You’ve heard of exit interviews, conducted before an employee leaves an organization.

If you aren’t as familiar with stay interviews, it’s time for that to change. Stay interviews help managers learn how to keep their employees happy. Ultimately, they can facilitate a more harmonious and productive work environment, while reducing employee turnover rates.

So what exactly is a stay interview? A stay interview is simply where a manager and an employee sit down to discuss what the employee does and doesn’t like about their position and work.

Experts recommend holding these interviews at least once a year, and twice during the new employee onboarding period. (This period varies widely by company and industry; for example, it’s the first 40-50 days for fast food employees, while it’s 90-180 days for engineers.)

Just the gesture of taking the time to listen to an employee will do wonders to build trust, and it will also yield important insight about how to make your employees happier.

Here’s everything you need to know about how to conduct a stay interview and use it to your advantage.

Purpose of a stay interview

It’s important to note that the information you receive in a stay interview will only be as good as the trust you have built with your employees. Getting the most out of a stay interview requires creating an open culture where employees feel comfortable giving honest feedback.

If you have built this kind of a work culture, you will be well-positioned to accomplish these two main purposes of a stay interview:

Learn why they leave

People leave organizations for all kinds of reasons. They don’t like their boss, they get a better offer with another organization, they find the workload is too much.

A stay interview helps you determine the reasons your employee might choose to leave sometime down the road, and then make that scenario less likely to happen.

To figure out what may make your employee decide to leave, ask them about recent frustrations. Ask: “Think about a time in the last year or so when you were frustrated or anxious about your role or the work you were doing. Can you tell me what it was that made you frustrated or anxious? And what happened to lower those frustration and anxiety levels?”

The responses will contain the seeds of what could eventually propel them to leave. Do employees feel constrained by organizational bureaucracy? Do they feel unappreciated? Do they think they are being micromanaged?

Understanding their frustrations gives you the opportunity to minimize them in ways that will make them more satisfied on the job and less likely to leave it.  

Learn why they stay

This is the flip side of employee retention. Not only do you want to understand why they leave, but you want to understand why they stay. Ask your employees: “Can you tell me the things that contribute to you doing your best work?”

This is a particularly important question for top performers, who may have their pick of the field when it comes to employers. They are especially likely to choose an employer for providing them with what they need to work their best.

You may be surprised by how easy it is to give employees what they need. It could be something like allowing them to start and leave work an hour earlier than the rest of their team, to give them uninterrupted time in the morning before everyone else arrives. It may be providing them with an ergonomic desk and chair to alleviate tension in their back.

Whatever it is they need, there’s only one way to find out: ask.

Questions to ask in your stay interview

With these purposes in mind, here are a list of questions you can ask during a stay interview:

These questions will give you a well-rounded picture of what your employee likes and dislikes about their job, and how you can make them more satisfied in their work.

Handling the tricky questions

Sometimes managers are nervous that employees will bring up topics such as pay, a promotion, or something else out of their control. If that happens, honesty is the best policy.

Managers can truthfully reply that there’s a budget constraint, or that they don’t have the ability to unilaterally decide who gets promoted.

If you have previously asked the employee what they need to do their best work, they will likely have provided numerous ideas on what would make them happier on the job. Maybe you can’t offer a promotion, but you can offer the training they want. Maybe you can’t give them a raise, but you can find ways to reduce the number of hours they’re working.

Don’t shy away from hearing what employees want just because you’re afraid you won’t be able to give them what they want, and be ready to hear some unpleasant truths, such as bad feelings towards management, or long-standing frustrations in issues that have been raised year after year and remain unresolved. Remember, your employees already have these concerns, not hearing them won’t make them go away.

The benefits of stay interviews far outweigh the temporary discomfort of hearing about and addressing such issues. Done right, stay interviews will help you keep your employees happy, productive, and content at your organization.

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