The Power of Stay Interviews

By Jodi Schafer, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Human Resources Management Services, LLC ||

Q: I am trying to fill a clinical position and am not having a lot of luck. When I talk to my colleagues, it seems I am not alone in my recruiting struggle. There are several factors at play – inadequate numbers to meet current hiring demands, inflated unemployment payments due to the federal subsidy and ongoing fears and/or family demands due to COVID. While I’m trying to work every angle, the clock is ticking. My team is doing more with less and I can see the signs of burnout all around me. The worst thing that could happen is for me to lose one of my existing staff at this stressful point in time. What can I do to retain my current team in this challenging environment?

As you know from talking with other practice owners and administrators, hiring for certain positions has become incredibly difficult and very expensive. The drop in applicant numbers has led to a supply/demand dilemma and starting wages are rising drastically as a result. Some practices have grown so desperate that they have started poaching employees from colleagues in the community. You are right to worry about hanging on to the staff you have. Losing them to burnout or to the practice down the street is a very real threat.

To ward off unwanted departures, you need to find out how your staff perceive their job responsibilities, their workload, your management style, the practice policies and protocols, their wages and benefits, etc. before it’s too late. Talking to your current team members, one at a time, for the purposes of retaining them is referred to as a ‘stay interview’. These conversations provide insight into why an employee chooses to stay with your practice and what might cause them to leave. While pay may be one factor that needs adjusting as a result of the current job market, it is probably not the only change, nor the most meaningful change, you could make to improve overall job satisfaction.

“In calmer times we might be tempted to distribute a survey. Most of us have learned, though, that surveys provide data but rarely take us to effective solutions. This is why Gallup reports employee engagement has barely budged in 20 years and that just one third of employees remain engaged, no matter which ‘solutions’ we try,” according to Richard P. Finnegan, CEO of C-Suite Analytics, a consultancy specializing in engagement and retention. So, this needs to be a conversation, not an impersonal survey tool. If you’ve never conducted a stay interview before, it can be a little nerve-wracking. You may be anxious to hear what employees will say and employees may be hesitant to tell you the truth. It’s best to set the stage for a stay interview in advance of the actual meeting. Let your staff know that you recognize the stress and added demands that have been placed up on them over the last 16+ months and that you want to do what you can to support them and make your practice a great place to work. Then, introduce that you’ll be having an informal talk with each of them to find out how they are doing, what like about their job and the work environment and what you could do to make things even better.

When the time comes to speak with your employees, follow the 80/20 rule. Spend 80% of the time listening and 20% of the time probing further and taking notes. This is about them and their perspectives, so they should do most of the talking. Use the stay interview questions above to get you started, but feel free to dive deeper based on the responses provided.

To close the stay interview, thank your employee for their honesty, summarize the key points you heard and let them know what you plan to do with the information. Remember, not acting on the feedback you receive is worse than never having asked for their perspective in the first place. Consider communicating the results of your interviews in aggregate along with any planned changes so that your staff know that their efforts and vulnerability weren’t in vain. The time you invest in this process will pay dividends in retaining key staff and boosting moral during a difficult time.