Let's Stay Together

Molly Rowe, for HealthLeaders Media, March 21, 2008

Regardless of whether they'll admit it or not, managers take turnover personally. The departure of a good employee has far-reaching effects: disappointed co-workers, lost institutional knowledge, unexpected employment holes. Some managers feign indifference--"If they think they can get a better job elsewhere, go for it"--but deep down, turnover hurts.

Resignations bring a lot of excuses: He wanted more money. He got a better job. He hated the commute. But the biggest reason employees quit, experts say, is because they don't like their jobs or they don't like their managers (or both).

An article in the Wall Street Journal once described a "bad job in a good company" as a marriage "where you live in a beautiful house but if your spouse isn't the right one, the house doesn't matter." It doesn't matter what an employee thinks of a company as a whole if her job stinks.

Often, as with a bad marriage, employees and managers don't seek counseling until it's too late. Exit interviews are great for figuring out what went wrong and ensuring it doesn't happen again, but these discussions won't save a broken relationship.

A "stay interview" might.

Used by a growing number of companies, stay interviews elicit feedback from existing employees about what keeps them at the company. Typical stay interviews ask: What motivates you? What are your goals? How can I or the company make your job better? The information gleaned from these interviews can be used to save someone on the brink of resignation or to determine if an employee can handle a bump in responsibility.

Even if an organization doesn't have a formal process for stay interviews, leaders can conduct them on their own by asking staff about their jobs, goals, and needs. Some leaders may think they're too busy "managing" to ask these types of questions, but in an industry facing major staff shortages, knowing what keeps employees happy is key to survival.

A few months ago I wrote about the importance of Weeding out the Weak--identifying low performers and moving them up or out. Working with high performers is just as important. How much time do you spend keeping good employees happy? It's important to get rid of the bad--but you also need to hold onto the good. If you don't, you'll end up with a whole lot of mediocre.

Molly Rowe is leadership editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at mrowe@healthleadersmedia.com.

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