A standard approach is to conduct exit interviews to understand why employees are resigning and devise a solution. But narrowing in on why people leave may extract a price: neglect of loyal and engaged employees who want to stay in the organization. Instead, managers should spend just as much time understanding why employees choose to remain in the company through “stay interviews.” These discussions involve asking key questions to your loyal employees that tackle common retention issues. These questions include: What’s your frame of mind today? Who do you feel connected to at work? What barriers can I remove for you? What new thing do you want to learn that will excite you and help you grow at work?
Amid the Great Resignation, managers are asking themselves why. They conduct exit interviews, trying to understand why people are resigning and devising solutions to the problem. But narrowing in on why people leave may exact a price: neglect of loyal and engaged employees who want to stay in the organization. These employees, when ignored, might also feel disenfranchised and opt to leave, setting off a negative spiral.
Managers should spend just as much time understanding why employees choose to stay. When we know what keeps people attached to their current workplace, we can then use this information to adopt more intentional and proactive practices.
One way to gain insight into employees’ motivators is to conduct stay interviews. These not only provide valuable information from the perspective of our team members, but they also make inroads into reengaging our employees and stanching the bleeding of talent from our organizations.
The key to stay interviews is asking questions that address what you’d learn from exit interviews. These four questions tackle common retention issues. Fold them into your existing one-on-one meetings with your employees, or if you don’t have regular one-on-one meetings, consider conducting stay interviews monthly.
What’s your frame of mind today?
In your discussion, encourage people to express a full range of emotions. No matter what’s shared, don’t attempt to solve the problem or negate their experience. If someone says they’re feeling unmotivated, respond by saying, “Thank you for honestly sharing how you’re feeling,” and ask for more information. To normalize their experience, acknowledge that you have days when you feel energetic and hopeful and others where you struggle.
Our well-meaning human response when faced with another’s pain is to try to immediately extinguish their anguish. But rote assurances of resilience and hyped excitement about the business, especially from those in authority, unintentionally signal it’s not okay for an employee to struggle or express their authentic emotions. If not allowed to do so, employees feel disappointed, not seen or understood, and might seek alternate venues.
Who do you feel connected to at work?
Friendships at work foster a bond that works like gravity. The toxic combination of too many meetings just to get the work done and not enough connections outside of transactional business saps us of energy. And in its research on employee engagement, Gallup has found a strong link between having a best friend at work and employee performance.
In your stay interview, ask, “Who do you feel connected to at work?” Based on their response, explore what you can do to help them deepen those connections, say, by assigning them to joint work or finding ways to create unexpected pairings. Perhaps people from different departments can work on a company-wide event, a cross-division initiative, or take part in virtual discussion groups. The glue that connects us to our colleagues also connects us to our companies. Finding ways for people to regularly connect socially and build relationships will extend their shelf life in the organization.
What barriers can I remove for you?
Research shows that the single biggest motivational action managers can take is to remove barriers that inhibit employees from achieving their goals. Yet we more often offer praise or rewards, like gift certificates for coffee. These remedies might make us feel better about our jobs as managers, but do they really make an impact on our employees and their work?
During your stay interviews ask, “What barriers can I remove for you?” Then communicate what action you will take and follow through or brainstorm with your colleague how you can be most helpful. Instead of saying, “Good job,” ensure your direct report can perform their job well.
What new thing do you want to learn that will excite you and help you grow?
Instead of talking about what your employee can do for the company, ask what they might like to do for themselves. This question signals that you care not just about what this person has done for you or the company, but what you can do for them to foster their development and to help them achieve their dreams and aspirations. It also, in turn, enhances employee loyalty.
We all want stability and reassurance in a workplace where we feel seen, heard, connected, and productive. As managers, our first efforts to provide these benefits to our employees often fail. We pressure them instead of reassuring them. By spending time conducting stay interviews, we strengthen our skills as managers and the desire of our employees to continue working with us.