HR metrics from the stay interview

Posted January 04, 2018 by


Ideally, managers check in with their staff frequently, and not just to measure them against expectations but also to open up a dialogue about how each employee feels regarding their standing at the organization. Unfortunately, not all managers see this kind of check-in as a priority, or even their job. Therefore, it is important for Human Resources to formalize the “stay interview” as a necessary addition to your HR metrics.

The purpose of the stay interview

Michael Steinitz, Executive Direction of Accountemps, says that “stay interviews help companies gain valuable insights from staff and determine if they need to adjust their retention efforts.”

Some HR leaders choose to do stay interviews only with their top performing employees, with the intent of understanding what makes them continue to work so hard. This has two consequences. First, when other employees find out they weren’t invited to a stay interview, HR will deal with a backlash. Second, you’d be missing out on important data. Whether someone is a top performer is influenced not just by their ability. Their performance is also influenced by how well their manager engages and motivates them. It’s important to include mediocre employees in the stay interview process, because they can reveal important information about how they might become top performers, if only their managers engaged and motivated them more effectively.

Stay interviews are particularly important in a tight employment market, according to Steinitz, “when professionals with in-demand skills have more job options. If you think an employee is unhappy, schedule time to get their feedback and address any of their issues.”

Questions to ask during a stay interview

While most employers are familiar with exit interviews, which are conducted as people are leaving the organization, the goal of the stay interview, says Steinitz, “is to learn what makes employees happy or unhappy with your firm, and make necessary adjustments to aid your retention efforts.”

It’s critical to only ask questions that will actually provide useful data. The stay interview should not be seen as an engagement tool. It’s true that an employee might appreciate this chance to give feedback, and it might increase their trust in their employer to be transparent and genuine, but that trust would only be momentary if they never see any desired changes. That is, the stay interview itself does not sustainably increase employee engagement. So remember your goal, which is to gather valuable HR metrics that will help you determine how your organization can adjust its retention efforts.

Choose your interview questions with that goal in mind. Ask yourself, “once I receive responses for this question, what will I do with that data?”

What NOT to do: Asking closed-ended questions that yield “yes” or “no” responses make for easy data collection, but it won’t provide very useful insights.

Instead, Steinitz offered the following questions to gain helpful and specific information:

  • Which aspects of your job make you eager to come to work each day? Which aspects do you dread?
  • What drives you to stay with the company?
  • What is the most rewarding part of your work?
  • What skills do you possess that you feel aren’t being utilized?

I like the way author Ilan Mochari breaks it down: in a stay interview, you want to learn the reasons why they stay, and the reasons why they would leave. To understand why they leave, Mochari suggests asking:

  • “Think back to a time in the last 12 months when you have been at least slightly frustrated or anxious about your current role. Can you list for me the frustration factor or factors that most contributed to that anxiety?”
  • “Can you also help me understand what eventually happened to lower that frustration level?”

One question I think could provide extremely valuable information, but only if your organization has achieved authenticity (that is, transparency and vulnerability) is:

  • What is it like to be you at this organization?

If you have created an environment in which employees feel safe presenting vulnerabilities, this question can bring out important information about how and whether they feel included at work.

When to conduct a stay interview 

Stay interviews can be most effective if you implement them when they’re needed, not necessarily on a set schedule. While there shouldn’t be a set frequency, Steinitz suggests “conducting them at least once a year. If your company is experiencing high turnover or your staff’s skills are in high demand in your market, conduct stay interviews more frequently.”

In fact, if you conduct stay interviews separately from performance reviews, that “allows managers one-on-one time with staff to get feedback on what they like or dislike about the company or their work, and if they have suggestions for improvement,” says Steinitz.

Communicate what you intend to do with these new HR metrics

Be transparent about your intentions. Employees should be encouraged to know that HR wants to learn

more about them, and how to keep them working happily. Give employees a timeline for when you’ll have data to share, and reassure them that no data will give away names or even any information that could reveal individual responses.

The worst thing you can do is not make any changes based on what you learn from these data. When offered a stay interview, employees should feel like their voices are being heard, but it’s critical to follow through, otherwise you will erode your trust with them. Keep employees informed, says Steinitz, about changes you’re making as a result of their feedback.


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