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Why all employers should be doing stay interviews

stay interview Business colleagues having a conversation. They are both young business people casually dressed in a modern office. Could be an interview or consultant working with a client. She is listening and smiling. One person has her back to us. Mixed ethnic group. One is African American and the other is Caucasian
A stay interview is a way of gauging how happy an employee is. Photo: Getty

When more people than ever began quitting their jobs in 2021, experts suggested that the “great resignation” was a consequence of the pandemic and the changes it brought to the way we lived and worked.

However, while COVID-19 certainly fuelled a shift in mindsets around flexible work and job satisfaction, research has shown people are leaving for many reasons ⁠— including low pay and feeling disrespected.

Resignations are expensive for businesses. From hiring a new recruit to training them, there are many costs associated with replacing a member of staff. Therefore, retaining workers is a priority for many companies.

One way to do this is by carrying out "stay interviews" ⁠— but what exactly are they, and do they really work?

Essentially, a stay interview is a way of gauging how happy an employee is. While an exit interview assesses why someone is quitting, a stay interview focuses on what might motivate them to stay, what could be improved and what the individual wants from the organisation.

Read more: How to recognise job creep at work

Alan Price, CEO at BrightHR, says a stay interview is an opportunity to provide a more personal platform than a simple engagement or satisfaction survey.

“It can help build trust with employees, giving both parties the opportunity to discuss ideas, identify any areas of improvement, raise any concerns, and address them before they have the chance to become serious issues,” he says.

“Having open channels of communication is vital in any workplace. Stay interviews can and will improve retention rates, increase motivation and morale amongst employees, as well as overall productivity if they are conducted in a proper, open manner.”

Crucially, people will only share their feelings about work honestly if they feel safe, or know that they can speak freely without fear of retaliation.

Additionally, they need to know their feedback will be taken into consideration and acted on ⁠— otherwise the stay interview process can feel like a tick-box exercise.

Read more: What to do if you've been mis-sold a job

If carried out incorrectly, stay interviews can be problematic. Firstly, it can be difficult for managers to hear that an employee is unhappy, or that there are some areas where a manager can improve. However, if a manager becomes defensive, the employee is unlikely to feel they’re being heard or valued.

“Simply having stay interviews as a bureaucratic exercise will backfire on you, increasing frustrations amongst employees and making them feel their concerns are not valid enough to warrant adequate consideration,” says Price.

“If you decide to introduce stay interviews, remember your employees will expect an outcome. Be prepared to listen and really hear their concerns, act to address them if they are valid and implement any positive changes.”

How to carry out a stay interview

A stay interview is typically done by an employee’s line manager to get an overview of what each employee likes about their role and the company.

“They don’t need to be lengthy, formal affairs and can be completed in as little as 20 minutes,” says Price.

“While they can be tagged onto the back of annual reviews, I wouldn’t recommend this. A year can be a long time for issues to build up and chip away at morale and job satisfaction. It may be most effective to conduct stay interviews quarterly or, at a minimum, twice a year.”

Read more: Why people are quiet quitting at work

The aim of a stay interview is to discover how to improve the employee experience for this specific employee and keep them around longer. However, it’s also important to focus on what they enjoy and what gives them job satisfaction.

“To make a stay interview most effective, the following questions should be asked: What do you look forward to about work each day? Do you have any concerns when you come into the workplace? Would you recommend a friend to the company as an employee? What would make your role more satisfying?” Price says.

A stay interview should also find out what talents and skills the employee possesses which aren’t being used in their current role and whether they feel valued.

Ultimately, a stay interview isn’t guaranteed to make an employee stick around. However, if carried out properly and the feedback is acted on by employers, it may boost worker happiness and satisfaction ⁠— and as a result, encourage them to stay.

Watch: Why do we still have a gender pay gap?