Stay interviews – doing it right

Here is a way to find out what makes employees stay.

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Communication is a key skill needed for HR professionals to facilitate a good environment for employees. Exit interviews provide a great platform for the management to find out what went right and what went wrong. However, the very fact that an employee is exiting implies that the game is already lost. So why wait until employees decide to leave?

This is where stay interviews play a significant role. A stay interview is a structured conversation between an employee and the manager. It is designed to find out what will make the employees want to continue with the organisation, and what they would like in terms of a better experience. If done well, it can help uncover the factors that make an employee experience a sense of fulfilment and remain at their job.

While it may sound similar to an exit interview, the advantage is that companies get a chance to prevent unwanted turnover. They get an opportunity to motivate and retain a particular employee, not just a group. It is basically an employee-satisfaction survey, which is company specific and provides a good lead indicator of what needs to be changed within the organisation to keep employees satisfied.

Chandrasekhar Mukharjee

“The entire process has to be transparent, open, and based on trust. The person taking the interview has to be credible enough. With regular practice, the process becomes more streamlined and the right feedback comes out”

Ashish Pinto, former group head, HR, Balaji Films, who has conducted stay interviews in his previous stints, spoke at length on conducting such an exercise. “It is only the people who have experienced success that implement such practices in organisations. People may think it is about engagement, but it is actually more related to engaging an employee with the job. It is hard work with a lot of back and forth, data crunching and feedback”, says Pinto.

Doing a stay interview

1. Set priorities: Before embarking on the methodology for conducting such interviews, whether as a group discussion or a one-on-one format, it is important to first define what the priorities are for the organisation. This helps to obtain an objective understanding of the exit interview sheets, although with company-review platforms, such as Glassdoor, it is easier to find out what people are saying about the organisation. It is important to keep these points in mind while addressing questions, but without making it explicitly known to the employees.

2. Sample size: A healthy sample size, which includes all types of employees is a must. Participants from both genders, across levels in the organisation with varying tenures should be taken into consideration. Targeting only key or loyal employees will give a skewed result, which will be of no use to anyone. For large organisations, with around 2000 employees, it is best to cover at least eight per cent of the total population. In small organisations, with 300 to 400 workers, around 50 per cent of the workforce will need to be included. This will provide a more realistic and defined output.

3. Topics: Since the discussion is not restricted to any single topic, the range of issues/items covered can be large. Many things can be talked over, from employee wellbeing and culture, to work-tools and systems. In the initial sessions, employees can be asked questions, such as where they expect to see the organisation in the next five to 10 years, and what their aspirations for the company are. This initial output can be used to extract information in later sessions, where workers can confirm which issues are most important and need to be addressed on priority.

4. Interviewer: The interviewer is the most crucial element in the entire process. Therefore, the person should be mature, smart and capable of extracting information. While some employees may give genuine feedback, others may be inclined to provide flavour-of-month feedbacks or beat around the bush. It is up too the interviewer to dig deep and uncover what is really on the mind of the interviewee.

Ashish Pinto

“People may think it is about engagement, but it is actually more related to engaging an employee with the job. It is hard work with a lot of back and forth, data crunching and feedback”

It is usually best if the person conducting the interview is neutral, from a third party, or is somebody from the middle management who is considered neutral. Organisations may want to hand over the process to a third party to ensure neutrality. However, it is best to work with an internal team or at least a team where 80 per cent of the people are members of the organisation, since the company’s workers will be able to understand internal issues better.

During the process, a lot of topics will be uncovered and it will not be possible to address each and every one of them all at once. After the data has been collected, the feedback will have to be prioritised according to the level of impact the actions will have.

While it sounds good on paper, when it comes to practice, it can be rather tiring for HR to implement it. Having a competent interviewer and extracting useful feedback is a hurdle which organisations may find difficult to overcome. Chandrasekhar Mukherjee, CPO, South Indian Bank, says, “While it is a good indicator of the pulse of the organisation, it is only in mature companies—which have good people practices and processes— that honest feedback can be obtained.”

“The entire process has to be transparent, open, and based on trust. The person taking the interview has to be credible enough. With regular practice, the process becomes more streamlined and the right feedback comes out”, concludes Mukherjee.

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