Did you know, according to Zippa, the average cost per hire in 2022 is $4,425 for non-executive positions and up to 18,000 for executive positions? It takes 36-42 days to fill an average position in the USA. In addition, it costs up to 40% of an employee’s base salary to hire them with benefits and then an average of 12 weeks for a new hire to become fully productive and that is only if the proper on-boarding and support is in place.
We have all heard of The Great Resignation in the news the past few years. It has impacted many of the organizations I work with every day. Nearly 33 million nonfarm workers have left their positions since April 2021. That is over a fifth of the total U.S. workforce.
The question facing many leaders today is how to retain the talent on their teams. More often than not, questions about what it would have taken to retain talent are often asked at exit interviews. What could we have done better? Would you ever consider returning? Why did you start looking for another position? While all of these questions are worthwhile, they often tell us what we need to do to improve employee satisfaction and engagement when it is too late to retain talent.
Enter the Stay Interview
A “stay” interview is a powerful leadership tool. It is a individual conversation with your employees focused on knowing what makes them want to say and what may cause them to leave. It is the opposite of an exit interview. Even if your organization doesn’t have formal stay interview process in place, or they rely on anonyms employee engagement surveys, the stay interview is an effective way to enhance one-on-one meetings with team members.
Fast Company outlines some guideline to help you get started:
- “They should be private, one-on-one meetings, which state very clearly that the intention is to discuss an employee’s reason for staying, and therefore different from regular, task-related, work meetings.
- They should be conducted with all team members, in order to avoid the perception that managers care only about certain employees, and that not being interviewed means not being valued.
- Questions should always be clearly related to exploring the aspects of the job, role, and career that drive employees’ decision to stay. This means framing the discussion around positive talking points: “I would like to get a better sense of what excites you/keeps you interested/motivates you to stay with us.”
- They should explore opportunities for improving even if positive themes on staying dominate the conversation. This will require a minimum degree of psychological safety, so employees feel free to speak openly, without fearing negative repercussions. This also means managers should be grateful rather than defensive when they receive constructive feedback from employees. Examples of questions may include: What would you do in my role to motivate the team more? Say, hypothetically, you decided to leave in the next two years—what would have caused you to leave?”
Stay Interview Starter Questions:
Sabina Nawaz, in her HBR article, What Stops People on Your Team from Leaving? suggests conducting stay interviews monthly. The following questions are ideas from her article for how to begin the dialogue:
“What’s your frame of mind today?
In your discussion, encourage people to express a full range of emotions. No matter what’s shared, don’t attempt to solve the problem or negate their experience. If someone says they’re feeling unmotivated, respond by saying, “Thank you for honestly sharing how you’re feeling,” and ask for more information.
Our well-meaning human response when faced with another’s pain is to try to immediately extinguish their anguish. But rote assurances of resilience and hyped excitement about the business, especially from those in authority, unintentionally signal it’s not okay for an employee to struggle or express their authentic emotions. If not allowed to do so, employees feel disappointed, not seen or understood, and might seek alternate venues.
Who do you feel connected to at work?
Friendships at work foster a bond that works like gravity. The toxic combination of too many meetings just to get the work done and not enough connections outside of transactional business saps us of energy. And in its research on employee engagement, Gallup has found a strong link between having a best friend at work and employee performance.
In your stay interview, ask, “Who do you feel connected to at work?” Based on their response, explore what you can do to help them deepen those connections, say, by assigning them to joint work or finding ways to create unexpected pairings. Perhaps people from different departments can work on a company-wide event, a cross-division initiative, or take part in virtual discussion groups. The glue that connects us to our colleagues also connects us to our companies. Finding ways for people to regularly connect socially and build relationships will extend their shelf life in the organization.
What barriers can I remove for you?
Research shows that the single biggest motivational action managers can take is to remove barriers that inhibit employees from achieving their goals. Yet we more often offer praise or rewards, like gift certificates for coffee. These remedies might make us feel better about our jobs as managers, but do they really make an impact on our employees and their work?
During your stay interviews ask, “What barriers can I remove for you?” Then communicate what action you will take and follow through or brainstorm with your colleague how you can be most helpful. Instead of saying, “Good job,” ensure your direct report can perform their job well.
What new thing do you want to learn that will excite you and help you grow?
Instead of talking about what your employee can do for the company, ask what they might like to do for themselves. This question signals that you care not just about what this person has done for you or the company, but what you can do for them to foster their development and to help them achieve their dreams and aspirations. It also, in turn, enhances employee loyalty.”
Are you ready to act on the insights you gather?
Many of the leaders I have met over the course of my career ask these questions of their direct reports naturally in the course of one-on-one meetings. The idea of the stay interview, is to continue this but with heightened intention and frequency given the nature of the obstacles we face today retaining talent.
The most important thing to consider is to only conduct a stay interview when you are ready as a leader to act on the insights you gather. It is important to digest the findings and then move to enhance what is working and change what isn’t. If you can’t change it, continue the dialogue and keep the lines of communication open by conducting stay interviews regularly. If you do, you will enhance the psychological safety of your teams’ culture, reignite engagement and productivity, and create a shared understanding of one another which in turn will create more rewarding relationships with those you lead.
Perhaps the best preparation for you as a leader thinking about conducting stay interviews is to ask yourself, “What keeps me in this role?” Write down your answer and reflect for a moment on how answering this powerful question makes you feel. I believe that is all the evidence you will need to understand the power stay interviews have on ensuring the talented people on your team know and understand their value to you and the larger organization. Exit interviews give us data whereas stay interviews give us creative solutions to serve those we already employ. The best part is the interview can be conducted in 15-20 minutes per month. It is time we start the retention process when employees are still open to staying rather than after they have said they are leaving.
Bill Popp says
Sounds like a lot of work when there are so many things to be done to keep a business running. However if I had conducted some of these stay interviews I might have had a very large organization. Yes when employee tells you he is leaving it is too too late to try and talk him out of it.
Maybe this is why employee-owned Consulting organizations are successful — the employees are doing stay interviews with themselves and sharing that with the others.
Thank you for your insights, Bill. You are so right and I appreciate the perspective regarding employee-owned consulting organizations.
Gert popp says
So good to hear from you, Gurt. Thank you for taking the time to read the article and comment. Thinking of you and your wonderful family. Happy Spring!
Derek C. says
As a developing leader in an time where retention is important and replacements may not occur for another year or so, this is an excellent tool to check the pulse of a team that shows signs of divergence. I am excited to use these in practice in some of my recurring check-ins with my team to ensure their needs are met so I can meet the needs of my leadership, company and more importantly my customer.
Thank you for your comment. What a wonderful thing to know that this article resonated with you and you found it useful. That is the best we could hope for in writing each month. Let us know how you find the strategies once you begin applying them! Have a wonderful day!