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How to Reduce Employee Turnover with Stay Interviews

How to Reduce Employee Turnover with Stay Interviews

By: Dona DeZube

What’s the best time to find out what your company can do to keep employees from leaving? It isn’t during the exit interview — by then, it’s too late to effect change.

To influence employee attrition and reduce employee turnover, managers must measure employee job satisfaction and engagement on an ongoing basis.

Stay interviews, an interview in which employees discuss what they like and don’t like about their current position, can help reduce employee turnover rates.

When is the best time to do a stay interview?

Experts recommend doing them at least once a year opposite the employee performance review, and twice in the critical period during which your company experiences attrition of new hires (for example the first 40-50 days for fast food, or 90-180 days for engineers).

A Source of Top-Level Metrics
Stay interview metrics can supplement secondary and tertiary metrics such as employee satisfaction surveys and exit interviews. As such, they can be essential part of your recruitment strategy that focuses on employee retention .

“Stay interviews encourage managers to sit down and have a structured talk with their teams about what works and what doesn’t work for them,” explains Susan Seip, a human resources manager for Geocent, a Metairie, Louisiana technology company with 230 employees scattered throughout the Southern US.

The company includes stay interviews as part of its recruitment strategy. “It’s a relationship review. What’s your relationship to the company, the project team and your manager and what is within our purview to do to make those better?”

If exit interviews and engagement surveys aren’t moving the needle on your organization’s employee attrition numbers (or even if they are), you may want to add stay interviews to your list of recruitment strategies.

Do Stay Interviews Work?
How effectively can stay interviews help to reduce employee turnover rates? Webroot Software, a Broomfield, Colorado internet security product development company, implemented stay interviews at a time when the 400-employee company was particularly vulnerable to employee attrition — the period immediately following a recent reduction in force.

“We’ve done other RIFs and employee turnover has always spiked,” says Webroot Human Resources Director Melanie Williams. “Since our RIF in August, we’ve seen our turnover tick down by a steady 1/10th of a percent each month.”

The information collected by stay interviews is more actionable than secondary source information because it’s specific and forward-facing, Williams says.

“You’re not filtering through a survey trying to guess what did they mean by that comment or how did they interpret that question?” She adds that, “We’ve gotten feedback from every individual in the organization. We had a 64 percent response to our engagement survey.”

Dick Finnegan, CEO of C-Suite Analytics, an employee engagement consulting company, and author of The Power of Stay Interview for Engagement & Retention, says stay interviews produce data so effective at predicting and reducing employee turnover rates that scores of his clients have abandoned their engagement surveys.

Despite the success of stay interviews at Geocent, Seip isn’t ready to get rid of her exit interviews just yet. “The stay information tells us about things that matter today, the exit interviews are things that are three or four years down the road,” she says.

What to Expect in Stay Interviews
When managers receive stay interview training, the most common fear they express is that employees will ask for raises that aren’t in the budget. That’s an unfounded fear.

“We’ve had very few stay interviews come in with pay being the thing that makes them stay or want to leave,” says Williams. “There were not any requests that we haven’t been able to fulfill.”

If an employee does bring up pay, a promotion, employee training or something out of scope, the manager should answer truthfully, says Beverly Kaye , Co-CEO of Career Systems International, a Scranton, Pennsylvania strategic talent management consulting firm, and author of Help the Grow or Watch Them Go.

If you have a budget constraint, say so, she advises. If the person is asking for a job they don’t have the skills to do, talk about employee training opportunities you can add during the next budget cycle.

“You say, ‘Salaries are frozen, or that job isn’t open. What I really want to do is find things under my control so I can make sure you’re getting what you want and what you need, so what else matters to you?’” she says. “You’ll get seven to ten things that are in your control.”

Addressing Stay Interview Challenges
Stay interviews are not without challenges for HR professionals, organizational leaders and managers. Sometimes requests uncover unpleasant truths, such as bad feelings toward executive management, or employees that don’t know about career paths because they’ve never logged into the HR portal.

Accountability for responding to these issues can also pose a challenge, particularly for organizations where employees and managers are physically separated.

With the economy picking up and Baby Boomers moving into retirement, employee turnover rates will continue to challenge human resource professionals going forward.

Adding stay interviews to your recruitment strategies can help your organization retain critical employees. “It’s the single best tool you can give managers,” Finnegan says. 

Learn more: 11 Stay Interview Questions to Ask