6 Questions to Ask for a Better Stay Interview

chatLosing employees is enormously expensive. According to the Center for American Progress, even replacing a worker who makes less than $30,000 a year can cost a business 16 percent of the worker’s salary. For executives or senior partners, that number can skyrocket to 213 percent of the departing employee’s salary.

In addition to the purely financial price tag of turnover, there are other, less tangible costs: Creating trust between coworkers takes time, and new employees with good intentions make mistakes that experienced ones do not.

Stay interviews can be an excellent talent management tool in the battle to keep turnover low. However, simply conducting stay interviews is not good enough in and of itself. Instead, the interviews must be conducted properly. The effectiveness of a stay interview depends on a number of factors, particularly the questions asked during the conversation.

What to Ask During a Stay Interview

For best results, leaders should focus on the important questions and try to solicit genuine feedback from their people. With good feedback, leaders can resolve grievances, chart a way forward, and help employees meet their goals in the company.

Asking the right questions is an essential part of the interview. There are multiple topics to cover, and key questions can be broken down into a number of different categories. For example, the Ohio Department of Administrative Services (DAS) recommends asking questions from six categories:

1. What Do You Like?

“What do you like?” questions should be used to uncover both the positive and negative aspects of a job. It is just as important to ask employees what they enjoy the least as it is to ask them what they enjoy the most, according to the Ohio DAS. “What do you like?” questions give managers insight into what motivates people to stay in a role and what can be done to improve the job from the employee’s perspective.

2. Retention (Stay Factors)

Retention or “stay factor” questions focus on the things that make a person want to remain with a company. A wide range of factors can come into play here, from pay and benefits to workplace culture and camaraderie. The Ohio DAS recommends opening this part of the conversation with a blunt question like, “How long have you been at this company and why do you stay?” This opens the door for a frank conversation about what keeps employees on board and what causes them to consider leaving. While similar to “what do you like?” questions, retention questions should focus more on the macro-level factors rather than the day-to-day operations of an employee’s job.

3. Learning/Career Growth

In addition to asking about an employee’s current status, leaders should ask learning/career growth questions to open a discussion about the employee’s future. The purpose of these questions is to give leaders insight into how they can help their subordinates develop as professionals and move up the company ladder. A great question to ask, according to the Ohio DAS, is “What opportunities for self-improvement would you like to have that go beyond your current role?” This permits an employee to lay out their own path for development and allows a leader to plan out the next steps for each employee based on individual needs and preferences.

4. Flight Risks

A crucial aspect of a successful stay interview is frankness of communication. The employee and leader should both feel comfortable bluntly discussing the employee’s current and future status with the organization. Therefore, it is important that leaders ask about employees’ flight risks. Again, the Ohio DAS recommends asking a direct question like, “Over the past year, have you had days when your frustration level was high enough that you considered leaving?” The point is to give employees permission to share any grievances they may have with any aspect of their employment, from inadequate benefits to problems with peers or supervisors.

5. How Can I Help?

If an employee’s answers to flight risk questions suggest they may leave, leaders should look for ways to mitigate or resolve grievances by moving to the “how can I help?” questions. This gives the leader a chance to take active steps to retain the employee.

According to the Ohio DAS, these kinds of questions can range from the broad “What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?” to the more pointed “Do you feel that you have the necessary control over your job to perform most successfully and productively?”

“How can I help?” questions not only allow leaders to show genuine concern for employees, but they also give leaders valuable feedback they can use to better support their workers for the sake of retention. Follow-through is necessary here; if the leader does not act on the employee’s feedback, the employee will not see their concern as genuine and may end up leaving the company.

6. Do You Feel Valued?

The last part of the stay interview is arguably the most crucial. Asking people if they feel valued within the company is an essential part of retention. Employees who feel valued are more likely to stay. If an employee expresses they do not feel valued, the leader must create and implement a plan to ensure the employee feels fulfilled and meaningful going forward.

The leader should also take the chance to express their gratitude to the employee. By staying at the company for an extended period of time, the employee has helped the company save money and contributed positively to the bottom line. By thanking the employee for their contributions, the leader can ensure the employee does in fact feel valued and, therefore, motivated to stay.

Stay Interviews Have Value Beyond the Civilian World

The higher the average turnover is in an industry, the more it can benefit from utilizing stay interviews. That said, stay interviews can be valuable talent management tools in all fields. They can even extend beyond civilian companies to be leveraged by military branches as well.

Every military branch has a talent management office dedicated to retaining qualified service members. In the Marine Corps, that office is the Talent Management Oversight Directorate. This office’s stated mission is to “provide insight and information to inform strategic talent management guidance” to the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. Given that military members serve for a fixed number of years before ending their service or reenlisting, stay interviews offer the military a great chance to identify the aspects of service people enjoy and replicate those aspects for retention.

When conducted properly, stay interviews offer a company a chance to retain quality employees, reducing turnover and increasing productivity. An effective stay interview requires that leaders ask the hard questions, consider workers’ grievances, and quickly work to resolve any issues the employee identifies. Above all else, a leader should take this opportunity to make an employee feel like a valued, important member of the team.

It is important that, during the stay interview, leaders accept employee feedback without pushback. Instead of trying to negotiate or disagree with employees, leaders should simply accept the feedback and document it. After the feedback is recorded, leaders should follow through and show their subordinates they have a genuine interest in retaining them.

Kevin Johnston is a contractor and technical writer working for the Headquarters Marine Corps Talent Management Oversight Directorate. The views expressed within this article are his own.

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