5-second summary

  • Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that we may be on the leading edge of an employee attrition spike among white-collar workers.
  • Exit interviews can reveal valuable information about how people feel about their jobs. However, at that point, it’s too late to make the changes that might have mattered.
  • Managers can take a proactive role in retaining their most valuable people by scheduling one-on-one “stay interviews” to uncover any issues that might be draining an employee’s energy.

  • We’ve been hearing the dire predictions for months: managers need to brace themselves for high levels of turnover in a post-lockdown world. News outlets have reported that somewhere between 25 and 40 percent of the workforce may quit as businesses transition to something closer to pre-Covid-19 conditions.

    Was it all just bluster? Apparently not. As I was writing this post, The Atlantic reported that in May, a record-breaking 700,000+ white-collar workers left their jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

    The question is, what role can managers play in stemming this costly and disruptive business risk? As employees question their commitments to their current employers, it’s up to you (and me) to become more attuned to each employee’s circumstances and motivational drivers. Can you recognize who’s suffering from ongoing burnout? Do you know who’s at risk of dumping traditional employment and joining the YOLO economy? Can you guess who’s quietly thinking “I’ll quit before I give up remote work?”

    How to retain your best employees

    As Head of Talent here at Atlassian and a former cultural anthropologist, I study exit interviews as a form of my “field work.” They provide a fascinating window into individual preferences and collective wants and needs. The problem is, of course, that by the time you have an exit interview, it’s too late to stop a good employee from quitting. 

    My urgent call to action to you at this “tipping point” moment in time is this: don’t wait for the exit interview. 

    Think about your star players, those folks with a strong track record of performance and who serve as role models for others. How would their departure impact the work, function, and morale of the team?

    Speaking personally, my department’s goals and objectives would be at risk.  

    That’s why I’m not going to wait until someone leaves to find out what they enjoyed about their job and what they wanted more of to feel satisfied and engaged. I’m going to have a “stay interview” with each member of my team – and you should, too.

    I’ll give you a roadmap for that conversation in a minute. But first, it’s important to have some insight on what drives people to leave their jobs.

    What causes employee attrition?

    Through my work here and from discussions with my colleagues at other companies, it’s easy to spot some common themes about why people leave. Generally speaking, they want:

    At Atlassian, we’re starting to address some of these challenges through TEAM Anywhere, our diversity and inclusion strategy, and our efforts to provide career development resources. But these strategic, company-wide efforts might not be enough. 

    Choosing to quit or stay at a job is an individual decision shaped by one’s personal motivations. That’s where the “stay interview” comes in. 

    Your stay-interview action plan

    Stay interviews are thoughtful discussions you can have with your team members now to learn what keeps them at their jobs and what might make them want to leave.  Ask yourself — for each of your team members – do you know:

    • What motivates them?
    • When they get ready for work each morning, what do they look forward to?
    • When was the last time they thought about leaving? 
    • Why have they stayed so far, and what can help keep them into the future?

    These are just a few of the questions you might ask during a stay interview. But remember: it’s your intent that counts the most. Your goal is to connect, build trust, and pave the way for an ongoing dialogue about their current reality and future plans.

    The burnout-busting benefits of taking a vacation

    You may be asking: do I have to have a stay interview if things are going ok? Why stir up trouble if people aren’t expressing any concerns? The truth is you may not know something is wrong until a person gives notice – and then, as I mentioned above,  it’s usually too late to prevent them from leaving. So even if you think everything is fine, it’s wise to double check during periods of uncertainty and change.

    5 stay-interview questions to ask

    The true goal of this interview is to find out what people love and loathe about their work. If I can give them more of what they love they will be more engaged and less likely to leave.  If I can remove some of what they loathe I can minimize the “drain” on their energy.  

    This is about sustainability.  Once energy is depleted people leave.  We have to create roles that sustain people over time. 

    With that in mind, I also suggest managers implement the ROLE acronym, which stands for Return On Life’s Energy. Looking at an employee’s role from their perspective, think about whether it’s giving them energy or depleting it. Are there ways to create a stronger return on their energy output?

    Below are five key questions to ask during your stay interview. Modify the language to work for you, and remember, you don’t need to ask every follow-up probing question. Tip: Stay interviews are most effective when repeated regularly, with followups and next steps. You can incorporate these conversations into your regular 1:1s, quarterly check-ins, or schedule a one-off meeting specifically to cover these questions.

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    QuestionFollow-up probing questions
    What are you learning at your job right now,  and what do you want to learn?Is there anything else you’d like to be learning here but are not? Do you feel like you can advance your career here if you want to? Which other jobs here or elsewhere look attractive to you? What skills would you have to learn to position yourself for that job/s? How can I help you learn these skills in your current role?
    Why do you stay in your current role?Tell me more about why this/these reasons are so important to you. If you narrowed your reasons to stay to just one, what would it be?
    When you get ready for work each day, what things do you look forward to?What do you like most about working here? What parts are the most challenging? What do you like least about working here?
    When was the last time you thought about leaving our team? What prompted it? Does this still concern you? On a scale from one to ten with ten being “I’m staying for the foreseeable future” and one being, “I’m leaving ASAP,” how would you rate your intention to leave? What’s the single most meaningful action I could take to address this issue?
    What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?What should I do more of? Less of? What do I do that frustrates you? What are three ways I can be a better manager for you? Do you feel like I truly hear your concerns when you have them?

    The employee attrition spike is here – how to hang on to your best people