Talent Management

The Many Benefits That Come From Using ‘Stay” Interviews

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First of three parts

Many firms use exit interviews to find out why employees are leaving their jobs.

Unfortunately, asking an employee on their last day “why are you leaving?” doesn’t provide useful information in time to prevent the turnover.

A superior approach that I’ve been recommending for over 20 years is a “stay interview.” I alternatively call it a “pre-exit interview,” because it occurs before there is any hint that an employee is about to exit the firm.

A stay interview helps you understand why employees stay, so that those important factors can be reinforced.

Definition: A “stay interview” is a periodic one-on-one structured retention interview between a manager and a highly valued “at-risk-of-leaving employee” that identifies and then reinforces the factors that drive an employee to stay. It also identifies and minimizes any “triggers” that might cause them to consider quitting.

The many benefits of “stay” interviews

Some of the reasons why stay interviews have proven to be an effective retention tool over the years include:

  • They stimulate the employee  Most employees are excited simply by the fact that the organization is concerned about their future and that their manager took the time to consult with them.
  • They’re personalized – Unlike engagement surveys and many other retention tools that are focused on what excites a large number of employees, this approach is customized to a single identifiable individual and their wants.
  • They are limited to key employees – By having a “stay” discussion exclusively with your key employees who are at risk of leaving, you focus the manager’s effort and you minimize the overall time that the manager must devote to retention.
  • They include actions – Unlike exit interviews, which only identify problems, stay interviews also encourage the parties to identify actions that can improve the employee experience and actions that can help eliminate any major frustrators or turnover triggers.
  • Lower employee emotions – The discussion occurs before the employee has made the decision to consider leaving. As a result, the emotions of the employee (and perhaps the manager) are lower.
  • Low time pressure on the manager – Because the employee is not actively interviewing for a job, there is less time pressure on the manager to immediately solve the identified retention issues.
  • A focus on the positive – Most of the interview is focused on identifying and then reinforcing the positive factors that the employee enjoys about their job. Although some negative factors may be covered, they are not the primary focus of the interview.
  • They don’t require training – Most managers can successfully conduct stay interviews without any formal training. A simple “how-to toolkit” is generally all that a manager needs to successfully conduct these interviews.
  • They are inexpensive – These informal interviews don’t require a budget. In most cases, an hour of a manager and an employee’s time are the only major cost factors.

Tomorrow: 20 Stay” Interview Questions to Consider

Dr. John Sullivan is a well-known teacher, author, and HR thought leader. He is a frequent speaker and advisor to Fortune 500 and Silicon Valley firms. Formerly the chief talent officer for Agilent Technologies (the 43,000-employee HP spin-off), he is now a professor of management at San Francisco State University. An expert on recruiting and staffing, he was dubbed the "Michael Jordan of Hiring" by Fast Company magazine. Contact him at johns@sfsu.edu.
  • Christina Haxton

    There’s nothing easier (and free) to show you care by asking the question “How am I doing?” then “How can I improve?” Yes, and then listening and following through … AND following up! Great post, I’ll be sharing your article in my next workshop “Strategies for Professional Intimacy: The key to retaining great employees” – thank you!

  • Michael Beck

    Great article, John! I’ve passed it along to my network.

  • Oscar

    From experience – the key to retaing key employees is to have periodic unstaged real authentic conversations – it takes care of all points discussed without the stress of an HR initiated staged “stay interview”. Give your employees a Voice, treat them with Respect, and have Authentic conversations – Get real!