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Bringing Stay Interviews to Your Organization

By: Matthew Burr, SHRM.org

Stay interviews can be truly valuable to any organization at the start of a new year. The stay interview is a structured discussion between a leader and an employee, by which the leader discovers specific opportunities to strengthen engagement and retention within the organization. Considering the challenges we have all faced in 2020, a stay interview conducted early in 2021 would be a great way to engage the workforce and implement changes that can be made throughout the year.

To ensure success, look to the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge (SHRM BoCK). Pay special attention to the HR Strategic Planning function (part of the technical competency, HR Expertise) and the behavioral competencies Communication and Relationship Management.

  • Start at the top. The leader at the top of the organization, in partnership with HR, should set the tone and conduct stay interviews with direct reports. The process should cascade down throughout the rest of the organization to front-line supervisors and employees. Employees at every level should take part in a stay interview to ensure an effective and successful process.

  • In-person or virtual. All workers, both onsite and remote, should have the opportunity to sit one-on-one with their supervisor and have a discussion, if possible. Stay interviews should not be conducted over the phone or via a videoconferencing system. (With COVID-19, however, in-person opportunities might be limited for now.)

  • Expectations. Ensure that the employee understands the reason for the stay interview and how it will focus on areas that the manager can influence. Not all of us can change company policies, mission statements or strategic goals, but we might have more say in developing strategic objectives based on consistent trends that emerge from the interviews.

  • Opening script. The pre-drafted script is a great way to open the meeting. It will provide the employee with additional information about the process and direction of the interview. Messages will be consistent throughout the organization.

  • Leave performance out of it. Stay interviews should remain focused on engagement, retention feedback, communication and concerns. Use scripted, open-ended questions. Save discussion of performance expectations for another time and place.

As HR continues to lead in the workplace during this volatile time, stay interviews provide us with the opportunity to drive strategic change. Communicate expectations to managers and leaders, embrace recommendations, and implement changes, then measure them to drive success. Develop key metrics and communications throughout the organization. Re-evaluate the process and set a goal to do another round of stay interviews in 2022.

Culture will continue to be one of the most important aspects of any work experience, and the only way culture can evolve is to understand which aspects of it need to change. If change is needed, embrace opportunities for change, and challenge the organization to change. By embracing the SHRM BoCK, HR professionals will have the knowledge, skills and abilities to strategically impact organizations large and small.

Matthew W. Burr, SHRM-SCP, owner of Burr Consulting LLC in Elmira, N.Y., and co-owner of Labor Love LLC, is an HR consultant, an assistant professor at Elmira College, and an on-call mediator and fact-finder for the New York State Public Employment Relations Board. He holds master's degrees in business administration and in human resources & industrial relations, and a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt.


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