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Why and How Your Company Should be Doing Stay Interviews

By Jacquelyn Adams

Ready for a (not so) fun fact? In his recent Association of Talent Development (ATD) talk, Richard Finnegan, author of The Power of Stay Interviews, shared that it costs Mount Sinai Hospital $93,311 each time they lose a nurse. He went on to say that, among the businesses he has worked with, turnover has been in the top five costs for each organization. Ummmmm… ouch. Employee turnover is costly and not built into the budget, so he says retention should not be an HR issue. It’s too late when it gets to HR and exit interviews. Retention should be championed by the executives and executed by the managers. And he believes that the secret to retention lies in stay interviews conducted by the manager.

Creating the Framework

As Finnegan noted in his talk, it is too easy to agree to do stay interviews… and then they just slowly fade away. This is why we need buy-in from executives and one executive to champion this cause. We can achieve this buy-in by bringing Finance in to show executives what turnover costs. The champion executive will be the one who rallies the managers — yes, this is one more thing we are asking the managers to do, but this will cut down on turnover, which will lighten their load in the long term. The reports will be generated from two interviews with new hires and one interview a year with current employees. Outlined in these reports would be a forecast for each employee as to their likelihood of remaining with the company — green (1 year), yellow (6-12 months), and red (0-6 months). The executive, in turn, will assess the accuracy of these reports to determine how effectively the manager is engaging with and responding to their employees. For example, if a manager loses five people, but four are red, that manager seems to track employees accurately. However, if a manager loses five people and four are green, the executive might doubt the manager’s ability to listen to and support the employees.

Asking the Questions

Now that we know the framework that makes a stay interview function and remain sustainable, we need the work on the actual interview. Based on his research and experience, Finnegan has found three primary things that decide a person’s attitude toward their work — boss, colleagues and duties. Based on that information, he has compiled a list of five questions that help a manager determine an employee’s attitude toward their workplace, and any ways to make it a more effective environment for both sides.

  • What do you look forward to each day on your way to work? (We are prone to start with the negative when assessing. This starts the conversation on a positive note).
  • What are you learning here? (If you want to learn something, I can help you learn it).
  • Why do you stay here? (We all must pay the bills, but any job can provide that. Why do you stay here? What aspects of your work do you enjoy? The more a person enjoys their work, the longer they are likely to stay.)
  • When was the last time you thought about leaving? What prompted it?
  • What can I do at work to make your experience better for you?

Those five questions are the starting point, but as you can already see from the comments in the parenthesis, it is our job to flesh them out. We do a deep dive into those five questions and turn them into twenty-five as we strive to understand our employees better.

Engaging and Following Up

According to Finnegan, the key to a successful stay interview revolves around listening, taking notes, probing, and taking responsibility. The five questions are the first step, but we can’t stop there. We invite people to complain, but we don’t join in. We ask relevant follow-up questions. Then we use all those notes to forecast how long they will stay, and work to solve problems. However, we mustn’t give quick solutions to big problems. For example, the person who can’t keep up and is overwhelmed — empathize with the lack of work/life balance. Then ask questions. When do you feel overwhelmed? Who makes you feel overwhelmed? What project makes you feel overwhelmed? Let’s think about this and schedule a meeting in a few days. Let them know we’ll never make this perfect, but we’ll make this better.

It all comes down to building trust with managers. And when Finnegan says trust, he means does your manager make your day better or worse? To have a manager who wants to hear about the complex parts of work, schedules follow-up meetings to help solve problems, creates opportunities for learning and development, a manager who is genuinely engaged — that is a manager who employees stay with. That is a business that receives employee referrals. That is a business with low turnover. It is something that money can’t buy, but it saves the company so much — in the case of Mount Sinai, $93,311 per nurse.


Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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