Major Teoh’s Blog

February 25, 2007

Filed under: Guest Writers,Heera Singh — Major (Rtd) Teoh @ 1:51 pm


By Heera Singh *

A common practice in most Malaysian organizations, as part of the employee retention plan, is to conduct exit interviews with the objective of finding out the reasons for employees leaving. Once these factors are known, then action is taken to address these issues and hopefully reduce employee turnover (especially the high performers). But the main weakness in exit interviews from a Malaysian perspective is that most employees, being polite, do not reveal the ‘real’ reasons for them leaving.

They also do not want to leave on an antagonistic note and hence give reasons like “I want to join my uncle in his business”, “I want to help my brother in law start his new company” etc (all of which are usually not true – they may actually be joining a competitor). Hence the main objective of exit interviews is usually not achieved.

My view is that it would be better to conduct ‘stay’ interviews with especially high performers so as to pre-empt their leaving. Don’t wait for exit interviews to find out why they want to leave. When high performers hand in their letter of resignation, it is always difficult to persuade them at this late stage to stay either through monetary means or by addressing their grievances.

Their attitude will be, “Does it have to be my resignation that makes you take notice of my unhappiness or my concerns”. The point here is, wouldn’t it be more beneficial for organizations to conduct stay interviews on a periodical basis so that these grievances and unhappiness can be discussed and addressed early?

During ‘stay’ interviews ask employees questions like, “What will it take for you to continue working for us? What circumstances might entice you to leave?”. “What can we do to support you in your career development?” Listen carefully to the responses, even if you are not happy with what you hear. Importantly, you will have to take action after the interview to address the concerns of the employee.

Obviously, not all issues can be fully overcome, for example, if the employee is demanding a pay rise that is beyond the salary scales of your organization. However if some of the issues brought out are tackled pre-emptively then the chances of employees staying will be better. And as we are aware, employee retention (high performers) is critical to the success of any organization. 

Some managers hesitate to conduct this interview for fear of hearing negative views about the department/themselves or that they won’t be able to deliver on the employees’ requests. My view is that it would be better for them to hear these negative views early on and take some action, rather than risk losing their best performers to competitors at a later date.

‘Stay’ interviews also has the positive effect of ensuring that the people you interview feel valued and important, which often translates to stronger loyalty and commitment to the organization. In other words, just by conducting the interview you have given recognition to the high performer and this would be a good way to ensure his/her retention.

Some of the possible questions that can be asked during stay interviews are as follows:

1. Why makes you stay in this organization?

2, What circumstances would make you leave?

3. What can we do to make your job more challenging?

4. What can we do to assist in enhancing your career?

5. Do you get enough recognition in this organization?

Thought-provoking questions such as the above will prove highly beneficial as they provide a forum in which the employee can give his opinions and views on work related issues openly. You may be surprised that these may not always be negative.  Once the results are compiled and collated, necessary action can then be taken to address these issues. 

Pro-active action is taken rather than reacting after the high performers have decided to leave. A word of caution though and that is, stay interviews can also be a double edged weapon. If they are conducted, and no action is taken, then the high performers will regard that as a sign of disrespect and provide them with the impetus to leave earlier.  

These interviews need not be held formally. It could be as simple as having lunch with the employee or an informal chat over coffee at the canteen. What is important is that an environment is created in which the employee is made to feel ‘safe’ so that he can give his views and opinions openly without fear of it being used against him. This ‘safe’ environment is critical, as otherwise the responses from the employee may not necessarily be true and hence the objective of the interview will not be achieved.

In conclusion, ‘stay’ interviews constitute a very important means for organizations to solicit valuable feedback from employees (especially high performers) about the working environment and conditions prevailing in the organization.

If this is done effectively, and action taken, it would surely contribute positively to the organizational retention process. In the current volatile business environment, this could very well be the tipping point towards ensuring the success or failure of your organization.

*  Heera Singh is the Principal Consultant of HEERA Training and Management Consultancy. His website is at: 


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