Turnover in retail has always been high, but the pandemic and other factors have pushed turnover rates to their highest levels in years.
    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual total separation rate for retail skyrocketed from nearly 54% in 2017 to almost 70% in 2020. That number dropped slightly in 2021, landing at 64.6%. The labor market is still challenging now, with many boutiques reporting difficulty in hiring and retaining employees.
    Amidst this difficult landscape, a new staff-retention tool is gaining in popularity: the stay interview.
    Don’t confuse it with a performance or exit review. The former examines job performance, sales goals and compensation and is typically done once a year. The latter quizzes an employee on his or her experience with a business after that person has decided to leave.
    Stay interviews, on the other hand, are geared toward helping you understand why staff members stay on the job as well as learn about potential pain points that could prompt them to leave. Essentially, you want to hear what motivates your stylists to come to work each day and what tasks, environmental factors or other elements could influence that person to quit.
    Keep in mind that a stay interview should be an open, honest conversation; it should not be an inquiry where employees feel put on the spot. And their answers should never be held against them. It’s important to create a welcoming attitude and setting where employees feel at ease discussing what they love and, more importantly, what they don’t love about their jobs. Not only will this help them feel valued, but it’s the only way you will be able to get honest feedback. Both are essential to creating an environment where people want to work.

Benefits of a Stay Interview
    Imagine this: You have a consultant who, in almost all areas, performs beautifully at her job. However, there is one task she absolutely detests. It makes her uncomfortable to the point where she actually dreads it, and that colors her enthusiasm about the job in general. She would never tell you this, but in her free time she has begun pursing other job leads, with the idea of probably leaving soon.
    Only you have no idea because she hasn’t said anything. The reason, if she is being honest, is because she doesn’t want to come across negatively or not like a team player. She understands no situation is perfect, but if this task could be removed from her responsibilities and reassigned to someone else she would be sooooooo much happier. It would, in fact, be the catalyst she needed to think about employment at your boutique as a long-term career and not a temporary circumstance.
    Would you want to know what this employee was thinking?
    There is only one way you are going to find out, and that is to proactively create the situation that allows her to tell you, without fear of losing her job. This doesn’t mean that everything you learn at a stay interview can be addressed – perhaps that dreaded task is essential. But at least it will give you something to consider. And if the person is worth keeping around, it would be worth your while to work with him or her.
    “The stay interview seems to be one way to really connect and be able to pinpoint what the employee really enjoys about their job, what they would like to remove from their job responsibilities, and what is a pain point for them,” says Cristen Rosinski, owner of Aliber’s Bridal in Greenfield, Mass., who started conducting stay interviews as part of her efforts to retain employees the last couple of years.
    Having these conversations has really opened the door to more fruitful discussions on both sides.
    “I think it gives [staff members] the opportunity to really dig in and discover what they like and what they dislike about their job, and it gives me the opportunity to really allow them to do what they feel they’re strongest at,” Rosinski says. “It opens up the doors to discuss what they are good at and what might need help.”
    Stay interviews work because they allow you to stay in tune with your staff. As such, they should be conducted on a regular basis in order to address or head off any potential problems that could be brewing at any given time. Many human resources experts recommend two to three times a year, while others say a monthly stay interview could be beneficial.
    At Aliber’s Bridal, Rosinski performs a stay interview at 90 days when the employee’s probation period ends, again at six months, and in tandem with a yearly performance review. Conduct stay interviews at different intervals to find what works best for your staff to make sure everyone stays on the same page.

