The Stay Interview: Four Tips to Persuade Talented People Not to Leave

The traditional exit interview has long been a popular way to gain insight into the reasons behind employee turnover. But it is conducted too late to help the employer keep the person that’s being interviewed.

In an effort to solve employees’ problems before they leave in frustration, some employers are conducting “stay interviews”. These sessions are designed to encourage open dialogue and can lead to results that improve the employer’s business and make employees more eager to stay.

Stay interviews are already an integral part of the talent retention strategy at some of the largest banks and hotel groups based in the UK capital, said London-based human resources consultant Elizabeth Babafemi Petrucci.

And as many as two to three in every ten US companies may be using these pre-emptive stay sessions, according to a 2016 survey by Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“I explain to managers that I will pose some questions to help me understand the factors that cause them to enjoy their current role – about what motivates them to stay with the company and suggestions for ways we might improve it”

The stay interview

Leading organizations know that creating an environment that attracts, retains, and develops the best talent is crucial to maintaining market position. Oxford Economics calculated that the loss of an employee earning US$30,500 a year or more carries an average financial impact of more than US$37,350 in key sectors including accounting, retail, and IT/tech.

With retention a top priority for almost a third of employers, according to LinkedIn Talent Solutions’ Global Recruiting Trends 2016, well-structured stay interviews can help detect issues earlier.

Introducing these employee engagement sessions on a regular basis, not just as a last-ditch measure, can help firms address cultural and developmental problems before talented individuals jump ship.

The conversation, meanwhile, has shifted from whether stay interviews are valuable to how best to structure them. “To get the most of out a stay interview, it should be conducted by the manager,” said Petrucci, the founder of EMDS HR, noting that this is the way to build trust among employees and avoid disempowering line managers before they have a chance to resolve issues.

Here are Petrucci’s pointers to get stay interviews on track so your organization can retain valued employees.

Break the ice

Positioning the stay interview appropriately is essential. A neutral venue can help keep the lines of communication open, with off-site discussions preferable to keep people relaxed so that they open up.

“They aren’t required to be formal or structured like an annual review. They could be casual discussions, over a cup of coffee, but there are specific features that need to be built into the discussion,” Petrucci said.

Make the tone positive and explain the rationale for the process, she advised. “The introduction is very important to break the ice. I explain to managers that I will pose some questions to help me understand the factors that cause them to enjoy their current role – about what motivates them to stay with the company and suggestions for ways we might improve it.”

At the earliest opportunity, praise the employee for his or her contribution to the department and company as a whole, Petrucci said. “Make it clear that their inputs are valued, so that you are empowering them,” she said.

Keep it regular

Petrucci advises companies to schedule regular stay interviews, so that they are not conducted only when there is a sign of crisis or when a star performer has already psychologically bolted from the stable. Also be wary of suddenly implementing stay interviews if you are the type of manager who largely avoids one-to-one meetings unless there is bad news.

“Cadence is critical,” she noted. “The stay interview should be a series of conversations. It shouldn’t be an interrogation or one-off meeting. For new hires, have the interview every few months.”

“For a lot of companies, the stay interview backfires because they listen to concerns but there is no follow-up. The employee is left with the impression that the stay interview was undertaken as a compulsory HR exercise”

Groups vs. individual meetings

Individual meetings aren’t the only way to elicit useful information from employees – and they aren’t always necessary, practical, or appropriate. Consider, for example, a scenario where you would like to keep staff turnover to a minimum on a factory floor.

For situations like these, Petrucci has effectively used focus groups, segmenting employees into the same job families or categories.

“In my experience, they usually talk about the same issues and problems – the manager, working conditions.” Groups of ten to 15 are the ideal size; with anything larger, you run the risk of some people feeling like they have not been heard, she said.

Another option is a survey, particularly where you have shift workers or where people are working far from headquarters. “That isn’t the best way, though. One-to-one is the best approach,” Petrucci emphasized.

The fire is in the follow-up

Critically important is how the information is handled later.

“For a lot of companies, the stay interview backfires because they listen to concerns but there is no follow-up. The employee is left with the impression that the stay interview was undertaken as a compulsory HR exercise,” said Petrucci.

She takes notes during interviews, keeps records of discussions, and follows up with reports – which contributes to the perception that the employee is being listened to.

Confirm that you will work on developing a realistic and customized retention plan. Some factors – for example, pay or corporate culture – might be beyond the power of the line manager to change.

In such a case, this needs to be made clear, but the manager should assure that he or she will have conversations about the issues with relevant stakeholders.

About the Author

This article first appeared in CGMA Magazine, a publication of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, which offers the Chartered Global Management Accountant (CGMA) professional designation. The association is a joint venture of AICPA in the US and CIMA in the UK.  Click here to subscribe  to the weekly newsletter CGMA Magazine Update.

©Copyright 2016 CGMA Magazine. All rights reserved.

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