“What prompted you to look for another job?”
“What could we have done to keep you on?”
When an employee chooses to leave your company, you want to know why. An exit interview featuring questions like these is designed to help you see what your organization can do differently to strengthen retention going forward.
But for companies facing chronic turnover and a competitive labor market, even the keenest hindsight may be too little, too late. If you want to bolster your team and hold on to top talent, consider conducting “stay interviews.”
What is a stay interview? It’s a powerful tool for preventing turnover rather than just understanding it.
Let’s explore the debate “stay interview vs exit interview” and find out how stay interviews can support your talent management and retention strategy.
What is an exit interview, and why conduct one?
Exit interviews have been around for a long time, and many companies conduct them as a routine part of the offboarding process.
Generally, HR or a manager sits down to talk with the employee about their experience with the company. The purpose is to understand why the employee chose to leave and to get a sense of what could be improved going forward.
Aside from asking about why they decided to seek employment elsewhere and what the company could have done differently, common exit interview questions include:
- What would prompt you to consider returning to this company?
- Do you feel your job description changed during your employment?
- Did you have all the tools and resources you needed to do your job?
- Did you have concerns or confusion about any company policies?
- Did you feel you received adequate recognition for your contributions? If not, how could we improve?
- What are you looking forward to in your new role?
The purpose of asking all these questions is to get insight into how your organization can improve as an employer—crucial information to have in a competitive recruiting market.
However, you can’t count on employee exit interviews to reveal all your blind spots as an employer.
The limitations of employee exit interviews
While exit interviews may reveal some problems within the organization, they can’t capture everything you should be aware of. And they aren’t effective at ensuring you retain employees on the fence about leaving. Here’s why:
- Employees may feel you’re showing interest too late. It can be disappointing for people to feel like management didn’t take any interest in them while they were employed. When you don’t ask for input until it’s too late, exiting employees may feel bitter and less inclined to be helpful.
- Exiting employees are already disengaged. When employees have a set plan to leave, they’re not as concerned about fixing problems they don’t see as theirs anymore. And they may not be 100% honest about the reasons they’re leaving.
- Exit interviews focus on the overall company instead of the individual. The purpose of the questions is to learn how to improve the general employee experience. However, there can be as many reasons for leaving as there are employees in your organization. Exit interviews don’t shed light on individual concerns and career goals your current employees may have.
If you want to show your teams you appreciate them and have an impact on employee retention, you need a more proactive approach.
What is a stay interview? And why is it more impactful?
A stay interview process is a conversation aimed at learning more about how to motivate current employees and encourage them to stay with your organization. Instead of looking at how you can improve the organization for all employees in general, you’re digging for insights into specific employees’ needs.
The goal is to learn about what employees are happy with at work, what could be better, and their vision of their future with your company. And the best way to find out about employee feelings and needs, and boost retention, is to ask.
How to conduct an effective stay interview process
The stay interview process can look different for every company. It can mean structured sessions like performance reviews or regular one-on-one discussions. Or it may mean combining questions with employee satisfaction surveys or eNPS (employee Net Promoter Score) surveys.
In general, though, it’s a good idea to conduct separate interviews one-on-one. That way, you keep the focus on the individual instead of on the organization.
Whatever your approach, consider including “how to conduct stay interviews” in your leadership and HR manager training to ensure successful communication. Here are four tips for making your stay interview process as helpful as possible:
1. Keep it conversational
Whether these are scheduled meetings or casual conversations, keep the tone relaxed and informal. The last thing you want to do is create defensiveness.
Be clear about why you’re asking the questions (to learn how to improve the employee experience) to put people at ease.
2. Be open to feedback
Defensiveness on your part will also shut down a healthy conversation. Instead of jumping in to defend a policy or practice that concerns employees, take notes.
Use good listening skills to learn about what’s helping or harming your employees’ experience. Encourage them to share if they seem hesitant, and thank them for participating.
3. Ask the right questions
Focus on questions that shed light on what’s working and what may need improvement for each individual. Some helpful questions to ask during your stay interview process include:
- What are your favorite things about your job? What would you like to see changed?
- Do you feel supported in your career goals?
- Do you have a clear idea of how to achieve your goals within the company?
- What resources, skills, or tools would help you feel more confident in doing your job?
- How can we help you feel more empowered in your role?
4. Act on the feedback you get
The whole point of these conversations is to pre-empt employee turnover. Just as you’re being proactive about learning from them, you need to be proactive about making needed changes.
For instance, take steps to clarify confusing policies. Or offer managers training in things like employee recognition, communication, and inclusion to create an office environment where employees feel valued.
Build a culture of communication and action
When it comes to keeping employees happy, creating a culture of feedback, transparency, and open communication is just as important as offering the right perks. If employees feel their opinions are valued, whether it’s during a stay interview process, an exit interview, or even a casual one-on-one with their manager, they’re more likely to share their honest opinions.
Your goal through all of this is to foster happy employees who see a bright future with your company. When people know you value their opinions and are willing to act on their feedback, they’ll work hard to improve on both a personal and organizational level.