Why the 'stay interview' is the next big trend of the Great Resignation

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Businesses are on a hiring spree during the Great Resignation of 2021, with many throwing out signing bonuses, lowering their standard qualifications, tapping boomerang employees and taking a harder look at their "enthusiastic stayers."

As retention efforts heat up, you'll probably hear more about the "stay interview."

Think of it as the opposite of an exit interview: Instead of asking why an employee is quitting, a stay interview focuses on what motivates the employee to stick around, what could be better about their work experience and how they envision the next stage of their career within the organization.

Stay interviews aren't new but are coming up more often as employers dial up retention efforts during record turnover, says Georgetown management professor Brooks Holtom. They might also crop up now as we head into year-end review season.

He tells CNBC Make It that managers should approach the conversation with their employees as: Help me understand how you're doing, what your goals are, and what we can do in the new year to make sure you're thriving and staying enthusiastically.

Here's how managers can use the stay interview to support and retain star employees.

Stay interviews are informal conversations

First and foremost, the stay interview should be informal and conversational, says HR consultant and University of Phoenix career advisor Ricklyn Woods.

Workers will only share how they feel about work honestly if they feel a sense of psychological safety, or that they can speak freely without fear of retaliation and knowing their feedback will be fully accepted.

That requires managers to be vulnerable, Woods says. You'll want to know from your employee what they enjoy about work, but also what could be better — including some areas where you as a manager can improve.

It should also be more of a two-way dialogue rather than an interview. Don't come in with a ton of questions asking what your employee thinks needs improvement without providing your own perspective, Woods says: "That'll be off-putting, and people won't want to share honestly."

Because employee motivation and personal circumstances fluctuate throughout the year, stay interviews should ideally happen periodically throughout the year and not tied to performance season.

What to ask in a stay interview

Stay interviews should focus on how your employee feels about the work they do every day, the value of their contributions and how they feel within the organization, Woods says. It's not a time to share status updates about to-dos and projects.

It can be a good idea to send workers a few starter questions to prepare for the conversation ahead of time.

Some common questions are:

  • What excites you to come into work?
  • Do you feel good about the impact of your work?
  • What do you want to do more of at work? Less?
  • Do you see a future for yourself at the company? How are things the same or different?
  • If you were manager for a day, what would you do differently?

Ask what would make your employee leave

Perhaps most importantly during the Great Resignation, managers should ask their employees what it would take for them to leave the company.

Does your employee feel they deserve more recognition in the form of a pay raise, or would they jump ship at the chance to take on a higher title somewhere else? Maybe they're having a hard time understanding what the next step in their career would be with the company and are interested in opportunities that just don't exist internally — yet.

As a supervisor, it's your job to bring this feedback to the larger organization to see how you can provide the tools, resources or opportunities your employee isn't currently getting, such as a clear sense of purpose, stretch assignments, fair wages or greater flexibility.

Don't be surprised if your employee initiates a stay interview conversation if you're not proactively doing so.

"In the grand scheme of things, employees right now are in season and in demand," Woods says. "We have a lot more power than we've had in a long time. So it's important for employees to recognize that and make sure they advocate for themselves and what they need to be successful and thrive in the organization."

How managers can stay accountable

Having a stay interview doesn't mean anything if you don't act on the feedback you get from your employee.

Follow a few simple steps to close a stay interview on a strong note: Thank the employee for their time, summarize the feedback you've heard, relay what your next steps will be and provide a clear sense of what the employee can expect will be different following the discussion.

Woods says organizations can do a better job of training managers to have these conversations and provide them the resources to take action on feedback — like how to get approval for a tuition reimbursement opportunity, or getting your employee connected to the company's mentorship network.

"The stay interview is a great way to make employees feel like they matter," Woods says. "They want to be seen, heard and valued. So ask them what they think and genuinely get to know their feedback."

Check out:

The real key to ending the Great Resignation is focusing on ‘enthusiastic stayers’

Why all your coworkers who quit are about to come back as 'boomerang employees'

This 26-year-old negotiated his salary by asking future coworkers what they make

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How this 25-year-old earns and spends $33,000 a year in Chicago
How this 25-year-old earns and spends $33,000 a year in Chicago