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How to perform a Stay Interview

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Two women sitting at a table talking.

There is a lot of talk (articles, posts and books)  in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion space about finding and hiring non-white people. While I feel that’s extremely important, I think many people are missing a piece of the puzzle – keeping the people of color you already have. According to a 2017 Center for Social Impact and Harris Poll 48% of POC left due to dissatisfaction with their work environment or with their job duties. That’s nearly 1 out of every 2 employees of color! Pair that with how expensive it is to retrain a new employee and you have a recipe for disaster. 

So, what can you do about retention? One way to increase retention is to conduct a stay interview and find out what drives and motivates your employees, especially your Black and Brown employees. We’ll cover what a stay interview is, why you want to do them and how to give a solid stay interview. 

What is a stay interview? 

A stay interview is an interview between a manager and an employee to find out what keeps the employee working for the organization, what drives/motivates them and what should be improved to make the organization a better place to work for the employee. A stay interview is different from an exit interview. By the time an exit interview is done, it’s too late. The employee is already out the door and will take a possibly negative feel of the organization with them. 

Why are stay interviews important?

Stay interviews show that your key employees are valued and that you want their help to improve the business. 

Stay interviews help to uncover biases and issues in the workplace. If they are done around the same time, it becomes a snapshot of where the organization is and where they would like to be. They also help you understand your employees as individuals and not “resources”. It shows that they are valued and that you want their help to improve the business. 

When would you do a stay interview? 

It’s best to do a stay interview during a slower time of the business cycle, but it can be done any time before an employee is ready to leave the organization. For new employees, have a stay interview at the 90 day mark. By this time, the employee has gotten a bit of the lay of the land and has a sense of what works and doesn’t work. No matter when you do a stay interview,  But it must be consistent across the board.

At my last company I had my stay interview right around the 90 day mark and it was so helpful in shaping my growth plan and looking at what stretch goals I wanted to work on in the next 3-6 months. It was also really helpful to see what worked for me in relation to the rest of the team and to see where our strengths/challenges were and how to play off of each other.

How do you do a stay interview? 

First, make sure your organization feels safe for your employees. Yep, we’re talking about psychological safety again (I’ll shout the need for this in every organization until I’m hoarse, then start writing it on sticky notes and posting them everywhere. It’s THAT important.)  Make sure employees know that anything said in the interview won’t be used as retaliation and say it explicitly to your employee. Don’t assume that they’ll “just know”. 

Make sure employees know that anything said in the interview won’t be used as retaliation and say it explicitly to your employee.

Be very clear and explicit about the goals of the stay interview. Let your employee know that the goal of the stay interview is to find out what keeps a key employee like yourself engaged, excited and motivated. You also want to know what are the things that are motivating and you would like to see us do less. 

Don’t bring in other people. Despite the level of interest that may come from HR or other business units, this isn’t a team effort or a panel interview. Bringing in other people reduces the likelihood that the employee will feel comfortable enough to be able to share what they really want to share. 

Ask good questions. The questions shouldn’t be overly complicated, misleading or vague. Some examples of good questions are below: 

  • What do you look forward to when you come to work? 
  • What are you not so interested in? 
  • What keeps you working here?
  • How do you like to be recognized?
  • How could we support you better?
  • What should we stop doing? 
  • What would make your job more satisfying?
  • Do you feel fully utilized in your current role?

Interviews should be no longer than an hour and if you can have the conversation in 30 minutes that’s even better. This way you are mindful of your employee’s time and they can get back to doing great work. As you are going through the conversation take notes and after the conversation, share those notes with the employee to make sure things were captured correctly and that the appropriate actions are being taken.

Finally, actually DO the things you commit to doing. There is no faster way to lose the trust of your employees than to promise to do something and to not follow through. If it is going to take longer than expected or if you have to get other people to help, make sure you communicate that to your employee and keep them in the loop as things progress. 

Stay interviews are one of a number of tools that can be used to increase retention and to understand what your key employees want and what keeps them coming into the office everyday. 

If you are more of a visual learner, I have a short video about stay interviews:

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