Stay Interviews: How to Unlock the "Vault" in Every Employee

True or false?

The stay interview is the new performance review...false.

A stay interview is not designed to replace the traditional performance review. What it is designed to do: crack the combination lock employees keep on the vault of their true workplace experience.

The well-being of an employee's career in any organization is delicate, especially when you start addressing real problems, and all employees know it. It varies from person to person, workplace to workplace, but generally employees express little of their genuine experience directly to managers. They say only what they can without fear of reprisal or alienating that manager.

In this age of hypersensitivity and political correctness, the average employee errs on the side of caution. He or she feels pressure to sanitize everything they say to supervisors, the HR department, and those around them. After all that filtering, some of which (but not all) is necessary, what's left? What ARE they willing to say, and is it even useful?

The employee has a vault. Inside that vault is everything they have filtered out of performance reviews and other high-stakes conversations. This vault contains:

  • Painful emotions about daily life in the office: anger, frustration, disappointment and the like. Much of what left them feeling left out, forgotten or bullied is inside the vault.
  • Perceived betrayals or injustices like lost promotions or contributions they made that garnered nothing but silence.
  • Annoying things their supervisor did that made them feel passed over, ignored or sabotaged.
  • Times they felt alone, or believed they were being made to work on pointless tasks.

Some vaults contain more than others. That's because everyone processes pain and perceived injustice differently. Employee 1 might be really Zen about things. Meanwhile, Employee 2 has a boiling brew in their vault at all times, and in their thought life, they tend to stir it, ruminate on its ingredients. Either way, the vault is never open for anyone in the employer's organization. Today's working adult knows the power of words and the consequences of saying something controversial or disruptive, so on the off chance that something could be misconstrued, they keep their true feelings secret. The only person they might let in is the counselor from the Employee Assistance Program, and that person is bound to confidentiality.

By its very nature, a stay interview sets the employee at ease. It's right there in the name - we want you to stay and this interview will help us do that. This isn't a hot seat where they have to stare at a bright light and justify performance issues over the past year.

At Workplace Culture Store, we know that fun gives an employee a feeling of safety, which helps them open up a little more. We begin by reviewing the 15 basic types of play. We explore what they enjoyed doing in childhood, which has a direct link to what they end up loving in their work as adults. That’s because play is the work we do in childhood to prepare for adult life. We are a social species that divides labor, which means we are designed to fall in love with useful activities early in life and continue finding them deeply satisfying.

Sometimes loving work - letting go of some of the things we carry around in the vault - is a matter of approaching the work we presently do with a little more playfulness. Integrated workplace play doesn’t interfere with work. Quite the contrary. It happens in tandem with work. It provides energy the brain needs to work with greater passion and intensity. It awakens that creative and exploring child in all of us, that pliable and brilliant creature that could almost burst because something was that much fun.

The 15 types of play exercise sets the stage for a more serious discussion. Now that they've been able to laugh and reminisce, they are more able to tackle the second task.

The second task, which isn’t commonly used with the standard stay interview, is this: we allow the employee to place some comments into what we call the Jeopardy Jar. A comment that goes into the Jeopardy Jar is potentially provocative. It might stir the pot, and for whatever reason, the employee is nervous about expressing it. That’s why in this model, it gets said without naming the employee and only after it has been stripped of emotion and stated professionally. The interviewer works with the employee to make this happen.

Every comment that goes into the Jeopardy Jar also comes with a This Sucks scale to show how much the employee dislikes this particular condition of their work life. 

The 1-10 This Sucks scale expresses resentments - things that make the workplace awkward and uncomfortable and weigh down the employee's ability to engage. These are the feelings that, if not dealt with, worsen until the employee leaves. They’re also what employees are reluctant to disclose directly to a manager, which pretty much explains why companies are blindsided when their top people leave. 

Our stay interview technique does three things:

Playfulness lightens the load; the technique is playful. By inducing laughter, it counteracts and heals some of the negative feelings. The game with their interviewer is funny, so it helps them see the whole thing through a lens of humor. This allows them to take a braver journey into that vulnerable spot in their work experience, into the situations that really burned their butts - the vault.

Threat is removed; in the game, discomfort is expressed as a number, which gets the point across while removing the sensitive, personal adjectives that get everyone riled up. This makes the employee feel safe saying it during the interview. They know that their true feelings have been expressed, but the manager won’t have the opportunity to get their hackles up. They don’t know who said it, and the specifics are removed. The leadership team will get some valuable information about how their habits might be hurting engagement.

Empowers the employee to re-frame; the process also gives the employee the opportunity and tools to re-frame a painful experience and describe it to someone in a professional and constructive way. This helps them think about it differently, which takes it permanently out of the "vault."

(The way this information is imparted to the supervisors is also playful, but we keep this in our “vault.” You have to contact Workplace Culture Store to find out how.)

A Stay Interview with Workplace Culture Store Provides For Employees:

  • A stronger awareness of his/her sense of belonging at their workplace. 
  • A better understanding of how his/her relationships in the workplace contribute to success.
  • A clearer picture of the aspects of work the employee truly loves and is intrinsically motivated to do.
  • Some new insights on how to better cultivate togetherness and collaboration skills.
  • Permission to bring more fun into their work life, knowing it supports their performance rather than interfering with it.

A Stay Interview with Workplace Culture Store Provides the Employer:

  • Improved awareness of how effectively employees are connecting at work and what team-building activities might be needed. 
  • Insight on the top three contributors to ailing engagement: isolation, meaninglessness, and pain-punishment, and how to counteract the effects specifically for addressing your organization’s challenges.
  • Improved awareness of the interests and passions of the team. These represent the best way to reach them on a meaningful level – to spark their engines. 
  • Knowledge of how to help employees connect their roles and tasks to the organization's objectives as a whole and feel a sense of purpose in it.
  • Some insights on how your team defines “fun” and how to inject more of it into their daily work experience.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published