results in better retention of your best staff and increases in business and efficiencies because the employee is more invested in the company.

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What Are the 9 Best Stay Interview Questions to Ask?

Encouraging your best employees to stick around long term is a significant factor for long-term success. But unfortunately, most companies don’t worry about whether their top performers have a wandering eye until they’ve presented their letter of resignation, Baker says.

Asking stay interview questions can provide your organization with invaluable insights into improving its retention rates. Baker says you can also learn more about what inspires your best workers and replicate those efforts to recruit and hire similar high-achieving workers.

Every stay interview template should include the following nine questions, Baker says:

  • What do you like most about your position and our organization?
  • What can we improve on?
  • What are some of the reasons why you work here?
  • What do you like the least about your current role?
  • If you could change something about your current role, what would it be?
  • If someone told you they were thinking about applying for a job here, what would you say to them?
  • How do you like to be recognized for the work you do?
  • What training or development would you like to receive?
  • What might tempt you to leave?

These questions will help you source, hire and hold on to the talent you need to make your company more profitable—before a competitor snatches them from under you.

What Should You Do with Feedback from Stay Interviews?

Feedback should be anonymous and shared with HR management to drive change. To do this, Baker suggests scheduling stay interviews ahead of time—not as a surprise “can I see you in my office?”

Furthermore, you should conduct stay interviews in a quiet and confidential setting—one that’s more informal than your traditional boardroom.

“The purpose of the meeting and its goals should be shared with the employee before the meeting, which allows the employee to give some consideration as to what they want to share and to put the employee at ease,” Baker says. “Make sure no one thinks they’re in trouble and that the data and information shared will be used constructively.”

Who Should Replies Be Shared With?

Everyone in the organization can drive change. That means, in some organizations, “some information should be shared with the whole company,” Baker says.

But that’s not the case in every instance.

“Replies should be shared with upper management and/or HR, depending on the content,” Baker says. “The goal of improving the culture and employee experience should always be taken into consideration. That means feedback should never be shared with those who might be the subject of negative feedback, those who could break confidentiality or those who are not in a position to be active in making a necessary change.”

When Should Stay Interviews Be Conducted—and How Often?

After one year, an employee—especially executives—should understand a company’s structure, values, strengths and weaknesses, Baker says.

“Therefore, stay interviews should be conducted after one year with the company, or during any significant change within the organization,” Baker says. “That includes following the departure of a department head, manager, significant leadership or even close coworker.”

He adds: “I would recommend a stay interview each year, though not in conjunction with any type of performance or compensation review.”

Keep them separate.

“It’s important to be proactive, but also not repetitive,” Baker says. “Make the stay interview a regular part of the employee experience, not the uh-oh, end-of-year dread that performance evaluations often are. They’ll appreciate it.”

So will your company and your HR department, which extended internal and perhaps external resources to find you the best hire. Take the initiative now to ensure you keep your top employees from walking off the job for years to come.