Can you avoid the “turnover contagion” plaguing employers today?

Most companies invest time, energy, and money in marketing strategies to attract and retain their clients or customers. Companies spend significant resources on market research that tells them how to do this best. Organizations train, incentivize, reward, and promote employees who do this well. Companies often revise and upgrade strategies based on customer reviews and feedback. Most industries have considerable data analytics to help them maintain a competitive edge. However, emerging data reveals that most employers do not invest meaningfully in understanding their own employees’ experiences to minimize attrition.

You have probably heard the labor market term the “Great Resignation”— which reflects the record number of employees leaving their jobs in the wake of the global pandemic. The phrase was coined by accident by Anthony Klotz, management professor at Texas A&M, a leading researcher on quitting. In early 2021, Bloomberg published an article on how to quit a job without burning bridges, and that’s when Klotz used the phrase that has been widely repeated in media outlets. The phrase is apt because over 47 million people quit their jobs in the U.S. in 2021. 

Many workers are reevaluating what they are actually getting out of their jobs — or more aptly — what they aren’t. Some employees report that they do not feel valued, are not acknowledged for their hard work, or aren’t sharing a sense of purpose or community with their peers or their employer. Organizations witnessing this phenomenon recognize the need to invest in employee experience and engagement programs to retain their current employees and to mitigate future attrition. Because unemployment rates have dropped to record low levels, employers trying to hang onto their top talent have realized that retention and employee satisfaction must be a top priority.

Employees rarely quit in a vacuum and often leave telltale signs along the way. Employers that can identify the risks early enough can implement solutions proactively to mitigate attrition risks. If employers do not address issues in time, a high rate of turnover can have a high price for organizations. It can erode community, culture, productivity, etc., which ultimately impacts how customers and clients perceive the organization. Exit interviews may help employers understand why people are leaving. But research shows that if you want to retain people, it’s critical to check in with them BEFORE they’ve shown any indication that they’re ready to quit.

Labor market research confirms that the Great Resignation is likely a result, at least in part, of employers not paying attention to their most valuable asset—their EMPLOYEES! I believe the most effective way to do this is for employers to treat their employees the same way as they treat potential customers or clients. Many employers are scrambling to hire workers, and offering all kinds of sign-on bonuses to attract often times mediocre candidates. However, they are neglecting to provide pay increases or attractive bonuses for their existing employees who have stayed, endured, and worked hard during difficult times. More importantly, employers are not investing nearly as much in understanding why their current employees choose to stay and what they can do to keep them employed.

Many employers have forgotten that the return on investment for hiring and training the right employee depends directly on a solid retention plan. And retention practices are not only about providing industry-level pay or benefits, but is rather about a workplace that treats its employees as humans first.  Especially in the last two years. One of the best and underutilized tools that employers can leverage to retain their workforce and improve employee experience is to conduct periodic “stay” interviews. 

Many employers end up losing valuable employees for avoidable reasons. For the vast majority of employees, it’s not just about the money offered or an end-of-year bonus, but rather other intangible items, such as whether the workforce is inclusive, whether the values of the organization align with their own values, whether the organization understands and promotes healthy work/life balance, whether the employer has environment, social, and governance programs, whether the employee’s skills are being utilized in a meaningful way, etc. Therefore, it is imperative to understand how the organization is meeting these needs – or if it is not. Stay interviews can be an amazing tool to help build a positive employee experience.    

So what the heck is a “stay interview”?

A stay interview can be as simple as brief, individual conversations with your employees aimed at knowing what makes them want to stay and what may actually cause them to leave. The goal is to provide structure and a formal process for checking in with your employees. This is different than engagement surveys, as those tend to be anonymous and typically provide systemic trends through aggregate data rather than individualized data. 

Stay interviews are similar to the exit interview -- the formal process of where employers seek explanations of why someone left and what could have been done to avoid it -- but here, the focus and goal is to figure how to keep doing the “good” stuff and work on eliminating the “bad” stuff. It may not always deter someone from leaving, but it will likely improve a manager’s understanding of what their teams like and dislike, which should help them retain valuable new hires.

In a recent episode of Adam Grant’s podcast “Work Life,” he stated that the “stay interview” may be the way to avoid the “turnover contagion” plaguing employers today. He further states that the “goal of a stay interview is to show people that you’re invested in them and learn what you can do to improve their jobs and the organization.”

While there are no clear-cut rules on how to conduct a perfect stay interview, data-driven recommendations tend to agree that the following suggestions are a good starting point:

  • Communication about the stay interview process - The intention of the meeting should be clearly articulated to ALL employees so that each employee feels free to speak openly, without fearing negative repercussions. Explain to employees the purpose of the interview and request their active participation.
  • Who should conduct the meetings – Many employees will feel more comfortable providing constructive criticism to someone other than their direct or higher supervisor. A neutral party, such as a consultant, or potential a representative from Human Resources could be selected. Interviewers should be counseled to ensure that their tone and tenure is positive and avoid being defensive if they receive constructive feedback from employees.
  • One-on-one meetings - Schedule private one-on-one meeting with each employee, typically at team or department levels. Employees should receive constructive questions such as:
    • I would like to get a better sense of what excites you/keeps you interested/motivates you to stay with us.
    • What do you like most about working here? Least?
    • What would make a long term career with us appealing for you?
    • What could make your job better or what suggestions do you have to motivate the team more?
  • Schedule stay interviews periodically —This is not a “one and done” event. Data shows that conducting stay interviews improves general communication within an organization. Few things are more important for effective management than the ability to create open communication channels and candid and meaningful dialogue with employees. Most work problems—like most relationship problems—are caused by a failure to understand others. There’s no better antidote to this than effective communication. That means you don’t just do a stay interview once; you should make it part of your employee experience process and schedule them annually or semi-annually.
  • All team members should be scheduled – No employer wants to create the perception that it only cares about certain employees, and employees who are not interviewed would feel like their opinion is not valued. Everyone on the team should be scheduled and interviewed.
  • Act on the data — Be sure to measure and track the feedback as well as the results and actions. The information gathered will be useless unless you are determined to act on it. So be thoughtful and clearly set ways to record, measure, and act on the information you collect. Research show that employees are more likely to quit if managers aren’t open to making suggested changes. Therefore, after you digest the findings of your stay interview, make an effort to reinforce what works, change what doesn’t, and assess whether your changes have an impact. This will require you to prioritize some of the requests or feedback. You certainly cannot implement everything, and that’s okay.

As you double down on your efforts to increase the diversity of your workforce, it may be a good time to also implement stay interviews -- not only for your new hires -- but more importantly for your current employees. As the culture of our workforce is shifting, stay interviews can help get a pulse of where your organization currently is, so you know where to go next.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion has been the bedrock of our firm since we opened over 75 years ago. As we like to say, it is in our DNA. We believe that to foster diverse leadership and urge diversity of thought, we must do what we can to advance the conversation about diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility, and belonging in the workplace and the communities in which our workplaces thrive. Through our blog, we share our insights from the perspective of both an employer and employee, regarding emerging issues that affect diverse leaders and workforces. We hope you enjoy our tidbits of legal and practical information, wisdom, and humor. Thanks for joining the conversation!


* indicates required
Back to Page