Kim was one of the “superstars” in her department. She was always pleasant to work with, always met her deadlines, and did exceptional work. She was so independent that her manager pretty much left her to her own devices and checked in only sporadically. One Friday, after a year and a half with the company, Kim gave her notice of resignation, stating she was leaving due to a better opportunity.
Her manager was shocked. She hadn’t been aware Kim was unhappy or looking to change. In her exit interview with HR, Kim explained that she was frustrated that the scope of her job had become very inconsistent and also cited a lack of accountability with other departments that made her job more difficult. When asked why she had never spoken to her manager about her concerns, Kim simply shrugged and stated, “she never asked me.”
While an exit interview may help explain why an employee has decided to leave, it is generally information gained a little too late. Could a “stay interview” have circumvented that desire to leave in the first place?
A survey conducted by Challenger Gray & Christmas, an executive coaching and outsourcing firm showed that 50% of companies they interviewed were already using, or were planning on using, a stay interview to help retain their employees.
Exit interviews usually consist of several questions that would have been more effective had they been asked earlier. Very simply, a stay interview turns conversations from, “Why are you leaving?” and “What could we have done better?” to “Why do you stay?” and “What would you change?”
Some leaders may wonder, however, if it really isn’t up to employees to let their leaders know if they are having concerns. After all, they think, isn’t that what an open door policy is for? Well, maybe. While Kim in the example above might be an extreme case in terms of non-communication, some employees simply do not want to rock the boat and decide it would probably be easier to start looking for a new job. Even if not actively looking, they might be more tempted to return a recruiter’s call or scan through job openings while perusing LinkedIn.
So, what does a stay interview look like?
The main purpose of a stay interview is to get information that will help you to retain employees. These questions should generally not center around more compensation or perks, but rather employees’ perspectives of their jobs, personal motivators, as well as any issues and concerns they have. Employees should be made to feel comfortable during these interviews and receive assurance that information shared will not be held against them in any way.
Several resources, including the Society of Human Resource Management offer sample open-ended questions that may get to the intel that is the key to an employee’s retention. Some common ideas for question themes are:
- Finding out why they stay. Is it the people? Enjoyment of the work? Belief in the company’s product, message, or mission?
- Find out what they like about what they do. Is it the challenge? The variety? Or, the fact that the job is usually predictable and does not cause undue stress?
- And alternatively, ask about any frustrations that may exist. Are outdated processes or overly complex procedures causing unnecessary delay? Does their position feel dead-end?
- Ask about ideas for improvements. The one with the most information on a job is often the one who has an idea of what could make it better, more efficient, more satisfying.
- Personal and professional development. What are the employees hoping to accomplish at work? What other areas are they interested in? What skills are they looking to acquire or improve?
Asking these types of questions in the past tense when someone has a foot out of the door may not be, in many cases, very useful. Not all employees want to share their experience, insight, and other information with an employer that they feel hasn’t lived up to their expectations. Many employers also conduct exit interviews, but the information gained is not always shared and is filed away along with the employee who left.
In the case of stay interviews, while not all items on someone’s wish list may be satisfied, employees who feel that their companies take an interest in their careers, want to hear what makes them tick and want to make things better, will more than likely not consider seeking opportunity elsewhere.
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