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Candy Ho is the inaugural assistant professor for integrative career and capstone learning at the University of the Fraser Valley and chair of the CERIC board.

There’s been a lot of focus through the pandemic on those who have made a career pivot, changed jobs or left the work force. But what about the workers who stay?

After an employee leaves, their colleagues are usually left to pick up the slack during the hunt for a replacement. They inherit more work and responsibilities – sometimes with more compensation or support from co-workers, but often not.

This is particularly challenging amid the continuing stress of the pandemic. As individuals continue to shoulder a larger workload over time, they may start to experience burnout – if they haven’t already. A study conducted by Mental Health Research Canada in December, 2021, found one-third of the 5,500 Canadians surveyed were feeling burned out at work. Furthermore, only 35 per cent reported that their employer offers initiatives and policies to prevent burnout. In these conditions, employees who stay can quickly become employees who quit.

Many organizations hold exit interviews with departing employees to understand better why they’re leaving and to seek opportunities to improve. This is important, but employers often overlook a vital intelligence-gathering opportunity to inform recruitment and retention by disregarding the need for input from those who stick around.

Enter: the stay interview.

A stay interview is more than a simple check-in with loyal employees. It’s a career conversation between managers and staff that helps organizations understand their employees’ personal “why”: What is keeping them motivated at work and what their employers can do to keep them engaged.

By following these five components of an effective stay interview, leaders can unlock benefits for organizations and employees:

Start with recognizing the efforts of employees who have been steadily performing well and those who have gone above and beyond during a chaotic, difficult time. Be specific about the individual’s achievements and how they positively affect the organization and their colleagues.

Invite them to share their proud moments and the ways they have risen to the occasion. What accomplishments gave them the most satisfaction and why? How can the organization or supervisor help them generate more of these successes?

Encourage the employee to reflect on their greatest challenge. This will help them identify attributes and actions that enabled them to overcome obstacles, and/or how their organization can support them with further resources and training.

Ask them what aspects of their work are keeping them motivated to do their best work. Together, brainstorm ideas on how the organization can support the employee to do more of what excites them. Co-creation is key because it recognizes the employee is the expert of their own experience, while the organization is responsible for cultivating an environment to help the employee activate their talents.

Finally, leave room for the employee to share what’s on their mind on the personal front. This could range from needing more time for caregiving responsibilities to accommodate a family member’s illness, to the individual being recruited by another company and wanting to discuss options to remain.

These career conversations present an important opportunity for organizations to get to know their employees as individuals, beyond roles and titles. By understanding what matters to people – both personally and professionally – employers can take efforts to retain workers. Amid concerns of a recession, and with the cost of replacing an individual employee ranging from half to two times their annual salary, overlooking retention would be a costly mistake.

For the stay interview to be effective, it needs to be recurring and treated as part of an employee engagement and retention strategy that accounts for shifts in personal and work circumstances. These conversations can help organizations identify ways to enhance the employee experience, such as providing learning opportunities for an employee who is eager for career growth. When common concerns are raised by multiple individuals, organizations can address issues systematically (for example, by offering flexible work arrangements to respond to scheduling concerns).

Still, no matter how positive an environment, people may choose to move on. But it doesn’t make investing in them a waste of time. Departing employees who enjoyed their tenure become company ambassadors who share their positive work experience with their network, singing your business’s praises on LinkedIn and Glassdoor.

When employees feel like their efforts are being recognized, that they have the opportunity to do work they enjoy and that their employer sees them as a person (not just as a worker), they are more likely to appreciate the benefits of staying. Bridging your organization’s retention gap could be just a conversation away.

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.

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