Introducing Stay Conversations

We’ve all been busy doing “Exit” Interviews but “Stay” Conversations are designed to engage our people before they become dissatisfied!

What is a Stay Interview?

A Stay Conversation is designed to find out how things are going, what pain points the person is experiencing and what motivates them. It’s broader than a discussion about projects or performance, – it gets to what’s at the root of a person’s decision to remain in a job, and what makes them feel fulfilled.

They are ways of making sure you are doing everything you can to encourage your people to stay with you – not by golden handcuffs like long service or retention payments, but by creating an environment that meets their needs.

Fifty-two percent of exiting employees say that their manager or organisation could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job. But only about a third of former employees said they had a conversation with their manager about leaving before they quit.


Here are our top tips on how you can get Stay Conversations going in your workplace:

1. Set goals

To kick things off it can be useful to have some goals around what you want the conversation to achieve.  For most companies, this is around reducing the number of people who leave in their first year.

If you want to set effective retention goals for yourself, why not:

  • Calculate the total amount of turnover costs – including cost per hire + estimate lost productivity
  • Set yourself a goal for an improved retention percentage and timeframe for achieving it.

Hilton focused it on their call centres which had a turnover of 55%+

Stay Conversations results reduced turnover by 50% in 4 months by establishing early retention goals.  They conducted Stay Conversations with new hires at 30 and 90 days.

2. Target problem areas or certain roles

Rather than doing it for all employees, you might want to start your Stay Interviews by focusing on a problem area – like this example from LinkedIn who targeted tech talent who were at risk of leaving.

In the spring of 2015 LinkedIn’s technical teams were struggling – competitors were aggressively recruiting engineers and too often the managers and leaders only learned about an employee’s career aspirations when they were headed out the door.

They worked on understanding the flight risk of this group and developed plans to make sure they stayed. They developed something called The Love Bus Tour.

The Love Bus Tour was rooted in the art and science of motivation. The thinking was that if senior leaders had coordinated conversations with top engineers to recognize their contributions and understand their aspirations, and then take actions accordingly, then those individuals would ‘feel the love’ and become more excited about their future at LinkedIn and less likely to leave.”

They focused on the ones they’d identified as being at risk of leaving and they did a number of things with this group:

  • Held an initial workshop for managers where they explained how it’s the manager’s responsibility to inspire employees to keep contributing at LinkedIn. Attendees became more in touch with their own reasons for staying and received some guidance on how to lead career conversations.
  • Each top performer received a personalised card from the head of engineering thanking them for their contribution to the company. This genuine and almost zero-cost gesture from a senior leader had real impact; some proud recipients even shared images of the recognition on social media.
  • Facilitated conversations between top performing engineers and senior leaders.  The objective was to cover five main points during the conversations:

“You’re on our radar” – explain their commitment to excellence is getting noticed.

“Thank you” – show gratitude for their key contributions.

“You’re critical to us” – conveys their importance to the organisation.

“My door’s open” – remind them that questions or concerns are always welcome.

“Tell me why LinkedIn” – ask what keeps them at LinkedIn and what would make them leave.

  • Analysed conversations and developed personalised action plans.  Leaders captured their conversations and reported what actions, if any, would be needed to retain the employee. Together with the Talent Analytics team, the engineering leadership and HRBP teams then analyzed the information, aggregated common themes, and built talent plans around the engineers. If an employee expressed a strong interest in building X or learning Y, for example, she/he might then rotate into a different role to get that desired experience.
  • Invested in training to improve the consistency and quality of conversations. They did a 2-hour session. The first hour introduced managers to cutting-edge research into the neuroscience of engagement and how it relates to career conversations, and the second hour provided the opportunity to role-play with peers.

    The training worked because it was directly tied to research, it was delivered in a language engineers could understand, and it was short. It showed them the power they have in these conversations which really resonated with them. They equipped leaders with the tools, questions and resources to be successful, tracking engagement, retention, flight risk, what puts engineers at risk, what factors keep engineers, etc. With this, they were able to better understand the talent’s tendencies (instead of relying on anecdotal feedback) and take action.

By the end of 2015, the engineers who were part of this effort had an attrition rate of 8%, significantly lower than the rest of the engineering organization at 13%.

3. There’s no single right time to do them

Be guided by your data on when to do them.  Do your new employees tend to leave within 90 days of joining your company? If yes, bake a Stay conversation into your employee onboarding process.

