How Stay Interviews Help You Retain Star Employees

By Robert Half March 13, 2018 at 9:00am

Will your best and brightest employees stick around? Robert Half research shows that 42 percent of workers, and a whopping 68 percent of millennials, say they plan to look for a new job in the next 12 months. Replacing an employee costs between half and five times that person’s salary, according to Gallup. Considering how much time and money it costs to hire a new employee, most managers understandably would prefer that their people stick around for the long haul.

Here’s a potential remedy: stay interviews.

What are stay interviews? Think of them as reverse performance reviews that you conduct with existing employees. Stay interviews are less about the organization evaluating the employee and more about the employee evaluating the organization.

A stay interview could take as little as 15 minutes or could be a longer conversation.

The first employees to invite are your top performers, the ones who you’d be heartbroken to lose. Depending on the amount of time you have, you might eventually want to interview all the employees on your team.

How to conduct a stay interview

Whereas the job interview is conducted pre-employment and the exit interview post-employment (when it’s too late for you to act on what you learn), the stay interview falls right in the middle. It’s at a critical juncture where you need to do all you can to convince workers who have proved valuable to stay with your firm.

Conduct stay interviews one-on-one. Companywide satisfaction surveys have their use, but they won’t give you the detailed insight you need about a star performer. For that, you must ask deep questions and elicit honest answers. From the worker’s perspective, a company that takes the time to do individual stay interviews shows that its leaders are truly open to feedback and want to hear concerns from their employees.

Make it clear to your employees that you value their feedback and hope that they will be honest about their opinions of the job and the company. Many professionals want to be heard, so chances are good that they’ll open up.

Questions to ask in a stay interview

  • What keeps you working here?
  • What do you enjoy about your job?
  • What do you like least?
  • Can you describe a recent good day at work?
  • How would you rate your happiness here on a scale of 1 to 10? What would it take to get you to a 10?
  • What would cause you to leave the company?
  • What would you like to change about your job, team or department?
  • What about the company culture would you change?
  • What do you think about on your way to work?
  • Have you ever thought about leaving? What made you consider it, and what made you stay?
  • What motivates you at work?
  • What demotivates you?
  • How do you prefer we show appreciation to you?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • Is there anything else you want to bring up?

You might find many more specific questions to ask in a stay interview. The idea is to identify problems before they become deal-breakers that send your staff on the job hunt. If you feel defensive about criticism your organization is receiving, don’t bite back and instead consider the employee’s points. Focus on learning what you’re doing well and how you can strengthen those areas, and where the company might be falling down on the job.

Put your money where your mouth is

The next step is to act on any pressing issues. If people find management isn’t actually making any changes after the discussions, they’ll simply look on the interviews as window dressing rather than a sincere effort. Be transparent about what you can or can’t do to remedy a situation, being careful not to overpromise and underdeliver.

After you start conducting stay interviews, keep track of employee turnover. With any luck, you will be able to boost your retention rates and keep your star performers, while developing more loyalty with all your employees. Stay interviews can give your employees another reason to stay.

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