Want to Retain Employees? Ask ‘What Would It Take to Make You Leave?’

Illustration by istockphoto.com
Illustration by istockphoto.com

Michele Klein, HR Manager for Fidelity Exploration and Production (a large player in the booming oil and gas industry) was doing an exit interview with an engineer who was leaving to take a similar job with a competitor.

As her final question, she asked, “If we had known that you were thinking about leaving several months ago, would there have been anything we could have done to keep you?”

“Absolutely.” the engineer replied. “I didn’t realize that you had bigger plans for me. Nobody ever told me.”

But by then, it was too late.

Making stay interviews a priority

So Michele and her team decided that the best way to circumvent future exit interviews was to begin to conduct stay interviews.

“I read some books on the concept of stay interviews, discussed it with a colleague, and put together a schedule that would allow me to interview every employee every 18 months.” Klein told me. “Each interview lasts about 30 minutes, and our people now look forward to them.”

Then again, what employee wouldn’t want management to know how they really feel about their job?

Fidelity employs about 200 people, many of which are geologists, chemical engineers, and other professionals in positions of high demand and short supply. Turnover is a major issue in oil and gas with fresh-out-of-college engineers commanding starting salaries of $80K per year and more.

Headhunters are having a field day finding and selling talent to the highest bidders, and Klein says, “no one leaves for a job that isn’t paying at least 10 percent more.”

That’s why Michele Klein says it’s her goal to do at least two stay interviews per week, with each interview conducted face-to-face as opposed to over the phone or online.

“There’s something about that personal connection that makes this process work.” she said. “The interviews allow me to find out what our people like about working for us, what they don’t like, and what they’d like to see changed.”

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Getting inside their head and heart

Klein said that she has a list of 10 questions that guide her, but she’s always willing to go wherever the interview takes her. Among those questions on her list, are:

  • “What makes a great day of work for you?”
  • Are we using your talents effectively?” and,
  • When you do a great job, what’s the best way we can recognize you?”

Her favorite question, and the one that Klein says is the most revealing is “What is the one thing about your job that, if it changed, would cause you to leave?”

I can’t think of a more valuable piece of information for any manager wanting to stem the heartbreak of turnover.

Take a minute to imagine how much more effectively you could manage, motivate, and retain your cherished employees if you only knew how they really felt about their jobs and your culture.

Then take a page from Michele at Fidelity and stop imagining.

Go ask them.

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic blog. His new book is Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. For copies, visit revivingworkethic.com.

Eric Chester is a leading voice in the global dialogue on employee engagement, and building a world-class workplace culture. He's an in-the-trenches researcher on the topic of the millennial mindset, and the dynamics of attracting, managing, motivating and retaining top talent. Chester is a Hall-of-Fame keynote speaker and the author of 4 leadership books including his newly released Amazon #1 Bestseller On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in their People without Burning Them Out.  Learn more at EricChester.com and follow him at @eric_chester