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How To Use Stay Interview To Combat The Great Resignation

April 27, 2022, 4-min. read
How To Use Stay Interview To Combat The Great Resignation

Most professionals are quite familiar with the concept of exit interviews, which are designed to map out why people leave a company. Stay interviews, a fairly recent term, have the exact opposite goal. Their purpose is to find out why people stay with the business, and ensure they will. And not just any people, the most critical ones.

As suggested, the utility of stay interviews is twofold. First, because they are structured, you can get actionable insights as to how to retain the best people. And secondly, conducting such interviews can help you to retain the specific people you are talking to. In fact, it is generally the case that managers pay more attention to newcomers and at-risk people and give minimal attention and care to their best assets. It is easy to overlook that they are dissatisfied or bothered. Another side effect is that a lot of valuable suggestions and innovative ideas can come during the talks. 

Even though these discussions are not designed for everyone, they have proven to be a great complement to regular surveys, where we ask everyone but don't have the opportunity to ask specific questions to specific people

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When to conduct stay interviews and when to avoid them?

For stay interviews to really work as they should, it's important that they are conducted in a comfortable atmosphere, in the spirit of open and informal communication. This in itself places quite high demands on the maturity and skills of the manager conducting them. It only takes a little and a stay interview can turn into the first spark of an impending departure.

It is also important that the whole company lives in a culture of open feedback as well. If this is not the case and feedback always signals a problem in your company, people will be apprehensive about stay interviews. They will perceive them as threatening, wondering what ulterior and, for them, dangerous motives are behind them. In the interview itself, they will be wary, they will choose cautiousness and diplomatic answers, and the value of the information obtained in this way will be nil.

Nor will stay interviews work unless you work with the ideas and inspiration from them. In that case, your key people may soon develop frustration and disappointment that it was of no use. Worse, they may even get the feeling that you don't care about their opinions, and instead of staying, you'll soon be facing an exit interview.

How to conduct stay interviews?

Basically, you have two ways of doing them. 

The first option, a fairly safe one, is to nest the questions that fall into the stay interview into the 1-to-1 meetings you have with your people during the year. That way they can become part of development interviews which can also help you better develop the skill of conducting such interviews.

The moment you are confident that you can handle stay interviews as a stand-alone topic without getting yourself into a bind or your key people leaving disillusioned, you can set them aside and conduct them separately. Knowing the principles of coaching and working with open-ended questions will certainly help you to do this.

How to use stay interview to combat the great resignation

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Stay interviews as a standalone discussion should ideally be conducted once a year, and if you want to work with the information from them in a general way, then it's a good idea to get all the stay interviews done in a relatively short time frame. Set aside at least 30-60 minutes for each one of these interviews.

And don't forget to explain the purpose and goal of stay interviews to people beforehand, as well as to outline the structure so they know what to expect and can prepare for them.

Then in the interview itself, initially outline the aim and purpose, work with the atmosphere to make it informal and friendly, and progress from simple and safe questions to more sensitive ones. It is important that your interviews feel safe.

Knowing the principles of coaching and working with open-ended questions will certainly help you to do this.

Also, be prepared for the possibility that things may come up in a stay interview that are uncomfortable for you. In such a moment, keep in mind that the goal is to understand your people. Even though you may not agree with their perspective, it is their version of reality. If you downplay, explain or defend anything, then you will silence your people. Stay interviews are not for defending the company or you as a manager, they are for caring. So try to understand, ask questions, want to know as much as possible. Also, give your people time to think and answer. Don't rush the conversation and don't be afraid of silence. Sometimes the most fundamental ideas need time to mature.

Examples of questions

In a stay interview, you should primarily ask open-ended questions that help spark discussion and allow people to express their opinions freely.

The tone of your voice should convey curiosity, interest, and a desire to understand.

For each question, you should know why you are asking it and how the information is useful to you. And at the same time, if you are asking, you should be prepared to listen and to take action in a particular area.

Here are some examples of what such questions might look like:

  • What do you look forward to every day when you go to work?
  • What do you like most/least about working here?
  • If you could change something about your job, what would it be?
  • Which of your strengths and traits do you use at work?
  • What would you like to use/do more of?
  • What else would you like to learn?
  • What motivates/demotivates you?
  • How do you perceive your work-life balance?
  • In the last (month/year), what have you felt frustrated about, what has upset you?
  • What might tempt you to leave?
  • What would your dream job look like?
  • What goes through your mind on the way to/from work to home?
  • What can I do to make working here better for you?

Consider how many questions you can realistically manage in a given time and allow yourself enough space for both answers and follow-up discussion. Stick to the principle that less is sometimes more. The interview should not feel like an interrogation.

Leave enough time towards the end to summarize and possibly outline a plan or follow-up. Don't be afraid to ask how your colleague perceived the conversation. The overall tone should always be positive and feed the chance that the interview will make your key person happier, more motivated, and engaged.

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