When employees leave a company, managers often do an exit interview to learn why they’re leaving. 

But wouldn’t it be nice to know what a good employee is thinking about before he or she decides to jump ship? 

That’s the concept behind the “stay interview,” a process that allows managers to ask employees, essentially, why they stay with the company.

“The idea was, ‘Why are we asking people why they’re leaving? Why not ask them why they stay?’” said Rowena Crosbie, president of Tero International Inc., a Clive-based sales and executive training company that teaches clients how to do stay interviews. She heard about the concept at a conference and decided to use it for clients in Greater Des Moines.

Stay interviews can give businesses an idea of what employees value and what it takes to keep them happy and working at the company. They can also give companies data that shows general trends over the entire organization, trends such as the No. 1 reason employees stay with, or leave, your company.

Done right, stay interviews can be an effective tool for your organization, Crosbie said, and her sense is that most companies in Des Moines haven’t heard of the technique. Here are steps to conducting stay interviews in your company.

1. Interview employees regularly

Crosbie suggests that managers perform stay interviews with everyone in the organization as a matter of routine, either once or twice a year. You could do it at the employee’s annual performance review, but that can be an emotional time that won’t garner the most honest answers.

2. Practice

Crosbie suggests managers first practice it on themselves. That will help them reflect on what motivations they have to stay or leave the company, and help them be better prepared for answers they could receive during the interview. It’s also helpful to tell the employee your reasons behind conducting the interview.

3. It’s not a pop quiz

Don’t surprise the employee with a stay interview. It’s usually best to prepare employees by letting them know what questions you are going to ask. That gives them a chance to think and reflect before giving an answer in the formal interview. It’s also helpful to share with them your reasons for conducting the interview.

4. How to conduct the interview

The interview itself doesn’t have to take more than 15 to 20 minutes. Crosbie recommends interviewers ask four questions: 
  • Think of a previous job. Why did you choose to stay?
  • What enticed you to leave?
  • In your current job, what keeps you?
  • What would entice you to leave?

5. Listen during the interview

Crosbie encourages interviewers to listen to understand, rather than listen to respond. Take notes, and be prepared to ask open-ended follow-up questions. For example, if someone says that more pay would entice them to leave, “then you’d want to probably say, ‘Well, talk a little more about that. What do you mean by that?’” she said. 

6. Use the results

Human resources departments can aggregate the answers to understand the company’s employees, and managers can use it to understand their employees better on an individual basis. “There’s implications all the way from new employee orientation – how do we hire people and how do we bring them on board based on what we think about this place? – clear through to how we manage them,” Crosbie said.

Why employees stay

Tero International Inc. has compiled results from more than 200 interviews that their clients have given. 

In your current job, what keeps you?
Top four responses:
    1. Great work environment/culture, 33.3 percent
    2. Working with great people and relationships, 
27.8 percent
    3. Being recognized, valued and respected, 
25 percent
    4. Exciting work and challenge, 22.2 percent

Note: Only 2.8 percent of employees listed “fair pay” as something that was keeping them at their current job, but 25 percent listed “more pay” as something that would entice them to leave, the second-highest response behind “lack of growth and development.”

6 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement

1.Businesses often make the mistake of using employee surveys to collect data that is irrelevant or impossible to act on. Gallup says its questionaires are proven to influence key performance metrics because the surveys measure employees’ emotional engagement, which ties directly to their willingness to go the extra mile for their company.

2. Real change happens on the local, workgroup level, but only when top leaders set the tone for it. When employee engagement is part of the performance expectations for managers, that enables them to execute on those expectations. Managers and employees must feel empowered to make a significant difference in their environment.

3. Select the right managers. Employees leave bad bosses, not bad companies.

4. Coach managers, and hold them accountable for their employees’ engagement. The most engaged companies consistently make employee engagement part of their formal review process, and most use these improvements as a criterion 
for promotions.

5. Define engagement goals in realistic, everyday terms. Make sure that managers discuss employee engagement at weekly meetings, impact-planning sessions, and in one-on-one meetings with employees.

6. Managers should connect with each employee. Every interaction with an employee has the potential to influence his or her engagement and inspire discretionary effort.

Source: Gallup State of the American Workplace 2010-2012