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Stay Interview Instead of Exit Interview

I had not heard of the stay interview until a friend sent over a link. The idea is that rather than waiting until they leave to diagnose what went wrong, you do periodic interviews to find out how they are doing and encourage them to stay. I’m interested in this from a management perspective, and handicapped having never had one or done one, so I’m looking for insight – anyone tried this? Found it useful?

I’ll go big and share what I think now, from an uninformed perspective. My first thought was…isn’t that what you should be doing during an annual review? Finding out if an employee is happy, what they want to do for the next year, if they are bored, restless, mad, etc? My second thought was that done wrong, it could easily seem like management looking for the weak links. Thinking about leaving? Good, we can make that happen!

I think most managers and employees look at annual reviews primary as the time for salary adjustments, and it’s common to talk about nothing else except that. Adding a happiness block to the review form might help (and not dumb to do that). Still, I think the focus of the review is rarely holistic.

Where I think it gets interesting is if someone else did the stay interview. Maybe the next level manager? Don’t think it would work if it was a peer manager (politics), and not sure if someone from HR would work – they could ask the questions, but would they get the subtleties? More important, if they talk to anyone except their direct manager and express any kind of unhappiness, won’t they worry about that going back to their manager? That is the point after all, but that could get awkward in a lot of ways.

Or would it be more interesting to send out a annual survey? Are you paid fairly? Have you considered leaving for a bigger challenge, more money, less stress?

I feel like I’m in a loop. If you have trust between manager and employee then I’m not sure you need this. If you don’t have trust, I’m not sure it works!

So, I think I see value in the effort, but the application of it, just not sure.


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by Steve Jones on 18 March 2010

I like the idea, but I think it's the kind of thing that is hard to run. If you don't like your manager, don't trust them, worry about repercussions, you can't have this with your manager. Maybe not at all. How many people are worried they'll get picked to be laid off if they express some "unhappiness?"

There is definitely a large trust issue here that is needed, and that comes from the company. It really has to show, through it's managers, that it is open and that they can be trusted.

Even having a peer run this won't work if it's a specific person being interviewed. What needs to happen is that some group, a peer group, HR, etc, needs to hold this interview with a large group of staff, so it's anonymous for the most part.

Otherwise, I'm not sure it actually works.

Posted by Brandie Tarvin on 30 April 2010

It's not always a management problem, though, is it? Employees could use Stay Interviews to vent about managers they have grudges against. Didn't get that raise you expected, sure say something horrible about the boss that will get him/her investigated.

I'm not saying everyone will do that. There are good workers with legitimate complaints - a lot of them. But if these interviews are managed poorly, it becomes an "us against them" sort of situation where it causes more problems than it solves.

Personally, I think a legitimate Open Door Policy, where employees don't have to wait if they have problems, and a legitimate confidential complaint line (which my current employer actually has) are a much better way of handling this situation. Of course, my immediate boss does actually ask during reviews if there's anything I'm having issues with. We've had quite a few interesting talks and I've never had any retaliation to worrry about. So, I feel like I'm in a good place myself.

Posted by homeguard on 30 April 2010

The biggest reason I change jobs (like most people) is money.  I don't know about anyone else but I've never got a 22% raise without threating to leave or changing jobs.

Posted by Andy Warren on 30 April 2010

Homeguard, I agree in most places you dont get a 20% raise without some leverage, though I'd argue that most employees don't do the preparation/lack the confidence to go after a bigger than allowed raise without the big stick in hand. Only so many 20% raises out there though, eventually we all (most of us!) get to that point where we're making about all there is to make.

Posted by Andy Warren on 30 April 2010

Brandie, I can't imagine anyone not having open door policy, though I'll admit it takes work to build the trust that really gets it be to used effectively. The complaint hotline is one I haven't had/tried, would be interested to hear if it gets used for big things (fraud, ethicss, etc) or is it little things too?

Posted by Joshua Perry on 30 April 2010

At a past employer this was done by the next level manager on a quarterly basis.  It worked well, I think because it held the immediate manager accountable for meeting the needs of his subordinates.  He knew if he wasn't supporting their needs his boss was going to hear about it sometime in the next few months.  The only downside was that since people were generally happy working there, you had to leave and go work somewhere else for a few years, get promoted, and then go back in order to climb the ladder.  It was actually common to hear people say that it was "the best first, third, and fifth job you'll ever have".  For me it was the best second and fourth job, and who knows if it will be number six, but that review system is one of the things that makes the place feel so open and friendly.

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