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Should You Agree to a Stay Interview?

Stay Interview

You’re suddenly invited to a meeting with your manager to discuss your job. It’s not time for your annual review, so what’s going on? Are you in trouble? Did they find out about that other job you applied to last week? Maybe you’re getting a raise! It may be none of these scenarios, and your manager has decided to do what’s called a ‘stay interview.’ Trust us: That’s a good thing.

An increasing number of employers are now conducting stay interviews, which are different from a performance review. A stay interview is a proactive management tool designed to uncover ways to help you ‘stay’ with their organization. It doesn’t (at least it shouldn’t) include a performance review or anything critical towards you. Instead, it’s your chance to air your views and talk about what you like and dislike about your job.

“A stay interview is the shortest path to the root of the problem…I recommended it as the first step to companies facing a turnover crisis,” says Tim Eisenhauer, co-founder of Austin-based Axero Solutions. Why is your employer suddenly asking you for a stay interview this year? As Eisenhauer points out, they’re helpful in times of high employee turnover, which is reaching epic proportions this year.

“Exit interviews can reveal valuable information about how people feel about their jobs. However, at that point, it’s too late to make the changes that might have mattered,” says Sara Larson, Head of Talent Management & Development at Atlassian. “I’m not going to wait until someone leaves to find out what they enjoyed about their job and what they wanted more of to feel satisfied and engaged. I’m going to have a ‘stay interview’ with each member of my team [instead].”

So, a well-run stay interview is a very good thing. It means your employer values you and wants to know how they can keep you happy. Larson says you can expect questions similar to the following in a stay interview:

  • What are you learning at your job right now, and what do you want to learn?
  • Why do you stay in your current role?
  • When you get ready for work each day, what things do you look forward to?
  • When was the last time you thought about leaving our team? What prompted it?
  • What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?

Your direct supervisor may not conduct the stay interview. In fact, Jessica Miller-Merrell, Austin-based talent acquisition and HR consultant and founder of Workology, finds that stay interviews work best with what she calls a skip-level approach, with a senior manager (one report above the supervisor) conducting the interview. Eisenhauer recommends an HR manager conduct the interview.

Whoever conducts it, all experts agree that the interview needs to involve trust, respect and a comfortable, open format.

“The most important thing in a stay interview is honesty. Lying…will only cause problems for you down the line,” Glassdoor advises. They offer additional tips for stay interviews here.  “However, you must consider the trust factor when agreeing to a stay interview. If the company has a history of targeting employees who share strong opinions, then giving generic answers may be better. That way, you don’t jeopardize your role at the company.”

If you trust your manager (or the person conducting the interview), you should feel free to be as honest and open as possible. That’s the purpose of the stay interview, after all. But what if the trust factor is missing? You could bring your concern to HR or casually recommend that HR be represented at the meeting so that they can take actionable notes. But, really, the issue at that point runs deeper than the stay interview itself. The University of Texas at Austin HR department offers tips on having a difficult conversation with your supervisor that can help.

In the end, the stay interview is there to help you clarify your reasons for staying—or not—as much as it is to help your employer gain those insights. After organizing your thoughts, you may find that you don’t want to stay after all (and in that case, let us know). Either way, it’s a valuable exercise.


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