For decades, we’ve been conducting exit interviews. The goal of an exit interview is to understand the departing employee’s experience with our company and their reason for leaving. But why are we waiting until they leave to find this out? In an era of high turnover and a war on talent, we can’t afford to wait until our employees leave to find out what their concerns are. We need to figure them out while they’re still with us. That’s where stay interviews come in.
Stay interviews are conducted to find out what keeps our employees with our company, and more importantly, what would cause them to leave. Beyond that, we’re giving employees a voice. Often, employees feel they don’t have a voice – that their opinion doesn’t matter. Stay interviews are not only a huge win for our companies, but they’re also making our employees feel valued.
Here are some tips to help you conduct effective stay interviews that produce actionable feedback.
- Don’t Get Defensive: Defensiveness often comes into play. It can be natural, especially for small business owners who work incredibly hard to have a successful business, provide the most comfortable life they can for their employees – even if it means sacrificing themselves, and don’t have the resources to make drastic changes.
We can’t stick with the status quo. We can’t let hurt feelings prevent us from taking positive action. Action doesn’t have to be expensive. Maybe it’s a bad or poorly trained manager and you’re not seeing it because you’re only getting the manager’s point-of-view. Maybe it’s that our employees don’t feel they have a path for growth. Work on career pathing with your team. And don’t forget the good things. We need to know what we’re doing well so we can continue doing it.
Our employees are trying to help us be better. They’re trusting us. Return the favor.
- Not Everyone Will Talk to Just Anyone: Who is going to do the interviews? These are face-to-face interviews. They shouldn’t be done by the employee’s manager or the owner of the company. If you have internal HR or an HR Consultant that has built good relationships with your employees, give them the reins and let them own the project. If that isn’t an option and you have an operations leader that people can trust, have them do it. Whoever is doing it should own the project, but they should never interview their own direct reports. If you don’t have an internal option, you can always hire an outside consultant. It may be needed if you don’t have an internal option, as that is showing the lack of trust within the company.
Employees may fear retaliation or some other form of punishment for what they say. It’s important to create a safe, friendly environment for them to open up and tell the interviewer how they feel about their workplace. They want to be heard, but they also want an environment where they feel comfortable to voice what they have to say. It’s not necessary to tell managers you’re doing it. It’s advised against it to prevent any influenced comments.
- Conducting the Interview: The first thing you can do is to put a meeting on each employee’s calendar (sporadically) and sit down with them to first, introduce myself, and second, understand them better. It’s important to frame it as more of a conversation rather than an interview.
Then you may ask two questions: “what keeps you here?” and “if you had a magic wand, what would you change?” and ask follow-up questions as necessary. There might be some opportunities and challenges, but there were also great comments. If employees cite the people as one of their reasons why they stay – it tells you something about the culture and environment. When you love who you work with, it’s a lot easier to come to work each day.
Many of the comments can be the same. Not because anyone influenced them, but because that’s how they felt. It’s common, regardless of the company. They had friends at work, but they didn’t have someone they could talk to that had the power to act. They felt if they tried to say something before, they were immediately shut down. Having a chance to open up was appreciated.
It’s a human approach to real human issues. We’re so disconnected these days, but connections are still craved, especially in the workplace.
- Taking Action: Now that we have the feedback, we have to act or risk losing a lot of trust and credibility. Take the feedback, group together the commonalities, and take a look at what the differences are. It’s important to act on commonalities first, as they affect a chunk of our employee population. With the example cited above, the biggest need was management coaching. They say time is money, but that was time well spent which produced significant returns in engagement, managerial effectiveness, and performance. Think strategically and a win-win can be achieved, benefiting both the business and employees.
You may still have a lingering question: why are stay interviews necessary when we conduct engagement/pulse surveys? According to a survey by Harvard Business Review, 80 percent of employees feel like HR won’t act on the results of engagement surveys and 29 percent think they’re pointless. Their problem isn’t just the survey – it’s the lack of action taken as a result of those surveys. This only contributes to the view of many employees: that they don’t have a voice.
When we send out a survey, we’re asking a certain set of questions to our employees, often with yes or no answers. Even where there is a text box, most companies analyze the yes/no data and make blanket recommendations, if any at all, based on the anonymized or confidential data. There is no ability to ask follow-up questions within the surveys and we’re often left with more questions than answers. We usually try to figure out who said what and end up assigning blame, often to the wrong people. What about the people that didn’t take the survey? Are they disengaged, do they just not care, or are they happy and had nothing to say? And who are those people that didn’t take it?
Stay interviews can be handled efficiently, drive needed improvements to our businesses, and the return on investment can yield huge dividends in employee attitude and bottom line. Studies have shown that when employees are able to openly communicate about what they’re facing in the workplace, they’re more likely to be happier and perform better. Opening up communication channels may seem like a small thing, but it’s incredibly meaningful for our employees. When employees are happy at work, businesses reap the profits.