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Stay Interviews Can Be an Antidote to Exit Interviews

Checking in with employees to determine their satisfaction levels leads to higher retention, performance

Two business people walking down a hallway in an office.

Human resource departments are finding that stay interviews—conducted with current employees to gauge their job satisfaction—are the perfect antidote to exit interviews.

Given the surge in job hopping and the competition to hire and keep employees, many companies have found that stay interviews are helping reduce turnover while increasing production and satisfaction among workers.

Kate Grimaldi, senior director of enterprise talent strategy for Paylocity in Chicago, has used stay interviews informally for several years. But during the past six months, she has encouraged managers across the organization to incorporate light "stay questions" into their regular one-on-one meetings.

"We're now seeing happier employees who are eager to come or log in to work and contribute," Grimaldi said. "And managers have become more effective because they know what employees care about personally and professionally, and what really motivates someone to remain with us.

"These discussions have led to exciting new assignments, new learning paths, or just improved relationships with employees and their direct managers, which has a real impact on retention."

Grimaldi said stay interviews have vastly improved employee engagement because they show the company is taking an active interest in making the employee work experience better.

"Formal sit-downs can come off as rigid and detached," Grimaldi said. "We are trying to create moments for employees to voice their feelings to managers, helping them feel valued within the organization.

"When a manager takes time to sit with an employee, truly listen to their values and priorities, and then show a commitment to act on the employee's needs, the reaction is always positive. They can defuse the employee's thoughts that, 'If I leave today, no one would care,' and get everyone working together again. Exit interviews are more for the employer, but stay interviews benefit both sides."

Paul Rhodes, director of maintenance operations for The Life Properties in Woodstock, Ga., said he sees exit interviews typically yielding canned responses intended not to "burn bridges." Employees often offer little to improve company culture.

"By speaking regularly with your team about their performance and what they enjoy about working for your company, it opens a healthy line of communications that can establish trust and loyalty and can help supervisors to identify team members who may be at risk of quitting so they can do what's best to keep them," Rhodes said.

With Trust and Alignment, People Feel Heard

Stacey Berk, founder and managing consultant at Expand HR Consulting in Rockville, Md., said stay interviews have become a bigger trend during the past six to eight months as her clients strive to understand the reasons for turnover.

"Most employees are eager to share their feedback and want to see positive changes in certain policies and protocols, greater flexibility with their schedule, and, of course, compensation and benefits," Berk said. "When [stay interviews are] communicated and positioned correctly, employees are participating and willingly share feedback on a variety of topics. The key with stay interviews, regardless of how they are carried out, is for HR and managers to ensure that employees can share their thoughts comfortably without fear of retaliation."

Amy Zimmerman, chief people officer at Relay Payments in Atlanta, said stay interviews help managers become more aware of what their team members are looking for and that more trust is built on both sides and relationships seem to be stronger.

"When there's trust and alignment and people feel heard, they're less likely to make a change," Zimmerman said. "Our turnover is incredibly low, and I'm sure the stay interviews are one of many reasons for that."

Helping Managers' Confidence Grow

Amy Mosher, chief people officer at isolved, a human capital management software company in Charlotte, N.C., has seen a 10 percent increase in annual employee retention over the past two years. She credits stay interviews, in part, for the improvement.

"We've trained managers on the importance of understanding why employees stay and what might cause them to leave," Mosher said.

Mosher's company refers to stay interviews as "engagement check-ins." She noted that her employees say this is often the first time in their career that they have managers who regularly check in on their engagement, motivation to stay, challenges they are facing and opportunities ahead.

"We feel that the name conveys a high-trust environment versus a transactional one," Mosher said. "While the motivation is similar, our approach is to ensure that employees know that they are trusted and that they are empowered to share information about what is happening today and where they see themselves tomorrow."

To prepare its managers for the meetings, isolved gives them materials on what is expected as well as prompts on what to ask employees. For example:

  • What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?
  • What do you like most or least about working here?
  • What keeps you working here?
  • If you could change something about your job, what would that be?
  • What would make your job more satisfying?
  • How do you like to be recognized?
  • What talents are not being used in your current role?

"Managers can then use these starting points to go in and make the discussion their own," Mosher said, adding that managers are told these meetings are not intended to "just get answers"; be about the manager, pay or performance; or involve training or coaching.

"They should not be structured, long or random and not scheduled only when there is a problem," Mosher said.

She noted that two main positive results her company is seeing from regular engagement check-ins include, first, "managers are becoming more confident in asking their team what motivates them, how can the manager better support them and having these open feedback sessions. Not only are we supporting the employee, but we're also improving our managers' leadership skills to ask direct questions and adapt, when appropriate, to feedback."

Second is that these calls are happening more informally, too.

"The trickle-down effect is even more frequent 'How are you doing?' conversations," Mosher said. "If the past two years have taught us anything, it's that we have to ask each other how we can support the person, how they are genuinely feeling and if there's anything we can do, in our control, to make their situation better.

"Our managers tell us that they feel more prepared for performance reviews as a result. The overwhelming feedback has been that by regularly checking in with employees specifically about engagement, they have a better idea of where their team can upskill next, where there might be a risk of churn and how to better serve their team.

"From a nonmanagerial point of view, our pulse surveys around support and communication have increased as have our overall employee engagement scores by 8 percent."

Paul Bergeron is a freelance writer based in Herndon, Va.


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