Many companies use exit interviews to uncover the reasons why their people have made the decision to leave their jobs. Unfortunately, asking a soon-to-be former employee “Why are you leaving?” on their last day doesn’t provide employers with ample time to prevent the outcome of employee turnover.

Related reading: Employee Offboarding: How to Conduct an Exit Interview

To decrease employee turnover, companies should be taking preventative measures to reduce the number of exit interviews by conducting stay interviews with their people.

What are stay interviews?

Instead of learning why an employee has chosen to part ways with your company, become curious about what will make your employees stay.

HR thought leader Dr. John Sullivan recommends the “pre-exit interview” strategy of stay interviews. A stay interview, says Sullivan, is a one-on-one interview between a manager and an employee. The aim of these proactive meetings is to learn what makes employees want to keep working for you by identifying the factors that make them stay with your company, along with the triggers that may lead them to leave your company. From those findings, employers can reinforce the positive factors and minimize the negative triggers of the employee experience, thus keeping top performers satisfied at work.

Through this practice, employers can identify commonalities, patterns, and other insights that they otherwise might not have been able to spot. After conducting enough stay interviews, you might find that your employees are citing the same reasons for wanting to stay or wanting to leave your organization.

Meet your employees at a good place

Emotions can run high at exit interviews. When your people are already in the mindset of leaving, they will have a different outlook towards their experience at your organization, and one that will likely be coloured by negative or despondent attitudes.

By having a stay interview with your employee before they get to those final moments at your company, the conversation will be focused on identifying opportunities instead of missteps and getting their constructive feedback instead of criticism.

Get their honest opinion on the employee experience

A stay interview allows managers to connect with their employees through a one-on-one meeting meant to be a forum to learn about their day-to-day work experience and their long-term career goals. A change in environment will allow your people to open up and speak honestly, which is why conducting stay interviews outside of the workplace is recommended.

As Sullivan recommends, ask questions that will help you understand the factors causing your employees to enjoy and to stay in their roles. Have them list out what contributes to their producing their best work. Then, ask about their pain points at work. Managers can frame this line of questioning as follows: 

“Think back to a time in the last year when you have felt frustrated or anxious about your role. Can you tell me the factors that contributed to that frustration or anxiety?”

Stay interviews provide employees with an opportunity to be heard by their employer. In this case, it’s the thought that truly counts: “employees are excited simply by the fact that the organization is concerned about their future and that their manager took the time to consult with them,” says Sullivan.

Help your people grow so they don’t go

When directing the conversation towards constructive feedback for your organization, particularly in regards to how the employer can support the employee’s career journey, Founder & CEO of Raise The Bar Aaron Levy recommends starting with these two questions to form the discussion:

  1. What skills would you like to develop?
  2. How can we support you?

Look at these conversations as an opportunity to find out your employees’ goals in order to take the next steps in guiding them to success. The employer’s primary goal is to learn about where their employee sees themselves in the next few years and what they want for their career. Stay interviews allow leaders and their people to think critically about continual improvement beyond the confines of the annual performance review. This method gives employees a chance to share what they like about the company and what they think could be improved as it happens.

Related reading: Employee Offboarding: The Best Exit Interview Questions to Ask

Leaders and managers may be concerned about opening up the dialogue and not being able to guarantee leading their people to the opportunities, promotions, and compensation they have envisioned in their career roadmap. In this case, steer the direction of the conversation towards the tangible steps along the growth trajectory that the employee will take towards achieving these career outcomes. What skills would they need develop to continue along their desired growth journey? From there, employers can act as a coach in their career development, placing the employee in key learning situations, relevant work projects, mentorship programs, or a number of other initiatives to help them gain the skills, experience, and connections they’re looking for.

Over to you

As a measure for decreasing employee turnover, stay interviews are unbeatable. These interviews are simple yet powerful conversations for employers and employees to have, and the insights derived from these discussions can have an immediate impact on your team. 

Employees will appreciate your organization for consulting with them on their feedback and showing interest in their career growth and development. The act of listening to your people and investing in their futures in a personalized way will strengthen the trust and relationship between employers and employees, making your company one they will want to work with long-term.


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