Employees are quitting in droves, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, backed up by hard data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employee retention is easier than recruiting, I argued in my article about reducing employee turnover. And a great technique for employee retention is the Stay Interview.
Exit interviews are common but too much like talking to cows about why they left the barn. The stay interview asks why employees remain with you. The benefits are ample, argues Richard Finnegan, author of the cleverly titled book, The Stay Interview.
I spoke with Finnegan recently about the high quit rate across the economy. He said,
“Hard data proves the top reason employees quit is they don’t trust their managers. Stay Interviews are the absolute best trust-building activity…and therefore the best retention tool.”
On the surface, the stay interview appears to be a mirror image to an exit interview, identifying things people like about their job rather than things they dislike. That’s worthwhile, but the stay interview is much more valuable because it provides insights managers can use to motivate and retain the particular employee, not just a group.
Finnegan’s recommended first question is what the employee looks forward to when coming to work. Aggregated, those answers may help you promote certain parts of the work experience. But aggregate answers gloss over what a particular employee looks forward to. If Alice likes facing new challenges, keep that in mind when tossing out work assignments. If it’s novel, give it to Alice. There’s probably another employee who looks forward to assignments that he has experience with.
Similarly, the question, “Why do you stay here?” can be aggregated while also providing the manager guidance for the specific employee. Something motivates the person to stay, and the more that the manager can reinforce and enhance that something, the longer the person will stay.
Sometimes the answer doesn’t sound helpful, like, “I’m staying here for now, but my goal is to become a firefighter.” I brainstormed that question with a group of convenience store managers, none of whom had an opening for a firefighter. But the group thought the manager could offer to be a reference source, including information about the employee’s record showing up for shifts on time and following the company’s safety policies. That transforms the position from a dead-end minimum wage job to a path to the employee’s dream job. And it reinforces the value of showing up on time and following safety policies, worthwhile for all workers. But the manager only knows how to be helpful by talking to the employee.
Employee turnover projects often focus on broad themes: benefits, teamwork, company purpose. But each employee is unique. Each one has goals and dreads, hopes and fears, strengths and weaknesses. The managers with best retention performance work with each employee as an individual, customizing assignments, feedback and motivation to the individual worker. The Stay Interview is a great tool. Finnegan’s book is a worthwhile explanation of the process.
Talking to employees comes naturally to some leaders, so a program of Stay Interviews may not seem necessary. However, for most managers talking to employees is a task without a deadline. And for some, it’s a task without a deadline outside the manager’s comfort zone! How good are any of us at tasks without deadlines outside our comfort zones?
Finnegan suggests going beyond the stay interview to a system that includes dollar impacts of turnover, goals, measurement and accountability. That’s wise. It’s too easy to bring in an idea, then have everyone forget it. Systems are good.
Whether a company uses stay interviews or some other method, getting managers talking to employees leads to better worker engagement and retention.
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