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Stay Interviews – Finding out How Staff Feel

Mark Solomons - creator of Welbee, the online evaluation and staff wellbeing improvement tool, six times winner in the ERA Awards and GESS Judges Commendation Award, author of ‘What Makes Teachers Unhappy and What Can You Do About It?’ and an acclaimed wellbeing expert with over 15 years’ experience developing leadership and culture in education, shares his expertise in assessing staff wellbeing through stay interviews.

It’s the end of the school year and time to say goodbye to colleagues who are moving on. Exit interviews are commonly used to obtain feedback about how staff who are leaving, feel about their experiences, but what about those staff who are staying? What do leaders know about how they are feeling?

‘Stay interviews’ can provide insights about what a school is doing well, and what could be improved, including staff wellbeing. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn more about what keeps individuals working for the organisation, as well as identifying any issues that need to be addressed in order to help retain staff.

Exit interviews are an established part of the leaving process and can provide useful information and indicate areas of concern. However, this is more of an autopsy. Staff who have quit may be less likely to provide the insights you need unless interviews are conducted by those with the right skills. Leavers are often already looking ahead and are less likely to have the time or energy to give anything but basic feedback.

Stay interviews are less common, yet they can provide a far deeper understanding of what keeps staff in their positions. Interviewing staff who are staying, can provide real insights that can be used to create a better employee experience and help make sure the establishment is an employer of choice. The objective is to learn more about how they’re feeling about their work, their future and in particular anything that would make them more likely to stay with you.

Stay interviews should be carried out by an experienced staff member, usually a member of the leadership team – while this could be their line manager, HR, or a non-line leader. In some cases you may prefer a process where feedback is kept anonymous and aggregated.

It should be a positive experience, more an informal conversation than an interrogation, and be regarded as an opportunity to find out what would make the school a better place to work for that staff member, with the focus on obtaining feedback and gathering information.

The interviewer listens, rather than joining in the conversation and answering or justifying comments, and helps ensure the staff member is at ease, and confident to share without repercussions.

A standard set of questions should be used consistently with all staff. These are reviewed and adapted as needed, using additional follow-up questions to clarify further details about the answers provided.

The feedback is then collated and contributing staff is updated about actions taken as a result of the information they shared.

Here are some examples of questions focussing on five areas of staff experience:

Assessing a staff member's general outlook

•    What do you look forward to, when you come to work each day?

•    What do you like most / least about your job?

•    What keeps you working here?

•    What might tempt you to leave?

•    Have you thought about leaving? If so when, and what situation made you consider this?

•    Would you recommend working here to others? You can use a 1-10 scale if this helps. Why or why not?

How staff feel about their work

•    If you could, what would you change about your job?

•    What do you think about your objectives?

•    How meaningful do you find your work?

•    Do you have the right resources and support to do your best work?

•    What would make your work more satisfying?

•    How do you like to be recognised? Is this happening for you here? •    What motivates - or demotivates you?

•    Do you feel your contributions are valued? (If not, why not?)

How staff feel about their future

•    What future do you see for yourself here?

•    Which of your strengths and talents are we fully utilising / not utilising?

•    What do you think about the professional development you receive?

•    What learning and personal development would you like to receive?

How do staff feel about their line manager

•    How can they better support you?

•    What can they do more / less of?

•    What advice would you give them?

•    Think about the best manager you have worked with, what did you appreciate most about them?

Staff response to the stay interview

•    How did this interview / discussion make you feel?

•    What question(s) would you have liked me to ask?

•    What are we currently not doing, that you feel we should?

Retention and recruitment problems have a ripple effect across any organisation. Constant ‘churn’ decreases the quality of learning, and staff and student relationships become less secure, lowering student outcomes. If it’s a struggle to retain and recruit staff, the pressure is on the remaining staff to cover. This results in a lack of continuity for the students, increases staff stress and decreases wellbeing, which can lead to additional absence and unsatisfied staff leaving, and the situation continues to worsen.

Retention is crucial to interrupt this cycle – and stay interviews are a simple and effective way to keep leaders informed and up to date with the feelings, views and opinions of staff.

Regular and consistent stay interviews can deliver significant insights, help improve wellbeing, and retain talented staff. In today’s competitive jobs market, using tools such as these, bring significant future rewards.

For further information, support and advice about recruiting and retaining staff, please contact

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