Defend Against The Great Resignation With One Powerful Act

Steve Williamson, VP Digital Marketing and Content Creation, eRep, Inc.
Monday, January 24, 2022
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Defend Against The Great Resignation With One Powerful Act

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Tags: #retention #talentmanagement #TheGreatResignation

Pop quiz: Why did the horse leave the barn?

Smart companies conduct exit interviews with departing staff, but despite their value, an exit interview is after the fact. It is reactionary, and unless you take what your departing staff are telling you and learn from those lessons, the exit interview is a waste of everyone's time.

Before it gets to the point of needing to ask departing employees, "As you leave, can you tell us why?" how do you determine what would motivate them to stick around?

The answer is surprisingly simple yet powerful: Ask!

There is a straightforward yet profoundly meaningful thing you can do that will help stem the seemingly relentless tide of The Great Resignation. It is simple, straightforward and powerful all at the same time. It is something every organization can do regardless of size and it doesn't cost anything but an hour of your time.

What is it?

The stay conversation.

The stay conversation is a discussion between a team member and their immediate supervisor (or sometimes their department head). In this conversation, the supervisor and employee discuss how things are going from the employee's point of view, what is motivating them to stick around, and genuinely find out what you can do to help them stay.

Here are some helpful tips to help you conduct a stay conversation that is useful and meaningful for both you and your employees.

Begin With Trust

Careers are personal. Our supervisor has power over our careers, so it can feel deeply personal when we discuss our jobs. Therefore it is very important to help the employee feel at ease for the conversation.

"It is remarkably freeing to be transparent with employees and let them know why you are connecting with them. The last thing we want to do is create fear or surprise, or more questions on why you are meeting. Framing the conversation and setting it up appropriately is critically important before diving in," says Sam Jenniges, Organizational Development Specialist and author of Recognition Rebooted, A Smarter Approach to Employee Recognition.

Jenniges provides this example:

"Thanks for meeting with me. I'm excited to talk about how we can best foster your career with us. I think we as an organization can do better at having conversations about what each of our employees feel about their jobs. So today, I'm making a point to have this conversation with you specifically. To be as transparent as possible, we know you have choices where you work. I'm interested to know how we can partner in ways that best help you stay with us. How does that sound to you?"

If you are already holding regular one-on-one sessions with your staff, the need for stay conversations may be adequate at once per year as long as trust and rapport exists. It can still help to hold them from time to time as their focus and purpose can help frame the conversation beyond the informal, "How are things going?"

"People are on loan to any company they ever work for and it's our job to make them as productive and happy during the term of their employment." - Scott Leiper, Creator, The Learning Lab, Twitter: @ScottLeiper

Stay conversations aren't just for long-term employees. Ask the recent hire what they thought of the onboarding process. Has their role and the organization overall met their expectations so far? Have they identified any new opportunities within their role that they'd like to explore? Encourage them to share their thoughts and observations about the work environment. Being new to the team, they may share a new insight you never thought of before.

Sam Jenniges further suggests, "Anticipate questions about pay, benefits and other tangible topics and be prepared to answer them honestly." If you answer every question with, "I'll get back to you on that," don't be surprised if they answer your questions in a similar or vague manner.


  • Speak sincerely.
  • Do your homework on benefits and salary. In some cases, you might need to offer salary adjustments to improve retention.
  • Establish the reason for the conversation ahead of time so the employee knows why they are there.
  • Use a transparent meeting notice such as, "Let's discuss how we can best foster your career here."
  • Meeting off site such as at a coffee shop or other neutral ground works well in fostering trust and a more relaxed conversation—as long as they know why they are meeting.
  • Hold this conversation face to face if you can do so safely, or over video conferencing if necessary. The point is to be able to see each other's faces and read each other's body language.
  • The stay conversation should be between two people only — the employee and their immediate supervisor or department head if that is more appropriate (with the supervisor potentially in the room to learn).
  • Make notes and reference prior discussions in future conversations. Follow up with results or progress of the actions you have taken in response to previous suggestions or requests.
  • Agree together when you will meet again, and discuss what will be discussed next time.
Use active listening to make sure you are accurately hearing what the employee is trying to convey.


  • Don't surprise the employee or scare them with the topic. An example of what not to do might be, "Let's talk about your future," or the classic, "We need to talk."
  • It's meant to be a conversation, so don't hold it in a panel or group format.
  • Don't forget to take notes and ask follow-up questions.
  • Don't complicate things by lumping other unrelated topics into the conversation.
  • Don't conduct a stay conversation via email or messaging system.
  • Don't judge or criticize what the employee is saying.
  • Don't say or do anything that makes the employee feel like they will suffer any negative consequences for being honest.

Additional Advice

When the employee expresses their views, be curious and dig deeper by asking the What? Why? Where? Who? How? questions. Don't be pushy or demanding, though. Not every person is comfortable expressing their true frustrations or questions until trust and rapport has been established.

Don't conduct the stay conversation in a vacuum where the conversation goes nowhere. If an employee earnestly and honestly expresses their concerns only to get vague answers, or sees no action or effort taken on your part, don't be surprised if you get vague or even dismissive answers in future conversations.

Vague answers to direct questions degrades trust.

Be proactive. Most companies conduct stay conversations — if they have them at all — only after retention has plummeted and they are scrambling to stem the bleeding. Instead, hold a stay conversation 90 days after hire and again two to four times per year. Build that foundation into routine follow up career conversations.

Suggested Questions

Here are some recommended questions to get you started. Not all of them may be appropriate for each stay conversation, but be sure to always ask the last question on this list every time (it's a great way to close the conversation):

  • What aspect of your role motivates and inspires you the most?
  • What strengths of yours are being underutilized?
  • What challenges have you had to overcome recently?
  • Have you identified anything about your role you'd like to change?
  • What areas of your role do you feel are outside your skill set or comfort zone?
  • How would your ideal workday differ from the way it is now?
  • Do you feel you are using all your skills?
  • Do you feel you are being appropriately compensated for this role?
  • How would you improve the level and type of management and guidance you receive from me as your supervisor?

Finally, be sure to end the conversation with, "What keeps you working here?"

Further Steps

If you are uncomfortable conducting a stay conversation, don't worry. This is a skill that can be learned. There are Human Resources consultants that can provide training to your supervisory staff so they are equipped to conduct a productive stay conversation with confidence.

Be ready for — and actively encourage — frank discussion. The point of the stay conversation is to have a productive dialogue and to learn how to help the person stay with your organization, not to judge or criticize (although it may feel like that at times). If the employee is telling you something you may not want to hear, realize that they are giving you a gift. This gift of constructive honesty is an opportunity for you to improve the work experience for your team member before they quit and work for the competition where they feel more valued.

The honest and trusting stay conversation is one of your most powerful tools to improve retention and keep you from being yet another victim of The Great Resignation.

Additional Information

Overwhelmed by Employee Turnover? Have Stay Conversations

Go to to learn more about the CVI or to take the Core Values Index assessment.

Employees hired with a CVI that closely matches a Top Performer Profile often outperform candidates hired without a TPP match by 200% or more. → Learn more

Steve Williamson

Steve Williamson

Innovator/Banker - VP Digital Marketing and Content Creation, eRep, Inc.

Steve has a career in project management, software development and technical team leadership spanning three decades. He is the author of a series of fantasy novels called The Taesian Chronicles (, and when he isn't writing, he enjoys cycling, old-school table-top role-playing games, and buzzing around the virtual skies in his home-built flight simulator.

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