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Apr 25, 2022

Are you really listening to your employees? If not, your organization may be missing out on valuable workplace insights that move the needle on employee engagement and retention.

Remember, employees who feel heard are almost five times more likely to feel empowered to do their best work. Going above and beyond to listen shows employees that they’re valued and that company leaders are willing to learn from and adapt to their feedback.

But in the wake of increased employee turnover, many companies have failed to cultivate the culture of open communication that today’s employees value. In response, human resources should take the lead with a more proactive approach to monitoring employee needs as a way to improve retention and enrich the employee experience.

Enter the ‘stay interview’.

Stay interviews are conversations designed to solicit employee feedback. By listening to employees’ concerns before they escalate, both HR and individual managers can build trust with their workforce, improve employee engagement, and increase retention.

How to conduct stay interviews that support retention

Something needs to change if the first time your team hears about an employee’s concerns is when they hand in their resignation. A Gallup report found that in the three months before surveyed employees left their jobs, 51% said neither their manager nor any other company leader spoke with them about their job satisfaction or future with the organization.

Stay interviews can prevent oversights like this from happening and address employee concerns before it’s too late.

The challenge is that in many organizations, HR may be juggling too many responsibilities to perform every employee’s stay interview — activities like navigating hybrid work, attracting talent during the Great Resignation, and implementing leadership development programs all require time and focus. However, this potential challenge is actually a blessing in disguise. Rather than keeping stay interviews the exclusive domain of HR, you can empower managers to carry out these interviews themselves. In fact, by doing this, you get the double benefit of helping them develop a transparent, empathetic culture.

With that in mind, there are three steps you can follow to conduct stay interviews that successfully retain and empower your employees:

Step 1: Take the time to prepare

 In an ideal world, a manager would interview every employee at least once a quarter. If this isn’t feasible, prioritize employees at opposite ends of the spectrum – for instance high-performing employees who hold tremendous value to the company and at-risk employees who exhibit signs of disengagement. Employee surveys, internal communications apps, and discussion groups can also uncover important data insights, and reading performance journals is a good way to help managers prepare. The more ways you can check-in, the better.

Stay interviews conducted by managers and HR professionals offer different benefits. Often, managers have stronger relationships with their direct reports, so they are more likely to uncover honest feedback from employees. But if the relationship with a manager isn’t well-developed, an employee might feel safer talking with HR. Understanding the levels of comfort an employee feels with both managers and HR can unearth valuable intelligence on company culture.

Step 2: Make the employee comfortable

 Deciding who administers the stay interview is only the first. You also need to make sure employees understand that a stay interview isn’t a performance review or an interrogation. If your HR software has a journal or self-reflection capability, encourage employees to jot down initial thoughts or questions beforehand.

Additionally, remain mindful of the employee’s daily workload so they aren’t distracted during the interview and avoid diving headfirst into questions. A rapid-fire interrogation on sensitive topics doesn’t set the stage for a productive conversation. Instead, take a few minutes to build rapport before jumping into your questions.

If employees aren’t sharing much, switch things up a bit. Consider conducting the interview outside or rephrasing your questions. Or if you’re on Zoom, try it with cameras off. And if you’re tired of experimenting, simply ask what would help the employee feel more at ease. Just seeing that you’re willing to adapt to their needs can help alleviate any discomfort the employee still feels.

Step 3: Ask focused questions

Stay interview questions should ask about the employee’s current situation (how they feel about their role, the company, their manager, etc.), as well as their ideas and future outlook (how they can be better supported and how they see themselves progressing in the company). Here are some sample questions to consider:

Manager-led stay interview questions:

  • What kind of feedback would you like from me?
  • Do you see yourself moving into a new role or advancing in your current role?
  • What specifically about the company or your role keeps you here?
  • What might cause you to consider looking elsewhere?

HR-led stay interview questions:

  • How would you like to provide feedback to members of HR or leadership?
  • What do you like most about the company/what do you like least?
  • Do you have any suggestions about how we can enhance our employee experience?
  • Do you believe the company values your contribution?

It’s a good practice (and a time-saver) to have a set of baseline questions for every interview, but you’ll also want to personalize a few questions to the individual employee’s experience.

Finally, listening is something we assume we know how to do well. But it’s easy to miss out on valuable insights when we’re focused on coming up with the perfect response. So interviewers should approach stay conversations with curiosity. Have them ask follow-up questions, and get them to listen to understand, not respond.

Don’t stop there

Nailing the interview is a good start, but the real work begins after the conversation ends. Employees care about follow-through. They’ll feel more valued when they see their concerns addressed.

So, keep the employee updated throughout the evaluation process. Whether it’s in an email, a video summary, or a regularly scheduled one-on-one, managers should notify the employee of any new developments that occurred as a result of their feedback.

Even if you choose to not implement an idea the employee mentioned, be transparent about why the change didn’t happen. This shows a level of respect the employee will appreciate. It wil ensure they know their viewpoint is still taken seriously.

Employee surveys can be another useful way to follow up. Employee survey tools allow you to conduct both individualized and company-wide surveys to keep tabs on employee satisfaction. These tactics all work towards the same goal: developing a modern workplace where feedback is welcomed, employees feel heard, and everyone is empowered to do their best work.

Build a culture of listening

 Every company is unique. But no matter how your company operates, the only surefire way to know what your employees want is to listen to them.

The stay interview is a valuable tool for any company’s retention strategy. These conversations are both simple enough to be used in a casual check-in and impactful enough for more formal meetings.

By following best practices, these interviews can help you foster a more collaborative relationship with your employees — one where their voices are heard, valued, and acted upon.



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