How to conduct the worker’s ‘stay’ interview

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Rey A. H. Elbo

In The Workplace

Sometime ago, you wrote about the folly of conducting exit interviews of resigning employees. Instead, you recommended that managers must do the “stay” interview to check the workers’ motivational levels. Here are my questions: When do we start doing the “stay” interview? Is it when the manager is happy about the work of his people or when he’s not? How do we break the ice? What are the questions to be raised? — Just Asking.

There was a young man who took a shortcut home late one night through a cemetery. As he went running scared through the darkness, he accidentally fell into an open grave. He shouted for help, as he tried to scamper out of the hole, but to no avail. There was no one around to hear his agitated call. Knowing the futility of it all, he settled down for the night in one corner of the pitch black grave to wait for the morning sun.

A little while later, another person came to the same route through the cemetery, using the same shortcut and fell into the same grave. He started clawing and shouting and trying to get out just as the first fellow had done. Suddenly, the second fellow heard a voice out of the dark corner of the grave saying:

“You can’t get out of here.” But, he did!

Like the second fellow who fell into the grave, there’s nothing better for understanding the plight of your workers than to hear it directly from them. Get it straight from the first fellow, who is deep down the grave, instead of the second fellow who has already exited. What for? What’s the use? That’s why I abhor the practice of conducting exit interviews. Yes, it’s too late for you to do just that.

The employee has already resigned and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s reactivity at its best. An exit interview is an exercise in futility as many resigned employees are not expected to tell you the truth or burn the bridge in the process, while they’re waiting for the release of their terminal pay, which takes time to process.

If management tries to woo back a resigned person, it would only create more problems than solutions. It could put the organization into a situation where management may be constrained to give in, which may be difficult to do. This happens when it comes to the issue of a pay raise, promotion or a combination of both.

Therefore, to answer your first question — the best way to conduct the “stay” interview is when everything is normal. It must be business as usual. Don’t do it when a worker has accomplished something or else, he may expect you to reciprocate right away. Likewise, don’t hold any “stay” interview when a person has goofed as it may give him the wrong impression.

Ideally, the “stay” interview must be done naturally as if you’re not doing it at all. You can do it spontaneously as you discuss updates with the individual employees. While you’re at it, you can reasonably interject certain questions to pick up clues or red flags as you probe deeper.

As to your second question, the happiness of people is determined by the majority and not by an individual employee. The best way to define this is through a regular employee opinion survey, which result is more believable, if you can guarantee the anonymity of employees and with a sample size of at least 90% of the total work force.

On your third question, breaking the ice should not be difficult to do if you’ve a regular interaction with people. “Regular” here means almost on a daily basis. The point is to make things happen every day as a matter of habit. The Japanese have a term for it — asaichi or morning market. This allows the manager to meet his team, first thing in the morning for about 15 minutes or less to discuss general issues and let the team come out with all possible solutions during the day.

Last, what are the questions, issues, or topics to be raised in the “stay” interview? Here are some suggestions:

One, how can I help your tasks easy and more meaningful for you? Fast trackers are victims of boredom, especially if their jobs are repetitive. Therefore, discover ways to make their work fun and interesting.

Two, what is your career plan in the organization? Most people can be vague with their plans, but if they can see you as someone who is willing and sincere to help, then you may get the right answers.

Three, how would you like to be given the freedom to do your job well? This allows you to gauge if the worker is receptive to the idea of being freed from supervisory oversight, up to a certain extent.

Four, would you like to be transferred to a branch near your residence? The answer can be helpful to people if only to alleviate their daily hassles in commuting to work. This is one good example of zero-cash motivational strategy.

Five, what do you like best about my management style? What do you like the least? Seek and respect the workers’ opinion. And try to meet their expectations in the same way you expect them to do their jobs well.

Six, are you being treated fairly in this organization? How can we improve? If you don’t ask, you won’t know the answer. Hearing the answer is only one part of the equation. If you don’t agree with the answer, express the management position clearly.

Majority of our workers are reasonable human beings. They will accept it, if management has a rational approach to communicate its position under a two-way, proactive communication process with people.

This list of questions is not complete. You can create more questions. Whatever questions you have in mind, above all else, don’t try to deceive the workers by hiding behind a mantle of confidentiality. They can find out if you’re telling the truth or not. If this happens, it’s difficult to regain their trust.