From education to employment

Stay interviews and staff retention

Mark Solomons

As recruitment for the next academic year moves into overdrive, what about those staff who are staying – what do leaders know about how they are feeling? Taking time to find out now by conducting ‘stay interviews’ may help prevent them saying goodbye next year.

The latest statistics from the Department for Education (DfE) Further education workforce, revealed that 5.5 vacancies out of every 100 teaching positions remained unfilled, along with 2.6 leadership vacancies out of every 100 leadership positions, in the 2021/22 academic year. Colleges not only compete for staff with other further education (FE) settings, but also with business and industry. It’s a competitive landscape, and ‘stay interviews’ can give leaders an advantage.

Stay interviews provide the opportunity to learn more about what’s likely to keep individuals working for the school or college, as well as identifying any issues that need to be addressed in order to help retain staff.

Retention and recruitment problems have a ripple effect across any establishment. If it’s a struggle to retain and recruit staff, the pressure is on remaining staff to cover. This results in a lack of continuity for the students, increases staff stress and decreases wellbeing. This can lead to additional absence and unsatisfied staff leaving, and the situation continues to

worsen. Constant ‘teacher churn’ decreases the quality of learning, and staff and student relationships become less secure, lowering student outcomes.

Retention is crucial to interrupt this cycle – so what tools can leaders use to help?

Exit interviews are already an established part of the leaving process. They can provide useful information and indicate areas of concern. However, this is more of an autopsy, and those staff who have quit may be less likely to provide the insights you need, unless interviews are conducted by those with the right skills. Staff who are leaving are often already looking ahead and may not still have the buy-in they once had.

Stay interviews are less common, yet they can provide a far deeper understanding of what keeps staff in their positions. Interviewing staff who are staying, can provide real insights that can be used to create a better employee experience and help make sure the establishment is an employer of choice. The objective is to check in with staff and learn more about how they’re feeling about their work, and their future.

Stay interviews should be carried out regularly by an experienced member of the leadership team – this could be the line manager, HR, non-line leaders, or even anonymously. It should be a positive experience, more an informal conversation than interrogation, and be regarded as an opportunity to find out what would better support that staff member, with the focus on obtaining feedback and gathering information.

The interviewer listens rather than joining in the conversation to answer or justify events or what is happening now, and helps ensure the staff member is at ease and confident to give candid feedback without repercussions.

A standard set of questions is used consistently with all staff. These are reviewed and adapted as needed, with additional follow up questions available to further clarify details about the answers provided.

The feedback is then collated and contributing staff are updated about the actions taken as a result of the aggregated information they shared.

Here are some examples of questions focussing on five areas of staff experience:

Assessing a staff members general outlook:

  • What do you like most / least about your job?
  • What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?
  • What keeps you working here?
  • What might tempt you to leave?
  • Have you thought about leaving? If so when, and what situation made you consider this?
  • Would you recommend working here to others? You can use a 1-10 scale if this helps. Why or why not?

How staff feel about their work:

  • If you could, what would you change about your job?
  • What do you think about your objectives?
  • How meaningful do you find your work?
  • Do you have the right resources and support to do your best work?
  • What would make your work more satisfying?
  • How do you like to be recognised? Is this happening for you here?
  • What motivates – or demotivates you?
  • Do you feel your contributions are valued? (If not, why not?)

How staff feel about their future:

  • What future do you see for yourself here?
  • Which of your strengths and talents are we fully utilising / not utilising?
  • What do you think about the professional development you receive?
  • What learning and personal development would you like to receive?

How do staff feel about their line manager:

  • How can they better support you?
  • What can they do more / less of?
  • What advice would you give them?
  • Think about the best manager you have worked with, what did you appreciate most about them?

Staff response to the stay interview:

  • How did this interview / discussion make you feel?
  • What question(s) would you have liked me to ask?
  • What are we currently not doing, that you feel we should?

Regular and consistent stay interviews can deliver significant insights and help retain talented staff. In today’s competitive jobs market, using tools such as these can reap rewards in the future.

For further information, support and advice about recruiting and retaining staff, please contact

By Mark Solomons is founder and CEO of multi-award winning Welbee

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