May 22, 2024

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Canadian companies adopting ‘stay interviews’ as workers rethink careers, needs

5 min read
Canadian companies adopting ‘stay interviews’ as workers rethink careers, needs

Vanderloo poses these questions in one-on-one meetings she and other staff periodically have with the company’s workforce of roughly 70. The discussions, which some companies call ‘stay interviews,’ are designed to collect feedback from employees and are aimed at learning what the company can do to retain valued team members and keep them happy.

Read: 61% of Canadian employers worrying about employee retention amid pandemic: survey

Some companies have been hosting meetings like this for years, but many more adopted the practice over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, as the health crisis caused workers to rethink their careers or seek more flexibility, advancement or support from their employers.

Sensei Labs adopted engagement interviews in late 2021, when companies saw millions of people worldwide leave their jobs in what economists and businesses branded the ‘Great Resignation.’ “It was substantial and it was concerning for us because it’s hard to hire great people and we don’t want to lose them, so the first thing we did is we addressed it head on,”says Vanderloo.

A company-wide meeting was called to discuss the labour market changes afoot and team leads followed up one on one to learn about employee happiness in more detail. Despite a softening job market and suggestions that negotiating power has tipped back in favour of employers, Sensei Labs has kept up with the practice, in addition to quarterly happiness survey that asks employees whether the company lives up to its values and whether they’d recommend Sensei as a place for others to work.

The organization has a near perfect score for people who would recommend it, but staff still have wants, particularly around flexibility. That’s part of why the organization has eschewed formal return-to-office requirements. The company has office space that staff can use, but no rules on how often they must use it for work. It also piloted a four-day workweek that has since been expanded because the happiness survey and chats with staff have shown it’s a hit.

Read: Study finds remote working giving employees back 72 minutes per day

“Their language was like, ‘This has changed my life,’” says Vanderloo. “If you have kids, it just makes things easier to get all your chores done or doctor appointments or focus on your hobbies or whatever you want to do.”

Sensei Labs won’t green light every ask, she cautions. “It’s not like the sky is the limit. If it’s not something we can implement, we’re very open about it.”

Michelle Brooks, chief people and culture officer at Toronto-based cybersecurity firm Security Compass, has done ‘engagement interviews’ twice with its 200 employees. The organization started doing the interviews a few years ago to build on data they were already collecting by measuring engagement, which they thought would help indicate whether people intended to stick around. The goal isn’t to prevent everyone from leaving, but to ensure the company couldn’t have done something simple to prevent the departure of high performers.

“Some level of turnover is healthy,” says Brooks. “We only want them to stay as long as they want to be here and they’re having their needs met just like in a relationship. . . .We don’t want to lock people in.”

Read: Majority of employers enhancing total rewards to improve attraction, retention efforts: survey

The interviews conducted by Brooks far have yielded valuable insights. For example, she learned some workers aren’t necessarily seeking a promotion; they just want more responsibilities, opportunities to learn and even the ability to go to a conference.

Jenna Hammond, who’s based in Ontario and works for a Norwegian biotech company, used a stay interview, which her company calls a ‘touchpoint,’ to ask for a better employment arrangement. She was hired as a sole proprietor on a six-month contract with no benefits and took the job because it was a way back to working after 15 years raising kids. “I really needed financial stability and financial independence and being on contract just wasn’t ideal.”

When Hammond’s chief executive officer asked her what it would take to get her to stay during a touchpoint, she told him and ended up being made a full-time employee with benefits. Her company repeats these meetings every quarter and does a more fulsome one each January that can last up to 3.5 hours.

In her last meeting, Hammond asked the company to cover cleaning services for her home, which she said would help with work-life balance. They declined but offered her Fridays off this summer to help her juggle responsibilities. “The worst thing that they were going to say to me was no, but I found that if I didn’t ask, I wouldn’t receive.”

Read: Majority of millennial, gen Z workers more likely to stay with employers that provide benefits: survey

Jennifer Hargreaves, who runs Tellent, an organization that helps women find flexible work opportunities, believes every company should be having open conversations to hear about employee needs on a regular basis, but she warns the process can also be a “double-edged sword” for staff. “The huge benefit to doing it is obviously you can get what you want. But there’s this fear that if I ask them and they say no, they’re going to know I’m unhappy, so then I might get punished for it down the road.”

Hargreaves encourages employees asked to complete these interviews to step back and think about what they want and what’s most important to them to come up with an ask that’s focused, specific and realistic.

But even more important to the process is employers willing to be transparent with staff and make changes based on what they hear. “Candidates and employees are getting really tired of a lot of talk with no action,” she adds. “People need to see things backed up. If not, they know how much opportunity is out there.”

Read: Four-day workweek pilot participants benefit from reduced burnout, better mental health

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