Could ‘stay conversations’ improve employee retention?

While employers have been scrambling to reinvigorate the employee experience in their attempts to reduce employee turnover, a simpler solution exists: the stay conversation.

2022 has been tough for employers dealing with high disengagement and even higher employee turnover. Certain sectors – such as child care and aged care – have been hit particularly hard. And while employers have been scrambling to reinvigorate the employee experience by focusing on employee wellness, greater flexibility and offering a spate of other benefits, there’s one preventative measure that can be taken before an employee even considers jumping ship: the stay conversation.

The cost of voluntary turnover

Purely in financial terms, the cost of voluntary turnover is high. Humanforce’s eBook on the cost of employee disengagement outlines what the typical cost is to find and replace a departed employee. However, when these costs also encompass the loss of knowledge and expertise and the possible damage to customer relations, the impact is far greater. Right now, businesses globally are struggling to retain employees.

In Australia alone, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that almost 10% of the workforce changed jobs in 2021 – the highest annual job mobility rate since 2012. The data showed 1.3 million people (or 9.5% of employed people) switched jobs. Although job mobility includes both voluntary and involuntary turnover, ABS analysis of the data indicates that job mobility is at its highest level in over a decade, returning to levels last seen prior to the GFC.

Different sources suggest the cost of replacing an employee is anything from 1.5 to 2 times the person’s annual salary. For many cases of voluntary turnover, this loss is preventable.

The manager / employee relationship

How well do your managers really know their team members? For managers of roster-driven, shift-based (or “deskless”) workers, finding the time to genuinely get to know colleagues can be a challenge. With staff undertaking shift work at different hours, on different days, and sometimes in different locations, these foundational aspects of a solid manager / employee relationship can often fall by the wayside.

Most managers will have a clear idea of who their star performers are – they are reliable, they get things done, and they are a positive influence on others. They’ll be a valued team member for years to come. Or will they? What if that high performer has been craving new challenges at work – perhaps new responsibilities or an opportunity to develop their skills? Their subtle hints may have been missed or perhaps they are uncomfortable speaking about their aspirations. Rather than continuing to feel overlooked and neglected, they may be pondering fresh employment opportunities elsewhere. So long, star.

A stay conversation has the potential to prevent the above situation altogether.

What is a stay conversation?

HR teams are well acquainted with exit interviews or surveys, and while these are useful for gathering information for potentially making future improvements that will benefit others, it’s too late to change anything for the individual involved in the exit interview – they are already mentally checked out and gone.

A stay conversation or interview occurs much earlier in the employee lifecycle – and they are much simpler to implement. They take the form of a one-on-one conversation between manager and employee. The intention is to find out more about the employee and what makes them tick:

  • What are their passions and career goals?

  • What do they value in life?

  • What do they need to be more successful in their role?

  • What roadblocks are holding them back from achieving their work-related goals?

A stay conversation should ideally cover all the factors that will influence an employee’s willingness to stay. Such a conversation will not only help to identify potential flight risks, but will also demonstrate to the employee that their manager – and by extension their employer – genuinely cares about them.

However, a stay conversation shouldn’t be a once-off chat or a “check in” done every 12 months or so; they should be included as part of regular coaching conversations that take place between a manager and their team. A good time to do one for new employees is at the three month and six month mark, to make sure what was promised during the recruitment process was delivered. For longer-tenured employees, aim to do one at least twice a year.

How to conduct effective stay conversations

The following tips will help managers carry out a mutually beneficial stay conversation or interview.

1.    Give people enough notice – and let them know what to expect

As deskless workers often work irregular hours, it’s essential to schedule these valuable one-on-one sessions with staff well in advance. Let them know what they can expect so they can prepare and develop their own set of questions for their manager, as feedback is always a two-way street. Outline exactly what the purpose of the chat is and stress that the goal is to help them in their role, understand their aspirations, and to clarify future goals.

2.    Ask the right questions

This might be the most important element. The questions asked should ultimately benefit both the individual and the organisation and should be asked in a way that encourages open, honest responses.

This means framing the discussion around positive talking points. For example, opening with “I would like to get a better sense of what excites you/keeps you interested/motivates you to stay with us” is guaranteed to get the conversation off to a good, positive start. Who doesn’t like talking about themself?

5 questions to ask as part of a stay conversation:

The following questions form the basis of a solid stay conversation:

·      What do you look forward to each day when you commute to work?

This is a good, positive question to start with, one that encourages employees to focus on their daily duties rather than bigger issues like pay and benefits. Their enjoyment could come from their relationships with others in the team or the satisfaction they get from their role or helping others.

·      What are you learning here, and what do you want to learn?

The response to this question will be as varied as the people in the team: some might be ambitious to advance in their career, others may want to upskill in certain key areas, and others may want to do their work and go home. It’s all good intel for a manager to have.

·      Why do you stay here?

Most people don’t think about this until they have to (or are asked to), but it can help clarify in the employee’s head the things they enjoy about their current work situation.

·      When is the last time you thought about leaving us, and what prompted it?

A tough question to ask, but also critical. This question reveals the urgency level (was it just a fleeting thought or something that’s been brewing for some time?), while asking what prompted it reveals the reasons why the issue presented itself.

·      What can I do to make your job better for you?

Managers may need to tread carefully with this one so they don’t come across as defensive in their response, or risk over-stretching themselves, but it can potentially be hugely beneficial to both the employee and the manager – e.g. Does the manager provide enough feedback? Does the manager take the time to understand the employee’s motivational drivers? If these questions are never asked, it’s difficult for a manager to improve in their own role.

SHRM suggests a good rule of thumb for managers is to listen 80% of the time and make a purposeful commitment to asking, listening, and only asking again once they’ve digested all they’ve heard. They also suggest probing further to learn more – it helps to extract more information but also shows the manager is actively listening to the responses. Finally, they suggest the manager should take notes. SHRM states: “Notes capture key points, emotional words and important quotes.”

3.    Follow up after the interviews

The final step is to follow up with employees after the chat. This demonstrates that the manager appreciated the team member’s time and that they were actively listening. A follow-up email with a mention of something specific discussed should suffice. Although it’s unlikely that all the issues raised can be resolved, it’s important to follow through with any promises made.

One part of a bigger retention puzzle

The issues that impact staff retention are multi-faceted and often complex. A stay conversation may not be enough to hold onto someone who has been disengaged and disgruntled for some time – but it may help retain anyone sitting on the edge, undecided about whether they want to stay or go. The best managers don’t wait for signs of trouble to emerge; they take preventative action to keep their star performers. The stay conversation is one preventative action that every manager should be considering in their ongoing efforts to retain the best talent.

How Humanforce can help

Humanforce is a leading provider of shift-based workforce management solutions that simplify onboarding, scheduling, time and attendance, employee engagement, and communication. Customers in more than 23 countries use Humanforce to optimise costs, realise compliance confidence, empower their team, and drive growth. Humanforce was founded in Sydney in 2002, and today has offices across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and the UK.

Learn more about how Humanforce can automate and simplify workforce management processes in your organisation. Contact us or schedule a demo.