In an ever-tightening job market, keeping top talent is tougher than ever. Retaining your best employees takes work, and it starts with knowing what they want and need. Finding that out isn't so hard -- just ask them directly. Stay interviews aren't new, but they’re still an effective way to gauge employee satisfaction and engagement while also getting the information you need to ensure your top performers stick around.
Well-conducted stay interviews will clue you in on issues that could potentially become problems (and turnover) down the road, giving you time to course correct while also improving engagement and morale with your employees.
While the ideal timing of a stay interview will vary, it should be conducted separately from performance reviews. If your organization has recently had layoffs, a reduction in force, or a change in senior leadership, stay interviews may be appropriate to conduct after the events.
Along with the four tips we’ve provided below, don’t forget to download our free stay interview template with questions you can use when conducting interviews with your employees.
1. Prioritize Interviewing Your Top Performers First
Ideally, you'll be conducting stay interviews with everyone at your company, but we recommend starting off with your top performers. You want good, honest feedback, and the best place to get that is from engaged workers, who are more likely to feel connected to and passionate about their work. Your most engaged workers, in turn, are probably also your top performers, making them an obvious first choice for stay interviews – but that isn’t the only reason to start with top talent.
Now especially, retaining top talent is a priority for everyone. According to Gallup, top-performing employees are also often the first to get new job offers, the quickest to leave when they become disengaged, and the most expensive to replace when they do go. By zeroing in on your best employees first, you’re ensuring they feel heard (an important step to keeping them engaged) and pinpointing ways to improve their experience – and ensure they stick around.
2. Active Listening Can Make or Break a Stay Interview
Our downloadable stay interview template will start you off with some vital questions to ask during interviews, but a truly successful stay interview requires more than just reading questions off of a list.
Once you've posed a question, it's time to listen. Focus on your employee's response -- not on how to phrase your next question or respond to their feedback. Allow them to complete their thought, and then, once you've digested what they have to say, respond with probing questions to encourage your interviewee to continue speaking.
You'll come away with more detailed feedback, and your workers will feel better heard. With 86% of employees feeling as though they’re not being heard, active listening goes a long way toward improving engagement.
3. Avoid Defensiveness
We conduct stay interviews to improve morale, engagement, and retention long term, but the more immediate goal of interviewing our employees is finding out what they like and dislike about their positions. Naturally, negative feedback is to be expected. What's vitally important is that the interviewer keeps a level head, not just throughout the interview, but after, as well.
There's no need to respond to criticism, even harsh criticism, right there in the interview chair. Remain receptive to all feedback, and remember to practice active listening. SHRM’s research on stay interviews has found that word can spread quickly if employees feel that an interviewer or manager is unable to take feedback, and future interviews become “short and fruitless exercises.” Managers who accept feedback, on the other hand, can greatly increase employee engagement.
4. Anonymity Is An Option
To get the most out of stay interviews, they should be conducted as one-on-one meetings, a specific time set aside with no other distractions for either party, but that may not be a realistic option for your organization. Before you schedule any interviews, honestly assess your company culture. Will a traditional stay interview work?
Maybe your employees may not be receptive to stay interviews. Do they not have adequate time to step away from their work? Is there a chance they may fear retaliation for sharing honest feedback? It's okay if the answer to either of these questions is yes -- simply by asking them, you're taking the first steps toward improving the situation.
More than half of the employees surveyed by Workforce Institute in a study about workplace trust reported that feeling trusted at work impacted their career choices. If trust in your organization is already low, anonymized surveys paired with actionable change can be a good first step toward building that missing trust, and increasing retention and engagement.
Follow Through to See Positive Change
By checking out our free stay interview template and following the advice we've outlined above, you should find yourself with honest, helpful feedback, but your work doesn't end there. Active listening alone isn't enough.
To reap the rewards promised by stay interviews -- increased engagement, morale, and retention -- management will need to answer that feedback with action. Reinforce the positive, and work to change or improve pain points -- whether that's employees wanting more guidance, flexibility, better work-life balance, or something else entirely.
Visible change is your organization’s response to the feedback received during stay interviews – the proof that you are listening and that your people are trusted and appreciated.