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Stay dates

Friendly meetings aren’t enough to create lasting work relationships

Instead of using exit interviews to uncover what might have gone wrong, roll back the clock and invite that same employee to share what is currently crazy-making in a “stay interview.” In her book Hello Stay Interviews, Goodbye Talent Loss, author Beverley Kaye says every company should be asking what excites their star performers before they develop a wandering eye.

Sounds good. But stay interviews are time wasters without a supporting culture, says Cori Maedel, CEO of The Jouta Performance Group, a Vancouver-based HR consultancy. Even worse, asking deep questions without following up may even spur more resignations.

“I shouldn’t be waiting six months to do a stay interview and find out whether or not you’re juiced at what you’re doing. How come I don’t know already?” says Maedel. Managers should be engaging staff all the time about what they need to be successful, she explains. If the culture doesn’t encourage this already, a formal sit-down is useless formality: Complete report. Filequote

Engaging, creative environments are only created on purpose, by those at the top. Once established, she explains, then HR can make headway with employee engagement programs. Even worse than appearing hollow, a stay interview might actually inspire employees to dream big — delivering bigger disappointment when nothing changes.

“If I’m not really happy, but nobody asks me, I can get along OK,” explains Maedel. “But if you sit down with me and ask questions about what I need, what I care about, and then do nothing … well, then you’ve put me lower than before. Any time you ask an employee any question, you have to be willing to do something with the answer,” she says.

HR and management should have mechanisms in place beforehand to deliver on staff requests. It’s not possible to fulfill every wish so structure questions around available incentives or areas of flexibility. The right questions will be different for every branch. “Never ask a question you can’t deliver on,” cautions Maedel. “If you’re asking [staff], ‘Are you happy?’ What if they say, ‘No’? What are you prepared to do?”

If promotions aren’t available, then ask what that person needs to feel respected or empowered. Concerns could be addressed with more inclusive weekly meetings, for example, or greater investment knowledge. Maybe there’s space for flex time.

Remember that asking open-ended questions in stay interviews isn’t going to magically create an open culture. Studies already show that real problems are rarely revealed in exit interviews: leavers don’t want to burn bridges. Current employees have even more motivation to fear speaking out. If it’s not safe, they won’t talk. Even more reason to define the supportive, creative culture you want first.

Without it? “Just don’t ask. Really,” says Maedel. “If we’re not setting up an environment where it’s safe to have an honest conversation, I just don’t think we’re going to build healthy organizations today.”



  1. What parts of your job give you the most satisfaction?
  2. Which of your talents are you not using here?
  3. When you’re driving to work, what are you excited about?
  4. What parts make you want to turn around?
  5. If time and money weren’t an issue, what would you do here?
  6. How could I give you the courage to play a bigger game?
  7. What do you need from me to be successful?
  8. What responsibilities would you add to make your position more interesting? ◊