Five Questions to Ask if You Really Want Employees to Stay: Best Practices

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

HealthStream’s Second Opinions Podcast series features industry experts and leaders and their take on issues impacting healthcare today and tomorrow.

Our second installment is an interview with employee engagement expert Dick Finnegan, the CEO of Decision Analytics and author of The Power of Stay Interviews. He shares his personal insights about ways to hold on to your best healthcare employees and also why healthcare organizations often miss the mark when setting and understanding goals for staff satisfaction.

Below is a short edited excerpt from the recording with HealthStream’s Brad Weeks, our host:


What are the specific questions that a leader should ask [in a stay interview]?


The first one is, what things do you look forward to each day when you commute to work? The purpose for that question is twofold. One is to be positive, and second is of course to get into the here and now. The question is, when you come to work, do you think about your pay? When we train managers, we always say, somebody’s going to say, “I look forward to lunch and going home,” and you should say, “I have days like that too but really what things do you look forward to?”

Number two is, what are you learning here and what do you want to learn? Some employees want to learn a lot, some just want to go home. So, it’s not that we have to have a development plan for everybody but we want to know. So much of what people want to learn they can do so by being assigned a mentor on a schedule to make it happen.

Number three is what I always call the money question which is why do you stay here? Now, this is the question that causes pauses, no eye contact, or duh, I never thought about it. The most common first answer is, “Well I’ve got to pay the bills,” to which we train managers to say, “Well, you know, I have to pay the bills too but I’ve thought about why I stay here; tell me why you stay here. I really want to know. You could go somewhere else; I am grateful that you don’t. You keep coming back here. What’s really important about working here?” Now, I think of it like this. Trained as a therapist, I know that therapists ask questions, get answers, repeat the answers, ask another question, get answers, and repeat the answers. The breakthrough in therapy is when a client says something and then says, “I can’t believe I said that.”

The therapist says, “Say it again. I want you to hear that you said it.” In this case, it’s “so let me tell you what I heard you say. This is what’s really important.” A response is often,“Yeah I hadn’t thought about it but it’s really important to me.” Make a note of it because think about how to take question one, what things do you look forward to, question three why do you stay here, and those responses and meld them into being a bigger part of the job and everybody wins.    

Question four is, “When is the last time you thought about leaving, what prompted you? You can add, “I really want to know on a one to ten scale how important is this thing to you? What’s the single biggest thing I can do to fix it?”

Question five is, “What can I do as your manager to make work better for you? Probe. Do I do this too much? Do I do it too little? Am I too close? Am I too far? Do I tell you when you do something well?” Put on your armor, be ready to hear deep thoughts and truths. Whatever it is, don’t be defensive, find out what you can do better. Then either on the spot or a few days later come back and say, “I’ve got some ideas for you. I think I see some ways we can make working here better for you.” Then you [both] win.

Listen to the podcast here.

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