Do your employees tend to leave around work anniversaries? If so, conduct your Stay Conversations 90-120 days before employee anniversaries.

Are you seeing a sudden increase in employee turnover? Conduct Stay Conversations to learn why some people are staying, and compare responses to those found on Exit Interviews to identify trends.

4. It’s not a job for HR

Since HR is typically responsible for executing engagement strategy, it’s reasonable to expect that HR is also responsible for conducting the Stay Conversations – but that’s not the case! For someone to feel valued it needs to be fronted by their manager, not passed off to someone else.

Seek out help from your HR team for practical training on:

• How to use Stay Conversations to build trust with the employees

• How to ask probing questions and conduct effective, efficient Stay Conversations

• How to develop Stay Plans for employee and manager accountability

• How to accurately forecast each employee’s individual retention.

Commonwealth Senior Living – an example of a company that asks the managers to do them “They’re a way to personalize things and engage someone in a dialogue with their direct supervisor to find out what’s important to that person and where there are those potential sore spots. We like to ask the questions like, ‘How do you want to be recognized when you do a great job?’ and ‘What are those reasons you could leave?’”

CHRO Tommy Comer explains, “I think a lot of managers are scared of the answers or they think it’s always going to be about money. Our data suggests it’s not that; it’s often simple operational hang-ups.”

5. Don’t make them too long

We’d recommend around 15/20 mins – short and sweet.  You could even tag them onto your regular check-ins, so they feel less formal.

6. Use these types of questions

Struggling with what areas to focus the conversation around? Here are the basics to get covered:

Identify factors that make the employee want to stay

  • Tell me specifically, what factors cause you to enjoy your current job and work situation (including people, job, rewards, job content, co-workers, management, etc.)
  • Reasons you give to others – If you have ever been asked by a close friend or have been contacted by an external recruiter, can you tell me what reasons you gave them for wanting to stay here?

 “Best work of your life” factors 

  • Do you feel that you are currently doing “the best work of your life?” Can you list for me the factors that could contribute to you” doing the best for your life?” (Note: this is the No. 1 key retention factor for top performers)

Are you listened to and valued? 

  • Do your colleagues and teammates listen to you and do they value your ideas, inputs, and decisions? How can that area be improved?

Identify actions that might increase loyalty and commitment 

  • Better managed – If you “managed yourself,” what would you do differently (in relation to managing “you”), that I, as your current manager, don’t currently do?
  • Dream job  – If you were given the opportunity to redesign your current role, can you make a list of the key factors that you would include in your “dream job?”
  • Recognition – Can you highlight any recent recognition and acknowledgment that you have received that increased your commitment and loyalty? Are there actions that we can take to further recognize you?

Identify “triggers” that may cause employees to leave

  • If you were to ever begin to consider leaving … help me understand what kind of “triggers” or negative factors that might cause you to consider leaving? Please include both job and company trigger factors.
  • Recent frustrations – Think back to a time in the last 12 months when you have been at least slightly frustrated or anxious about your current role. Can you list for me the frustration factor or factors that most contributed to that anxiety? Can you also help me understand what eventually happened to lower that frustration level?
  • Past triggers – What are the prime factors that caused you to leave your last two jobs? Are there factors from your previous jobs that you hope you will never have to experience again at our firm?

7. Try out these five questions

Question #1: When you travel to work each day, what things do you look forward to?

Probing Questions – What do you like most about working here? What parts are the most challenging? What do you like least about working here?

Question #2: What are you learning here?

Probing Questions – Is there anything else you’d like to be learning here but are not? How do you learn best? By doing? By observing? By attending training? Do you feel like you can advance your career here if you want to?

Question #3: Why do you stay here?

Probing Questions Is that the only reason? How much does the type of work you do impact your decision to stay? How much do you stay because you like working with our customers? Our team?

Question #4: When was the last time you thought about leaving our team? What prompted it?

Probing Questions – Does this still concern you? What’s the single most meaningful action I could take to address this issue?

Question #5: What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?

Probing Questions – What should I do more of? Less of?

To sum up – there are lots of ways you can use Stay Interviews to have a positive impact on retention and engagement.

  • You might want to use them for targeted groups such as digital talent or to focus on D&I or for new joiners, or your whole workforce. 
  • Think about how they can help you build greater insights – both about the individual – but also your employment brand
  • Don’t forget make sure it is a conversation between you and your people
  • If you want it feel less formal why not just try out a stay question in one of your normal check-ins.


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