Saying “I Love You” in the Workplace


Picture the employee who is most valuable to your operation. Envision the contribution that person makes and the specialized knowledge, skill, or experience they bring to your workplace. Think about how critical this person is to your organization.

Now picture them gone.

A recent study from the Center of Creative Leadership found that only about 40 percent of employers formally tell high-potential employees (HiPo) they are considered a star. Of HiPos that were not told they were seen as having potential, 33 percent were looking for another job. Only 14 percent of HiPos who were told they were high potential were looking for other opportunities. In the employment marketplace, the most valued and talented employees have the most options. They will be the first to leave your organization when a more appealing opportunity presents itself. Considering the current volatilities facing workplaces today, it’s more important than ever to implement retention strategies to hang on to your top performers. And it doesn’t have to cost a thing.

The ‘Stay’ Interview

The simplest and least expensive retention tool you can use is to have a “stay conversation” with your HiPos on a regular basis. Originally defined by Beverly Kaye & Sharon Jordan-Evans in their book, “Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay,” the stay interview is a simple conversation that allows you to learn what motivates your employees. It also conveys to the employee that you value them.

But It’s Hard to Say ‘I Love You’
If you’re not really an “I love you,” kind of person and if the thought of having such a conversation with an employee gives you the willies, consider what you can gain from the dialogue. A stay interview can:

  • identify whether the employee is ‘at risk’ of resigning and allow you to  prevent their departure
  • provide a snap shot of the employee’s level of satisfaction
  • identify factors preventing the employee from performing at their  best
  • alert you to any issues or potential problems that are brewing
  • give you valuable insight into overall staff morale


But How?

A stay interview can be informal dialogue, in an informal setting. It can be a short conversation or a detailed exploration. The key is to ask for the employee’s perspectives about their work and to listen. Here are a few questions you might use to get the conversation started:

  • What do you like most about your work?
  • What keeps you here?
  • What would entice you away?
  • What do you want to learn this year?
  • What makes for a great day at work?
  • What brings you down on the job?
  • Is there anything you’d like to change about your job?
  • What would make your job more satisfying and rewarding?
  • Do you feel recognized for your accomplishments?
  • What strengths or talents do you have that aren’t being used?
  • How do you like to be recognized, acknowledged, and rewarded for a  job well done?
  • What is your greatest challenge or roadblock?
  • What part of working here strikes you as ridiculous?
  • What would make your work more meaningful and satisfying?
  • What conditions would cause you to seek employment elsewhere?
  • How can I or the organization help you reach your career goals?
  • What support do you need to be more effective?
  • How am I doing as your supporting leader?
  • What is the most satisfying part about your job right now?
  • What is least satisfying about your job?
  • If you could wave a magic wand, what changes would you make in the  work environment?
  • What makes you feel like a valuable contributor?
  • What can we do to ensure we keep you with us?


What if They Ask for the Moon?

You may be tempted to avoid the ‘stay conversation’ because you can’t deliver on what your employee asks for. Don’t be afraid! You probably won’t be able to say “yes” to all of the requests you hear. What you can do is validate their feelings, express your support, and assure them you’ll do what you can to explore options. Avoid saying you can’t meet their needs. Instead, focus on what you can do. Commit to reviewing their feedback and give them a timeline for further discussion. Sometimes, just listening is what is really needed.

It is more important to know why they stay, rather than why they leave. You probably already know why they leave. Lead more stay interviews and your organization is likely to hold fewer exit interviews.

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt