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As organizations and businesses grapple with an ongoing talent crisis and the demands of a post-pandemic work world, one strategy has the potential to make a big difference – a stay interview.

A twist on the familiar “exit interview,” which asks departing employees why they decided to leave, a stay interview does the opposite: asks employees what would cause them to stay.

Rob Rosenfeld is the vice president responsible for the National Capital Region and public sector team lead at LifeWorks. According to Rosenfeld, stay interviews can be vital for leaders to “get a pulse” of their team.

“A lot of private and public organizations are dealing with retention because employees were deciding their needs or wants weren’t being met and they went elsewhere,” explained Rosenfeld. “This should have been in place for people when we were looking at ways to increase retention and engagement.

“There is no absence of evidence to demonstrate that if you engage with employees they will feel listened to and have a higher feeling of attachment in their workplace,” added Rosenfeld. “If you aren’t sampling or polling your workforce, you aren’t keeping abreast of their concerns.”

So, how does it work?

One Ottawa organization has seen great success in just the first few phases of its stay interview strategy. Sharon Miko, president, and CEO of the Ottawa Humane Society (OHS), told OBJ that her team was inspired by another society that had been reaping the benefits of the stay interview.

Since the OHS leadership team was “tentative” at the start, managers began by interviewing each other for practice, Miko said.

“They had an opportunity so they had experience on both sides providing those same answers. It helped to coach them to conduct (the interviews) more effectively with their teams.”

Since formally starting the interviews a few months ago, Miko said her leadership team was “stunned” by the results. For example, they learned about simple issues that were quick to address and helped to ensure satisfaction for her approximately 120 employees. With the interviews now 40 percent complete, she has seen work practices questioned and larger concerns raised that will “become part of our larger plan.”

During the interviews, managers asked employees about their favorite and least favorite aspects of the organization, their “general satisfiers and dissatisfiers,” and where improvements could be made. Miko said she has been “blown away by the comments, constructive feedback, and little dissatisfiers that we didn’t know were important.”

“During the interview, employers would be well advised to have discussions about how to make (employees’) work life much more enjoyable by focusing on their careers, what could they do to really enhance that person’s experience and understanding of the work, and maybe even step out of their comfort zone a bit,” said Karen Brownrigg, CEO and president of iHR Advisory Services.

“How could they customize their benefits program in a way that is unique to the individual? What forms of insurance could be helpful for the individual and their family?” added Brownrigg. “This is a great time of year to think about that.”

The process at OHS has strengthened relationships between employees and their supervisors, Miko said, leading the way for “transparent discussion with your team about the culture.”

Miko has been analyzing the interview results and examining any trends. Although OHS surveys its staff annually and conducts an engagement survey specializing in shelter organization every two years, Miko said that the stay interviews have allowed for more specific and honest one-on-one communication.

There’s also an opportunity for career planning and “what kind of growth support we can provide,” she explained. “We’re always happy to have those discussions about how we can support you on your path, even if it leads to somewhere else,” Miko said.

As is often the case, communication often arises as an issue. It has come up as a concern in OHS’s survey results, but Miko said the stay interviews provided more detail and context and taught leadership “how to communicate better.”

While the interviews can be used “to determine the health of the organization,” they also help to “get an understanding of how issues are being understood and translated,” Rosenfeld said.

“You want to make sure an email is filtered down and understood at each level so you don’t have a broken telephone system,” he explained. “There is a responsibility to be a translator and to listen to needs.”

Miko’s team has had to be “nimble” by planning interviews around regular performance reviews, probation meetings, and training, but she says she is “very excited” as even the early results of the stay interviews have been meaningful for both employees and supervisors.

“We want our team to thrive. Stay interviews provide an excellent step in that direction,” said Miko. “It’s a shame to find out what matters to employees only when they have one foot out the door.”

Her advice to any companies considering exploring stay interviews? “Start today.”