What should you ask during a stay interview?
    Although a stay interview should not come across as an inquisition, it’s important to have a list of prepared questions that prompt employees to open up and provide detailed answers about their work experience. These should be open-ended questions, not “yes or no” questions. Examples include:

– What excites you about your job?
– What do you dread about your job?
– What keeps you coming back to work each day?
– If you could change something in your job duties, what would that be and why?
– If your job skills are not being maximized, what changes would you make to change that?
– Are there job skills we have overlooked? If so, what are they and how could we incorporate those into your duties?
– What do you think about how we recognize employees here?
– What would you do differently?
– What motivates you to do a great job?
– What makes you feel like you are not appreciated in your job?
– What skills or tasks would you like to learn while working here?
– How could we make your job more satisfying for you?
– How can I best support you in your job?
– What am I doing that interferes with you doing your job?
– How would you describe a good day at work?
– What events/actions at work cause you frustration or stress?
– What do you think about your work-life balance? How would you improve it?
– What do you think about when headed to work? Headed home from work?
– What does your dream job look like?
– What have I not asked that you think is important for me to know?

    It’s up to you to decide when to share those questions with your employee, either before or during the stay interview.
    “I give the list to the employee in advance of their interview so they have some time to think about it,” Rosinski says.
    Because one of an employee’s biggest fears may be that answering honestly could hurt their standing at your store, reiterate to them often and sincerely that there are no right or wrong answers and you just want their honest feedback. And then stick to this – no one should be penalized for discussing honestly how they feel about different job aspects.

Where should you conduct a stay interview?
    Because a stay interview is meant to encourage an honest, open conversation, look for a place where the employee feels comfortable and at ease. If necessary, ask the staffer where he or she would like to hold the stay interview. This could be your office, a nearby coffee shop or perhaps during a walk in a local park. Obviously, you may want to take notes, so not every recommendation will work, but being flexible whenever possible can go a long way in helping the employee relax and be more forthcoming with his or her answers.

How long should a stay interview be?
    There’s no set time for a stay interview. Because you want an open, honest discussion, it could take some time for employees to share their thoughts. Some employees may readily open the floodgates and share their thoughts, but others may be more hesitant.
   “There definitely are some people who are prone to not being honest with their true feelings, and you really have to press in a little bit harder to get honesty,” Rosinski says.
    She says some employees might be afraid they’ll lose their jobs if they are honest, while others are people pleasers and will say what they think the boss wants to hear.
    As such, it may take some time before you get to the heart of the matter, so have some patience and remain encouraging throughout the stay interview. Roughly, if you spend an hour talking but find you’re getting nowhere, consider asking them if they’d rather reschedule after having a bit more time to think. This could help take the pressure off and make them understand you truly care about their comfort level and feelings.

How do you end a stay interview?
    It’s important to demonstrate to your staff member that you heard what they wanted you to know about their job and work environment. Reiterate the reasons why they love their job and what changes could help improve their enjoyment and satisfaction. If these changes are reasonable, consider implementing them and be specific about what you are going to do.
    Work with the employee to develop a plan of action that will keep them coming back to work day after day. Finally, set a date to reconvene and see how that plan is working for both the employee and you.

What is one thing to keep in mind regarding a stay interview?
    The goal of a stay interview is to find out what your staff member loves and hates about the job. You’re looking for ways to keep them satisfied at work so they won’t leave. As such, it’s crucial to listen to their feedback and suggestions to make your work environment the best it can be.
    “It’s important to hear what an employee would change about the business because it can’t all be about the business owner and their view or vision,” Rosinski says.
    Of course, she cautions, you might be surprised at some of the suggestions that come your way.
    “I’ve gotten some interesting suggestions lately, like can we have a shop cat or can we have a 4 p.m. wine break,” she says.
    Also, in conducting stay interviews with multiple employees, look for patterns. If you consistently hear feedback on the same issue or person, give that special consideration, as it clearly stands out to many people.

Final thoughts
    If done right and done often, stay interviews can offer valuable insights into what works and what doesn’t for your employees. It also can show that you value their thoughts and opinions, which not only boosts confidence and self-esteem, but also helps build trust.
   Gaining a better understanding of what makes a great work environment and being willing to make changes to improve that work environment could go a long way in making sure your employees stay with you for the long term.
    Sometimes, a tiny tweak is all someone needs to turn a job they were considering leaving into a dream career. And when this happens, everyone wins. Retaining, after all, is so much cheaper than retraining. Having an experienced, knowledgeable and happy staff is the foundation for a long-term successful bridal business.

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