Stay interviews: What should you talk about?

Quantum Workplace Director offers a strategy for combatting turnover

Stay interviews: What should you talk about?

Oh, won't you stay
Just a little bit longer?
Oh please, please stay
Just a little bit more

HR leaders are sounding like Jackson Browne these days, as companies across the United States experience historic turnover during the Great Resignation.

In July, another 4.2 million Americans quit their jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means roughly 77 million Americans have fled their employers since the beginning of 2021. Prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic to re-evaluate their priorities in life, employees have been heading for greener pastures, demanding higher salaries, better working conditions, improved work-life balance and more opportunities to advance their career. As a result, the scales have tipped in favor of labor, with most employers having to bend over backward to attract and retain talent.

In order to figure out employees’ desires and needs, which is especially important heading into open enrollment season, HR leaders have been conducting stay interviews more frequently than ever before.

“We’ve heard increased appetite in anything that could help in retention and attraction of talent, especially since the Great Resignation began,” Anne Maltese, director of people insights at Quantum Workplace, an Omaha, NE-based HR tech firm, told HRD. “A lot of our customers haven’t done something like this in the past. There’s been more reliance on exit surveys, which are too late in the game.”

Whereas exit interviews attempt to determine why an employee has chosen to leave a company, stay interviews ignite that conversation much earlier to prevent the exit interview from ever happening. Stay interviews are an effective way to gauge employee engagement, which traditionally leads to a higher retention rate. Topics for the discussion usually include career development, advancement opportunities, compensation, benefits and perks, strengths and weaknesses, relationships with colleagues and future goals.

“At the end of 2021, we found that the number-one reason people will leave an organization, even more than pay, is lack of career growth,” Maltese says. “So, while the stay interview might feel like something to have annually, managers should check in regularly. That doesn’t necessarily mean having deep career development conversations, but frequency is important because people evolve. If someone shared career growth aspirations a year ago, they may look different now.”

Read more: Cisco leaders focus on measuring employee well-being

According to Quantum Workplace research, one in three employees prefer to have some type of one-on-one conversation with their manager on a weekly basis and 27% prefer a monthly basis. Of those that have a weekly one on one, 71% are highly engaged compared to 59% who maybe have one-on-ones three times a year.

Although HR can perform both stay and exit interviews, Maltese advises making managers a more active participant in stay interviews. “It’s a key opportunity to build trust and a solid relationship,” Maltese says. “When that happens, you can have more honest conversations with your employees. They’re more likely to say, ‘If I don’t see x, y and z, it may cause me to leave.’ If you’re having that conversation in real-time with honesty and transparency, the manager is in a much better spot to help and figure out how to retain the employee. If HR is having that conversation, employees may hold back.”

In addition to stay and exit interviews, another effective measure for learning about employees is the engagement (aka pulse) survey. These short surveys – typically run online – ask participants to share their opinion on a certain topic, giving an employer a snapshot of employee sentiment. One of the benefits of engagement surveys is that as employees answer them over time, Maltese says, the company can analyze the data and discover trends that may lead to one’s resignation.

Quantum Workplace has a tool called Flight Risk, which predicts the percentage of employees who may leave and why they’re likely to do so. The tool relies upon engagement surveys, identifying items that people who have left the organization have responded differently to, as well as the comments they might have left.

“We’re able to put together a profile of people who may be at higher risk of leaving,” Maltese says. “That’s invaluable insight. For example, with one manufacturing organization we work with, we noticed when employees were commenting on safety concerns, that location was at much greater risk for turnover.”

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