How the “stay interview” can prevent employee turnover

Amy Ancira

We are in the midst of the most dynamic market for talent many of us have ever seen. Two plus years of surviving a global pandemic have radically shifted the ways in which we work.

The Great Resignation has seen record employee turnover rates month over month, resulting in two decades of labor data being rendered invalid. The rise of Covid and the resulting lockdowns enabled most of us to engage in an unprecedented activity: the mass-reevaluation of their sense of fulfillment on a global scale.

For the first time in history, people across the world were asking themselves vital questions, “Am I happy?  Is my life structured optimally for me?”  They asked these questions not just about the work they do, but about the places they live, the people they engage with, the families they have structured, and also about their partners. It’s human nature to self-reflect. But for people to do so on a mass scale at the same time is unprecedented.

As Covid’s effects have since seemingly waned, the war in Ukraine, supply chain shortages, economic drivers, and the resulting unrest that most people feel have been additional factors in driving people’s decision making when it comes to employment.

We have a shrinking labor pool and are experiencing significant shortages of skilled labor to meet our needs for talent.  Most companies are struggling to meet their basic recruiting needs, while most candidates receive multiple offers of employment weekly. While core values, mission, vision and culture play an integral role in attracting talent, leaders have another very powerful tool at their disposal to keep the talent they already have – the stay interview.

What is the stay interview?

One of the most recent statistics on today’s talent market indicates that there are roughly 10 to 11 million open jobs and only 0.6 people to fill those open positions.

This is an eye-opening view of what most of us feel daily when it comes to recruiting talent. While we struggle to find talent to fill our open positions, many of us overlook the talent right under our noses. We have an entire team of people who are currently employed by our companies who are loyal and engaged.

Are we actively driving conversations with those individuals to better understand why? Why are they still here? What matters to them each individually? What will make them stay? And, if they were to leave, why?

 

“At its core, the stay interview is about creating trust with each member of the team and engaging a connection that benefits both people through being authentic and open.”

Amy Ancira
Managing Director & VP of Executive Search, HireBetter

 

This is the essence of the stay interview: deep engagement with each member of your team to understand what motivates them, what matters to them, what growth opportunities serve their long-term career goals, what qualities of their role are fulfilling, what they value about the organization, and how we can continually improve their satisfaction – both at work and in life.

Why does the stay interview matter?

Stay interviews, when done effectively, counteract the startling statistic of why most people leave their jobs voluntarily. It’s not typically because of the job itself.

Study after study have found that at least 75% of employees leave because of their bosses. And with a shifting workforce, leaders must be more thoughtful about the conversations they engage employees in.

Gone is the authoritarian of the past. The leader of the future must embrace the ever-changing dynamics of their workforce. Harvard Business Review cites that while Boomers tend to value loyalty and money over career specifics or advancement, Gen X values ownership and autonomy.

The further shift of our workforce population to Millennials and Gen Z shows a workforce that prioritizes innovation, collaboration, freedom, experiences, creativity, progressive equality, conscious consumerism, activism, and pragmaticism.

We’ve seen that the past two plus years have further shifted people’s priorities, regardless of their generational differences, to a desire for openness, authenticity, and vulnerability.

In two years, we’ve gone from wearing the obligatory mask of professionalism where we mostly hid our family obligations in an effort to appear that we had it all together, to suddenly seeing into each other’s living rooms, bedrooms, and personal lives.

And this is why the stay interview matters – because it further opens up the lines of communication in a more meaningful way.  It connects us more deeply to each other’s humanity. Through the stay interview, leaders can instill purpose, connectedness and better understand what drives each individual.

Leaders can also show their vulnerability and, in doing so, fuel the individual to feel more connected – not just to the leader, but to the company and its purpose as a whole.

How to conduct the stay interview

At its core, the stay interview is about creating trust with each member of the team and engaging a connection that benefits both people through being authentic and open. In order to be effective, the leader must engage in active listening and create a safe space for each team member. The stay interview is a purposeful meeting where your team can be open and honest.

Some examples of thoughtful questions to drive conversation within the stay interview include:

 

    What is it that excites you about your role? Why? Do you see opportunities to build more of these areas of excitement or fulfillment into your day? 

    • As a leader, you truly want to understand what motivates the individual and, to use my son’s preschool teacher’s terminology, to understand what “fills each person’s bucket.” The ultimate goal for both parties is mutual gratification and engagement.

     

    Who do you particularly enjoy working with? Why? How can we find more opportunities for you to partner?

    • This could be an internal team member, a partner, or a customer but, again, we are looking for opportunities to drive fulfillment while also benefitting the company. Generally, if someone enjoys who they are interacting with, they will take more care with that person and drive mutual satisfaction.

     

    What roadblocks do you experience that cause frustration? What do you think is the source of the roadblock or frustration?

    • Listen carefully, as this could be a process, a software, or an individual. Further, ask your teammate if they have ideas for removing those roadblocks. This allows an opportunity for the individual to have buy-in and create longer term solutions that drive stickiness to the organization.

     

    What is it that keeps you here? If you were to make a change, what factors would drive your decision making? Why?

    • The answers to these two questions are vitally important because they allow you to better understand what is working, and what is not working within the organization. This could be culture, teammates, leadership, engagement, work life balance, benefits, or remote versus onsite work – but the answers to these questions highlight areas for you, or the organization, to either continue valuing or focus on improving.

     

    As you think about your career over the long term, ultimately where do you see yourself?

    • As a leader, it is incumbent upon you to listen carefully and understand how you can create opportunities for your team member to get the experience needed to build toward this goal. It may happen with your company, or it may happen with another, but it is more likely to happen with you if your team member sees that you are making an investment in their growth and future development. At the same time, as a leader, it is your responsibility to have honest conversation with your teammate if this goal is not realistic. For instance, in the case of an introvert wanting to pursue a career in sales. Although this specific case is unlikely, the point remains. The Stay Interview is about honest and open discourse.

Long term, stay interviews allow you to connect with your team in a deeper more meaningful way. They allow you to engage in conversations that will build trust, rapport, and allow mutual vulnerability. If you are engaging in these conversations with your most loyal members, you are creating an environment of openness and accountability. Moreover, by engaging in this level of honest discourse, these teammates will be your biggest cheerleaders as you seek to attract and bring on new talent.

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