How Managers Can Harness Stay Conversations for Employee Retention

November 2, 2021

Has the Great Resignation hit your company? Or are you waiting on pins and needles for the potential flood of departures to start?! Considering 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in August and a recent survey found that 48% of US workers are actively job searching, it looks like the Great Resignation is here for awhile. So how do you combat employee departure? Aside from asking these 3 questions, start with the person who is closest to the employee– their manager.


The best managers don't wait until an employee is walking out the door but instead proactively talks with the direct reports about what’s working, and what’s NOT working. Enter the stay conversation…

What is a stay conversation?

Stay conversations are conversations between a manager and their direct report designed to learn more about the employee, including their career goals, what they value, what they need to be successful and to feel supported in their role. A stay conversation is basically the opposite of an exit interview: Instead of waiting until your employee has already decided to leave, ask them the questions now while there is still an opportunity to do something about it.  

Why is it important?  

Opening an honest dialogue builds trust and shows your employee that you value their contribution to your team. Understanding your employees’ motivations allows you to create a stay strategy to keep them engaged. If they are looking for growth opportunities in a particular area, you can put them on a project that allows them to strengthen those skills.  

Additionally, it can be an assessment tool for overall engagement and can highlight larger issues in your organization that may impact other employees and gives you the opportunity to make changes on a larger scale.  

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When should I do it?  

The earlier you can have these conversations with your employees, the better. Find a time when you can have a focused conversation and share the purpose ahead of time. Be clear that you are soliciting information on their experience, and this is not a performance conversation.  

What questions should I ask?  

While these conversations should feel organic, it’s good to have a few specific questions in mind:

  • What part of your job do you enjoy the most?  
  • What aspect of your job do you wish you could change?
  • What opportunities for development would you like to have?
  • What can I do to support your growth?  
  • What is one thing we can do to make our company a great place to work?  

End your stay conversations by establishing action items and accountability– including what you expect from your employee and what your employee can expect from you.  

What should I do next?

Don’t stop there– a stay conversation is not a one-and-done activity! Follow up on any action items and continue to regularly check in to gauge their level of engagement and uncover additional opportunities for you to support them.

In this time of unprecedented turnover, managers are in the unique position to have a huge impact in retaining their valuable, talented and awesome employees.  In doing so, it would benefit all of us to evaluate our engagement processes, to ensure that they are not only true to our core values, but also employee-centered.  If we do so, we just might be able to reframe The Great Resignation into The Great Retention.

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