Retain Employees: How to Ask an Employee to Stay

A team participates in trainings.

The last thing a manager wants to hear from a star employee are the words “I quit.” But just because a valued contributor utters these words and tenders their resignation doesn’t mean that the conversation is over. Learning how to ask team members to stay is a necessary tool to retain employees, one every employer should know how to execute.

Retaining top talent, even when there is another offer on the table, often comes down to listening to employees’ concerns, understanding what about their new opportunity is so enticing, and being prepared to provide it. Retention tactics, such as stay interviews, stay bonuses, and pay increases, can prevent you from losing talent to the competition. It’s not always about the money though—82% of workers cite a bad manager as a factor that would lead them to quit their current role.

If you’re open to addressing a departing employee’s concerns, from workplace culture to compensation, the strategies below may help you retain them, even if they have one foot out the door.

Prevent Defections Before They Happen

Ideally, you would never get to the point where a strong performer is looking elsewhere for their next opportunity. Employing these retention best practices can help you prolong tenure rates across your organization.

1. Keep Top Performers Engaged

There is a high correlation between increased engagement and decreased turnover. If your top performers aren’t broadening their skill set and taking on increasing levels of responsibility, they are likely to begin looking for an environment that will help them attain their career goals.

To retain employees, invest in on-the-job upskilling, mentoring programs, and tuition reimbursement. Assign high-performance employees projects where they can take the lead and experience a sense of accomplishment when the task is complete. Utilize a team-based organizational structure or collaborative management structure that includes rewards and celebrations for accomplishments to increase employee bonds.

2. Understand Why Employees Leave

Most employees leave for similar reasons: They don’t see opportunities for advancement at their current organization or they don’t feel valued or respected. A fair and transparent compensation structure can help retain employees.

At the same time, compensation policies that don’t allow managers to reward exceptional effort, productivity, and innovation, can create an environment where top performers feel undervalued, a scenario that savvy competitors can exploit to poach your best talent and leverage your investment in their training.

Root out bad managers. A single toxic employee, particularly one with power, can prompt employee churn and even poison your employer brand within your sector. To retain employees, keep tabs on your supervisors and department heads and take note whenever an unusually large proportion of turnover occurs within a single team.

Take the temperature of your company culture by conducting frequent anonymous employee surveys that ask about workplace wellness, job satisfaction, and compensation. By addressing prevalent areas of grievance, you can keep attrition rates low. Frequent one-on-one check-ins can provide another source of feedback, forge closer working relationships, improve engagement, and extend tenure rates.

3. Learn How to Spot an Unhappy Employee

Has a formerly engaged employee started to seem less enthusiastic lately? Have they become less communicative, taking longer to respond to emails or collaboration tools?

These may be signs that they’re becoming disenchanted with their role, your workplace, or both. If you learn to spot these signs, you’re more likely to address concerns and reinvigorate employee engagement with your organization and its mission before top performers begin looking for opportunities outside your workplace.

Keep in mind that there are myriad reasons an employee’s work habits might change. A health issue, growing a family, or the need to care for a loved one may cut down on the amount of time they can dedicate to their career. Remember that your employees have many responsibilities and cares outside of the workplace that they are under no obligation to share with you.

That said, there is no harm in checking in with an employee whose work habits have shifted. During these conversations, you may learn about an outside pressure they are facing that your company has the resources to help with (for example, an employee assistance program (EAP) or extended paid leave). Or perhaps they are shouldering more than their fair share of their team’s workload and you need to intervene.

How to Ask an Employee to Stay

Sometimes there are few or even no clues that an employee is looking for outside opportunities until they give notice. But that doesn’t mean the window has closed to retain employees in your organization.

When a top performer gives notice, don’t panic. Express how sorry you will be to see them go, and assuming they give you one or two weeks’ notice, ask if you can circle back to them for a one-on-one in a few days.

At this point, you’ll want to check in with your HR team and see if there might be room in the budget for a stay bonus or raise, as well as ways to give your departing employee a promotion, an exciting new project to develop, or other perks.

Armed with a few possible incentives, during the stay interview, ask your prized employee, what would make you stay? Find out what conditions they have and how many of them you can meet.

Stay Interview Best Practices

The most important aspect of a stay interview is not what you say but how well you listen. Research shows that alongside increased compensation, toxic management and feeling unappreciated are the top reasons employees leave organizations. If one departing employee feels that your workplace culture is unhealthy or your management team is ineffective, it’s possible that other employees feel the same way, making it hard to retain employees.

Look into any issues they share with you. You may not be able to convince them to stay, but you can use their feedback to prevent further employee churn.

If their new role offers more money, offer to match or surpass it. If the enticement is increased career development, you might counter-offer with:

  • A promotion
  • A new, more elevated title
  • A leadership role in an enticing high-profile project
  • Increased responsibility
  • Free sessions with a career coach
  • Participation in a mentoring program
  • Management development training
  • Membership in prominent professional associations and/or the opportunity to attend industry conferences
  • Tuition reimbursement and other training opportunities

If multiple employees leave around the same time, look for a pattern in their stay and exit interviews, and address the areas that seem to be causing the most dissatisfaction.

How to Win Employees Back

When a valued employee leaves, be gracious. During their exit interview, wish them luck and ask them to stay in touch. Check-in periodically and be sure to ask what new projects they’re working on and what skills they’re acquiring.

If you find you need to replace one or more members of your management team, take the opportunity to reach out to recently departed employees and see if any are willing to come back under the new management. During times of expansion, tell them about exciting new ventures or opportunities that you think would interest them, and be sure to let them know that valued former employees are always welcome back.

Learn All You Need to Know to Retain Employees

Now that you know how to retain employees, learn how to implement the latest talent management practices with expert advice and the latest employee management news from Monster.