What is a “Stay Interview” and Why Should We Know This?
By Jim Peacock
In his book, It’s Your Ship, Captain Abrashoff (2012) took over command of a ship and found through exit interviews that 80% of the sailors were leaving as soon as their time was up. Based on his review of the exit interviews, the reasons the sailors on his ship were not reenlisting included the following:
- not being treated with respect/dignity
- being prevented from making an impact
- not being listened to
- not being rewarded with more responsibility
His philosophy of leadership changed to listening, actually “aggressive listening” is what he calls it, and asking the sailors “is there a better way of doing this?” In essence, these were stay interviews and they resulted in change.
Description and Objectives of Stay Interviews
Many organizations invest in stay interviews because the cost to hire new staff can be in the $1000’s for advertising, recruiter costs, and time to interview — and this does not include the loss of revenue that comes from having an open position. According to a Gallup (2015), one in two employees have left their job to get away from their manager. Also, 46% of U.S. employers report difficulty in filling positions. For this reason, many employers shift their focus to retaining the employees they already have.
Workplace professionals conduct stay interviews to help managers understand why employees stay and what might cause them to leave. Managers ask standard, structured questions in a casual and conversational manner. Most stay interviews take less than half an hour.
Consider an example from my own employment. I supervise a virtual assistant who is responsible for taking care of people registering for my online seminars, updating the website, setting up my constant contact emails, and a few other details. When I asked her “why she would like to stay working with me?” I learned what was working and what I could improve upon to make her job more productive or fulfilling. We now check in more often and at least once each year I have a stay interview with her.
Benefits Beyond Retention
In addition to advancing employee retention, stay interviews have other benefits. Companies that conduct “stay interviews” indicate to existing and new hires that their organization has a supportive company culture. Stay interviews also develop trust, respect, and understanding, while also conveying a message that encourages engagement. This regular and open communication then often results in retention and/or advancement of the employee. Interviews are about finding the best candidate and also for the candidate to find the best fit. Stay interviews permit hiring managers to look for other roles within the organization that align with the employees’ values.
Questions to Ask During Stay Interviews
The Society of Human Resource Management (2019) identified the following questions, which managers might ask during stay interviews:
- What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?
- What do you like most or least about working here?
- What keeps you working here?
- If you could change something about your job, what would that be?
- What would make your job more satisfying?
- How do you like to be recognized?
- What talents are not being used in your current role?
- What would you like to learn here?
- How do you learn best?
- What motivates (or demotivates) you?
- What can I do to best support you?
- What can I do more of or less of as your manager?
- What might tempt you to leave?
Positioning for the Future
In conclusion, stay interviews permit employers to communicate clearly the value employees bring to the company and, in return, invite employees to share with the supervisor what motivates them, what engages them, and what might be done to engage them even more. When we help our clients articulate this value, it positions them for future opportunities within that company. And, if you are in a supervisory position like me, you may want to take 20 to 30 minutes and ask your employees a few of these questions. Most likely you might learn something about retaining staff.
Abrashoff, D. M. (2012). It's Your ship: Management techniques from the best damn ship in the navy (10th Ed.). New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.
Gallup Research. (2015). State of the American manager: Analytics and advice for leaders. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/services/182216/state-american-manager-report.aspx
Society for Human Resource Management. (2019). How to conduct stay interviews: Core features and advantages. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-forms/pages/stayinterviewquestions.aspx
Jim Peacock is the Principal of Peak-Careers Consulting offering professional development for career practitioners / coaches through workshops and online discussion-based seminars. He is a LinkedIn strategist, career coaching, and blogger. For over 11 years he was Director of the Advising & Career Center at a community college, over a decade as a high school counselor, and since February 2012 has been full time with Peak-Careers. He is a Certified Career Services Provider (CCSP) and Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF). A two-time President of Maine Career Development Association, in 2007 he received the Outstanding Career Practitioner Award from National Career Development Association. He is member of the NCDA Training & Education Council. He also wishes to thank Lydia Sy, Managing Director for Central Maine Manpower, for her insight and resources as he prepared this article. He can be reached at https://peak-careers.com