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The Stay Conversation: Engaging your employees before they leave


The exit interview or exit survey has long been considered a tool for finding out why employees are leaving an organisation. But what if there is another way. What about asking your valued employees what you can do to help them to stay. Could this be the missing link in your employee retention strategy?

The Stay Conversation is not a tick box discussion, moreover, as the name suggestions, it is an ongoing retention conversation that focuses on what actions and efforts are required to help an employee to stay with an organisation.

Before the horse has bolted:

Stay conversations occur with current employees; not ex-employees who have already left an organisation. They occur proactively to help identify and resolve any issues an employee might be having and help to ensure that these do not become bigger issues that could lead to an employee exit. They also act as an engagement tool to improve relationships between a leader and an employee and provide a useful vehicle to truly get to know what is driving and motivating an employee.

The How:

Stay conversations should be conducted with purpose. Leaders should schedule in regular discussions with employees and let them know the purpose of the meeting, how to prepare for the conversation and the likely focus of the discussion. Regularity of the discussions could be a quarterly occurrence, or perhaps more frequently where issues are identified that need immediate remedy and reflection. Leaders should focus on their high performers, the team players whose absence in the team would leave a huge gap, should they select to exit. Whilst stay conversations can be held with all team members, it makes sense to focus on the employees who you actually want to stay.

What are the right questions to ask?

The stay conversation is all about getting to know the employee. Consider open ended questions that allow you to be curious about what makes your employee ‘tick’:

  • What are your career goals? How does this role fit in with your career plans?

  • What are you passionate about? What parts of your role allow you to explore your passions?

  • What are your key frustrations in this role? What obstacles are getting in the way of you being successful?

  • What is important to you, what do you value? How does this role fit in with this?

  • What else can I do as your leader to support you for success? How do you like to be recognised for your achievements?

  • What do you want to learn in your role? How can we help you grow?

Hitting the right notes:

The stay conversation needs to be genuine, and it needs to not be rushed. If, as a leader, you are approaching this conversation as a ‘one and done’ discussion, you are most likely going to contribute to your employee not wanting to stay in their role. A Gallup study involving 7,272 US Adults identified that over 50% of respondents had left their job at some point to escape their leader, aiming to improve their overall life. It’s important as a leader to approach this conversation with purpose, with curiosity and with a genuine willingness to converse on the topic of identifying the key factors that could contribute to your employees’ success, wellbeing and retention. Where an employee senses a less than authentic approach from their leader, they won’t open up and the opportunity to gain deeper insights is lost.

Helping them stay; the follow up:

The stay conversation is one part of the critical activity here; the other part being the actions that follow. No two stay conversations are the same, and each will uncover unique truths about your employee and the factors that will influence their job satisfaction and overall retention. A sound approach here is to own each outcome journey with your employees; work out who is owning what actions and commit to both checking in on this in future discussions. This is an ongoing conversation; one you should be returning to. Employees love leaders who do what they say they are going to do; so if you have actions that could translate to an employees’ retention in the team, it’s important that you follow through on your commitments. A stay conversation where an employee doesn’t feel listened to, and doesn’t feel heard has the power to disengage and set them off on a trajectory towards an exit.


Simple to put in place? Absolutely! Stay conversations are not difficult to execute well but so often are simply not initiated out of fear of the ‘what if’. Leaders are worried about what they will uncover, fearing that their curiosity will identify employee issues that they cannot immediately fix and therefore push an individual towards an exit. This is absolutely not the case, and our experience of stay conversations, is often about embracing the imperfect, and working through the issues together. Where an employee can genuinely see that a leader is trying to respond to their concerns, and when they can see a solutions-oriented approach, they become engaged in finding solutions, and engaged in staying put. Employees often leave an organisation when they feel helpless, and when they feel that nothing will change. Acknowledging what is fixable and what isn’t is part of the honesty of the conversation.

Why wait for the slim nuggets of information from the exit survey process? Get on the front foot and work out what you can do now to retain your key employees and to start fostering a trusted relationship. Book in your stay conversations today.



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