Stay interviews: a valuable tool for retention

25 March 2022

Exit interviews have become a regular part of the HR process when a person leaves an organisation. The information gathered can be useful to understand the reasons behind a person leaving, but by the time the information is received, it is often too late to encourage the employee to stay. The company will lose the corporate history, knowledge, skills and experience of that employee, whilst having to bear the financial cost and time investment of rehiring and onboarding a new team member. With people leaving their employers at a higher rate than ever this year, organisations are looking for new ways to retain their employees.

RSM’s The Real Economy Report: The Modern Workforce, in collaboration with The Harris Poll, reveals insights into how the pandemic has affected attitudes to working. With 43 per cent of businesses experiencing problems with retention, the report outlines the changing expectations of employees and how businesses are adapting to stay competitive.

It explores the phenomenon known as 'The Great Resignation', where employees are resigning in order to pursue a change in career or lifestyle. So how can organisations retain their top talent? What makes a good employee want to leave? How can you know if someone is considering quitting?

One way of addressing these questions is to engage with employees directly. It’s easy to assume what employees need and whether they’re considering leaving, but those assumptions are often unreliable. Using a proactive approach in asking them what makes them stay will provide valuable insight into what employees value and potentially what may need to be reviewed and changed.

Welcome to the stay interview

Conducting stay interviews with as many employees as possible provides clear feedback to the employer so they can better understand what is and what isn’t working from the employees’ perspective. Making adjustments accordingly may reduce turnover and subsequently reduce recruitment activity which continues to be a growing challenge for many sectors.

A stay interview is similar to an exit interview – an informal conversation that will uncover ways an organisation can improve. Unlike the exit interview where it’s usually too late to resolve any negative issues, the stay interview provides the opportunity to improve the employee experience. Data gathered from stay interviews will be more qualitative than previous employee engagement surveys, and offer a personal and individual follow up to areas an employee feels strongly about, which could make a big difference.

What makes an effective stay interview?

Here are a few ideas when considering stay interviews:

  • Utilise feedback from new starters – but get the timing right. New starters are historically more susceptible to leaving within their probationary period, as they are yet to be fully invested in the organisation, but their experience within the first few months will be invaluable to understand. The timing is crucial – let them settle in but gather their feedback whilst they’re still relatively new to the organisation.
  • Let employees know why stay interviews are important to the organisation. Communicating in advance the “reason why” the organisation intends to conduct stay interviews will ensure employees are more open to sharing their feedback. If employees are aware you’re looking for open and honest input and your intentions behind the data gathering, they will have the opportunity to provide insightful feedback.
  • Stay interviews aren’t performance reviews. Be mindful that the intention is to gather informative feedback on the employees’ experience, not the employees’ performance.
  • Choose carefully who conducts a stay interview. Who might get the most useful insight? It may be the employee’s line manager which will develop more open communication – they may also be better placed to make appropriate changes and amendments. More difficult conversations can be supported by HR colleagues if necessary.
  • Understanding the opportunity that a stay interview provides is a real benefit as it shows how much the employee is valued. A stay interview is a great time to communicate the organisation’s appreciation for their contribution.
  • It’s a two-way conversation. Ask what makes the employee want to keep their job and why, also what frustrations are being experienced either with their individual role or the organisation as a whole.
  • What will happen to the information gathered. Have appropriate follow up actions for the information that is obtained from stay interviews. It’s unproductive for employees to give feedback, only for it to be ignored. Report back on any changes that are made, so employees know their views and/or concerns were heard and are being addressed.
  • Understand company culture before commencing a programme of stay interviews. Employees may be wary of stay interviews if there isn’t a culture of trust in the first place. Feedback may therefore not be as forthcoming as you’d like. Working on company culture step by step prior to conducting stay interviews may be time well spent. If that’s not possible, consider asking for anonymous feedback until confidence grows.

RSM can give further guidance on handling effective stay interviews with a particular focus on the questions you might want to consider and what to do with the information gathered.

If you would like more information or have any queries, please contact Kerri Constable.