Asking Your Employees Why They Might Leave Is the New Best Way to Make Them Stay

manager and employee talking in a meeting

Christina Morillo, Pexels / Fairygodboss Staff

Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

With the Great Resignation in full swing, employers are pulling out all the stops to get their employees to stay. 

One example is a “stay interview.” This has a lot of similarities to an exit interview: it involves soliciting feedback from the employee and gives the employer an opportunity to improve their retention effort. 

But there is one key distinction between a stay interview and an exit interview: the latter occurs when the employee has already handed in their resignation, while the former takes place while the employee is still working for the organization. The goal is to improve the business for its workers before they want to quit, thus motivating them to stick with it. 

How to make stay interviews effective when you’re a manager

1. Make it clear that employees can be candid.

In an exit interview, employees don’t have to worry about retribution if they speak candidly about their manager or employer. Sure, they don’t want to burn bridges, but it’s still easier to speak openly when they know they’re on their way out. But that’s not the case with a stay interview.

You can only expect your employees to be honest if you make it clear that this is a safe space. To that end, it’s best if the employee’s manager isn’t the one to conduct it — perhaps you might choose an HR manager or someone in another department instead. 

2. Don’t get defensive.

It’s important for employers to remember that the purpose of the stay interview is to make real improvement — and that starts with getting genuine feedback and actually listening to it. It’s critical, when you ask questions, to avoid immediately jumping on the defensive. You may hear things you don’t like, but you must maintain professionalism and remember that this is about improvement. 

3. Act!

This one comes from a Fairygodboss community member, whose organization began using stay interviews recently. “So far, I am not impressed by their response,” they wrote. “The easiest ask (30 minutes of flex time, once a week) is the only item with any action.”

So, while improvements do take time, you should make sure you listen to the feedback and do what you can to address it. 

“This does not mean just giving in to every employee's whims,” another FGBer wrote. “It also doesn't mean that the company can or will change things immediately. But good HR teams will help leadership use the data directionally to understand what the company can do better to retain its top talent.”

How to make stay interviews effective when you’re an employee

1. Be thoughtful.

As an employee, it’s your job to be thoughtful in the feedback you give. Remember: this is both a responsibility and an opportunity. Be realistic, and demonstrate that you’re genuinely committed to your business and want to see it improve. 

2. Share the bad AND the good.

Ever heard of a compliment sandwich? You may have been the recipient of one in the past, when you hear the good things about your performance along with what needs work.

Try the same approach with your stay interview. Your employer is more likely to respect your constructive criticism if you also deliver the good news — the aspects of the organization and the job itself you appreciate.

3. Be patient.

Change takes time. That’s why it’s so important to be patient. You can’t expect real improvements to happen overnight. Just as your employer has given you an opportunity to deliver your real, actionable constructive criticism, you should give them the chance to act on it.

What's your no. 1 piece of advice on stay interviews? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss'ers!

About the Career Expert:

 Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix Hercules. She specializes in education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Slackjaw, Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.