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Keep Your Talent: The Power of Stay Interviews in Employee Retention

Do you find yourself discovering issues that make your employees unhappy only after they've already decided to quit? In a candidate short market, this isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. If you persuade them to stay you’ll likely have to make some unwelcome compromises (and they’ll likely still leave soon...). 

This scenario can be avoided however by implementing 'stay interviews', a proactive approach that addresses potential problems before they escalate into reasons for departure. Not to be confused with ‘exit interviews’, stay interviews address the small grievances before they snowball into bigger issues. As an effective manager you not only retain your key accountants and bookkeepers but also foster a more contented and productive work environment. 

Don’t wait until your staff have already made the decision to quit.  

Stay interviews are less about assessing performance and more about understanding what motivates an employee to remain with a firm 

These conversations, when done right, can be a powerful retention tool. They also allow you to determine if current practices are leveraging people's strengths. The goal is to learn how leaders can improve their management style, encouraging employees to stay and perform at their best.  

The key to ensuring their effectiveness is to treat these conversations as informal check-ins rather than formal performance assessments, and they should start early in an employee’s tenure, recurring consistently thereafter. 


So, what questions are best to ask to make the most of these conversations? 


  • How would you change your management style if you were in charge of yourself? 
    This subtly probes the employee's preferences regarding managerial styles, helping you understand their needs for autonomy or more hands-on support. 
  • What could potentially lure you away from this firm? 
    Instead of guessing what employees desire, just ask them. They might value career progression or flexible hours over a pay raise. This could also highlight restrictions in what your firm can offer, enabling you to plan ahead for potential role transitions and replacements. 

  • What daily frustrations do you face? 
    Identifying minor adjustments that can alleviate everyday annoyances can significantly boost an employee's satisfaction. Perhaps a simple change in work schedule could resolve conflicts with personal commitments. 

  • What activities energize you, and which ones deplete your energy? 
    Understanding what motivates and what drains your employees can help you tailor roles that maximize their engagement and productivity. 

  • Are there any firm practices you believe we could enhance? 
    Encourage employees to contribute their ideas on larger firm aspects, not just their individual roles. Their insights could lead to improved efficiency, innovative strategies, or enriched learning programs. 

  • Can you recall a recent instance when you felt recognized and valued for your work? 
    Employees who feel unappreciated are more likely to leave. Instead of asking if they feel valued, ask for specific instances of recognition. If they struggle to remember any, it's a sign you may need to prompt their manager to express appreciation more regularly. 

  • When was the last time you considered leaving the company? 
    Save this question for later in the conversation when the employee is more comfortable. Assure them that their response will remain confidential. Their answer can reveal immediate changes that could reengage them, such as resolving conflicts with colleagues. 


More Tips 

Implementing effective stay interviews requires fostering a workplace culture that promotes honesty, openness, and expression of ideas. Employees should feel safe and reassured that voicing their thoughts won't result in punishment or differential treatment, but will instead contribute to improving their working environment.  

Try to avoid tactical or operational questions relating to daily workload… these conversations are focused on the bigger picture. 

Be prepared for a tough conversation. Awareness that outside life pressures can impact a person’s stickability in a position means allowing those conversations to happen as well. But be prepared to make the necessary changes too. 

Stay interviews are a proactive and strategic approach that can significantly boost employee retention and productivity. By facilitating an environment where employees feel comfortable expressing their thoughts, concerns, and ideas, firms can address potential issues before they escalate into reasons for departure. 

Your employees are your most valuable asset - it's worth investing the time and effort to keep them engaged and motivated. After all, a happy, empowered workforce is the foundation of any successful firm. You know this. So don't wait until it's too late.  


Want to see if Accountests will work for your firm? Click on the button for a FREE trial test - use it on a candidate or get one of your staff to give it a go and see what they think.  
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Giles Pearson  |  After 18 years as a partner with a large public accounting firm, Giles founded Accountests to help those recruiting accountants make better hiring decisions

Accountests  |  Accountests deliver the world’s only online suite of annually updated and country-specific technical skills, ability and personality tests designed by and for accountants and bookkeepers. 
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