Posted in Small Business Hacks | by: Kinjal Dagli Shah

This Startup Didn’t Lose a Single Employee in 5 Years—Here’s Why

“Most companies want to talk to employees when they’re leaving,” says Kate Arambula, People and Culture Director at Student Loan Hero. “We want to talk to you before you get to that point.”

For five years strong, Student Loan Hero has had a 100 percent retention rate. And Kate credits one unique HR practice for all that goodness.

Meet the stay interview.

The stay interview is basically the opposite of an exit interview. Since it happens while someone is still employed, it gives you a chance to actually implement their ideas—before they step out the door.

Here’s a play-by-play guide on how to copy Student Loan Hero’s stay interview script.

Working at Student Loan Hero - remote employees

Step 1: The survey.

To start, HR generalist Shaun Moten fires off an email to each employee on their work anniversary. Inside, there’s a Google Forms survey that helps the team reflect on how they’re feeling about their jobs and their careers at large. 

The survey moves from the standard “How was your week?” question to “How can we make it better?”

Here’s what the survey looks like:

The two sides of the job.

– When you think about your job, what motivates you to hop out of bed and go to work each day?

– What makes you want to hit the snooze button and not come to work?

The comp package.

– Do you think your work contributions match up with your compensation?

– How satisfied are you with the benefits offered at SLH? Rate the following:

  1. PTO
  2. 401(k) plan
  3. Health insurance
  4. Employee equity
  5. Dental/vision insurance
  6. Monthly wellness stipend
  7. Monthly education stipend
  8. Monthly coworking space/home office setup
The ideas.

– What actions can we take to improve as a business?

– What are the top two reasons you would leave SLH?

  1. Work-life balance
  2. Compensation
  3. Management
  4. Coworkers
  5. Lack of upward mobility
  6. Company culture
  7. Learning and development

Shaun then sifts through the responses and highlights what she wants to dig into during the in-person chats.

Step 2: The actual interview.

In this phase, Shaun tries to capture more context related to each survey question.

To get the honesty flowing, Kate stresses to the team that insights are aggregated, so it’s not obvious who they’re coming from. “Instead, the feedback is grouped together to identify any red flags while continuing with the things that employees love,” Kate explains.

Kate and Shaun have also found that employees are more candid during the discussion when HR conducts the interview, instead of someone’s direct manager. If your business doesn’t have a dedicated HR expert, consider bringing in an outside person to do the interviews so you can make folks feel more at ease.

Here are the questions the team uses to guide each discussion:

  • Is there any specific feedback that you would like to receive about your performance that you’re not currently receiving?
  • What does the ideal timeline for receiving this kind of feedback look like?
  • In your time with SLH, what accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • What talents and skills do you possess that you haven’t had the opportunity to fully tap into?
  • If you could change one thing about your job, team, or company, what would it be and why?

Step 3: The analysis.

Then, Shaun compares all the insights that emerge from both the survey and the face-to-face meeting. She looks at four main things:

  • Are there any red flags?
  • Are there differences from when the company was smaller vs. today?
  • How do more tenured folks compare to the newcomers?
  • Are there team-specific themes that emerge?

And here’s the best part—the insights turn into a decision-making map. For example, if a bunch of folks say they want more growth opportunities, Kate and Shaun revisit their career development program to find ways to make it more meaningful.

The unexpected after effect.

Kate believes that the stay interview is one of the biggest reasons the company was able to secure a triple-digit retention rate for their first five years. Since then, they’ve continued to keep it in the upper nineties.

The stay interview has also turned into a powerful outlet for employees, especially during periods of change. Student Loan Hero’s team tripled in just 15 months, which gave way to their first voluntary resignation.

“That caused people to pause,” says Kate. “But the stay interview helped the team understand that it’s actually natural for people to go on and do other things. People are appreciative of the conversations that are coming from these interviews.”

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Exit interviews aren’t your only chance to get clued in on what’s happening at work. By giving the inverse a shot, it can help you and your team reset—and rediscover what brought you both there in the first place.

“Don’t just talk to people when they’re unhappy,” says Kate. “Flip the script.”

About Kinjal Dagli Shah

Kinjal Dagli Shah is a writer and journalist living in Toronto. She has worked in newsrooms in India, the US, and Canada over a span of 15 years and counting.