How to use stay interviews to reduce unwanted turnover

by By Ben Spinks

13 min read

At every practice, turnover is something that we have to deal with. While some turnover is unavoidable, and in some cases, even helpful, it always represents a substantial cost to the practice.

How much does it cost to replace a team member?

Gray money sign filled 16-21% with green. A whole heck of a lot – that’s how much! Taking DVMs and Practice Managers out of the equation, the estimated cost of turnover for most positions at your practice is between 16 and 21% of a given team member’s annual wage1. So, for a full-time team member making $15/hour (or $30,600 a year), the estimated turnover cost would range from approximately $4,900 to $6,400. This estimate includes hard costs, like employment ads, recruiting services, and sign-on bonuses, as well as soft costs.


The soft costs of employee turnover are where things really start to add up

  • You’ll need to invest time and energy in recruiting and interviewing.
  • You’ll experience a loss in productivity. Consider the opportunity cost of whatever you have to put off doing during the recruiting and interviewing process.
  • Your team will be stretched thin until you find a replacement; your practice’s availability to clients may even be impacted.
  • The first departing team member may cause his or her peers to consider leaving; whenever someone leaves, others naturally take the time to consider why.
  • It takes a long time to get new hires up to speed; they are more prone to making errors and less likely to solve problems independently.
  • A certain percentage of new hires will end up not being a good fit and you’ll end up having to repeat the entire process to find a more suitable replacement.

[bctt tweet=”Reduce turnover by conducting stay interviews.”]

Most of us are familiar with the idea of conducting exit interviews when valued staff members leave a practice, the goal being to discover what they liked about working at the practice, what could have been improved, etc.

While exit interviews are certainly helpful, authors Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans suggest that we should be asking these same questions in the form of stay interviews long before team members have decided to seek employment elsewhere. These interviews provide insight into why team members choose to stay at your practice and why they might consider leaving.

Two people facing each other at a desk.

What does a stay interview look like?

In short, they provide insight into why team members choose to stay at your practice and why they might consider leaving. [bctt tweet=”Stay interviews take the form of a low-pressure conversation between a supervisor and a valued team member.”] Every effort should be made to differentiate them from performance evaluations, annual reviews, and peer feedback.

These interviews provide an opportunity for the supervisor to learn more about a team member, and for the team member to see that the supervisor cares. By the end of the conversation, the supervisor should have a good idea of what will keep the team member at the practice.

Three office workers standing around talking.

Stay interview best practices

Want to give stay interviews a try at your practice? Here are some best practices to keep in mind:

  • Keep things low-key and casual.

    A stay interview is a great opportunity to have a candid and low-stress conversation with a team member. Make every effort to differentiate it from performance evaluations, annual reviews, and peer feedback. Starting the conversation could be as simple as, “You’re such an important part of our practice, and I really appreciate you being here! I’m sure you don’t hear this from me enough, but I can’t imagine losing you. So I’d like to know, what will keep you here at the practice? Along the same lines, what might entice you away?”

  • Check in frequently.

    [bctt tweet=”Stay interviews (when kept short and low-key) should happen on a regular basis — as often as every 90 days.”] You don’t have to ask the same questions every time and you can incorporate the conversations into your regular interactions with the team member.

  • Mix things up.

    Grab a coffee, go out to lunch, take a walk, etc. Try to choose an option that makes the team member feel as comfortable as possible.

  • Have a plan for dealing with tough requests.

    You’re soliciting feedback and asking for candid answers. What if you’re thrown a really tough question or the team member asks for something that’s difficult to grant? To avoid feeling like you’re being put on the spot, it helps to have a plan for how to respond. In Hello Stay Interviews, Goodbye Talent Loss, Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans present four steps for dealing with these situations:

    1. Acknowledge the request and restate how much you value them as a part of your team.
    2. Be candid about obstacles you may face in granting their requests (eg. budget constraints).
    3. Continuing the conversation, ask “What else?”
      (Keep asking “what else” and you’ll eventually get something you can work with.)
    4. After the meeting, take time to look into the feasibility of their request(s). When warranted, go to bat for them. Get creative.


Sample stay interview questions2

  • What will keep you here?
  • What might entice you away?
  • What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
  • What makes you hit the snooze button?
  • If you were to win the lottery and resign, what would you miss the most about your job?
  • What do you want to learn this year?
  • Does work give you back as much as it takes out of you?
  • If you had a magic wand, what is something that you’d change about the practice?
  • What do you wish you’d known before you joined our team?
  • Are we fully using your talents?
  • What is inhibiting your success?
  • What can I do differently to best assist you?


Forward-Booking Staff Meeting in a Box These are just a few of the questions you can ask to get inside the minds of your team members. Keep your ears and eyes open on a day-to-day basis, and more will most certainly come to mind as you witness interactions among team members, between team members and management, and between team members and clients.

While endless factors influence an individual’s inclination to stay or go, the happier your team members are, the less likely they will be to leave your practice. A happy, healthy work culture is a must, so look for ways to promote it. For starters, check out this Forward-Booking Staff Meeting in a Box. It’ll help you deliver better patient care while boosting team spirit!

Ben Spinks, CVPM, MBA, SPHR is the Hospital Administrator at Tipp City Veterinary Hospital and a veterinary practice consultant. He can be reached at [email protected]


1 There Are Significant Business Costs to Replacing Employees – Center for American Progress, 2012
2 Sources: Hello Stay Interviews, Goodbye Talent Loss: A Manager’s Playbook by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans; Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans
Ben Spinks

Ben Spinks

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