Shut the Revolving Door - Part 3: Stay and Exit Interviews

Sitting down and talking with current and exiting staff could be the key to ensuring employee retention.
Louise S. Dunn
Published: February 21, 2018
So much effort goes into making a veterinary practice attractive to potential employees — entire websites and companies are devoted to perfecting the process — but employee retention is just as important, if not more so. Creating a positive environment that makes employees want to come to work each day should be a key goal for all business owners. If you have had a number of employees resign recently or wonder if your practice could do more to ensure happy employees, you will find help in this four- part series.

Part one covered the importance of maintaining job descriptions and performing regular skills gap assessments. Part two delved into the financial aspects of attracting and maintaining a talented pool of employees, including wages, benefit packages and reward programs. Veterinary practices that want to attract quality candidates cannot risk falling behind in any of these areas.

How can you be sure that you know exactly what your current and future employees want or expect? It starts — and ends — with an interview.

Some people might assume that work-related interviews refer only to those with job candidates. Admittedly, the job interview is vital to identifying candidates who will fit into the culture at your practice, and myriad books and websites are dedicated to this topic. But what about the people who already work at your practice? Can you clearly distinguish between those who are in it for the long haul and those who might be looking for employment elsewhere? Listening to whispers among staff and trusting your intuition are not enough to safeguard your practice.

How, then, can you figure out which team members might be unhappy or why they’re considering leaving? The simple answer is to conduct interviews but with a twist: the stay interview and the exit interview.

The Stay Interview 
Stay interviews help reveal why employees choose to work at your practice. Open-ended questions uncover why an employee wants to stay — what makes your veterinary hospital a great workplace — and how you can retain this and other employees. This type of interview can provide valuable information about issues brewing below the surface that need immediate attention. Additionally, the employee’s feedback can be folded into marketing initiatives. For example, use the positive attributes of your practice to promote your next job opening.

Some examples of questions to ask in a stay interview:
  • What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?
  • What do you like most about working here? What do you like least?
  • If you could change something about your job, what would it be?
  • What would make your job more satisfying or the best job you’ve ever had?
  • What frustrates you about your current duties?
  • What might tempt you to leave?

Stay interviews may be more beneficial than employee satisfaction surveys because they are conducted face-to-face using two-way communication. Some caveats: You must build trust, have open communication and demonstrate effective listening skills. One of the problems that may arise from a stay interview is discussing changes that need to be made but failing to take action. Employees may think that they haven’t been heard and, as a result, no longer trust the process.

Prepare yourself or the manager who conducts the stay interviews for handling difficult questions from the employees about getting a raise, taking on roles for which they lack the skills or making scheduling changes. Although none of those topics should be considered off-limits, the person conducting the interview must be prepared to discuss budget and scheduling constraints, strategic plans for compensation and benefits, and training opportunities for advancing employees.

The Exit Interview
So, despite your best efforts to maintain employee satisfaction, you have been handed a letter of resignation. Don’t dismiss this soon-to-be ex-employee’s ability to add value to your business. Take the opportunity to discover what factored into his or her decision to leave by conducting an exit interview.

A simple Google search will provide you with numerous articles about and examples of exit interview questions (see Resources). Even if the employee is being terminated, asking a few open-ended questions about the practice and permitting the employee to vent can provide pertinent information for practice improvement.

When you sit down together, follow these pointers to ensure a comfortable environment for both you and the exiting employee:
  • Conduct the interview in a private office to avoid distraction.
  • Prevent telephone, intercom, cellphone and employee interruptions.
  • Allow enough time so as not to be hurried.
  • Arrange to sit in a nonconfrontational manner. Opt for circular or side-by-side seating rather than across a table from each another.
  • Have a neutral third party conduct the interview — someone other than the exiting employee’s direct supervisor — if possible.
  • Schedule the interview for the final week of employment to ease fears of leaked discussions, gossip or harassment.
  • Take notes for a written record, and keep the conversation comfortable to encourage sharing of ideas and criticism. The interviewer should refrain from becoming defensive or critical.

Your goal is to gather information that could improve the veterinary practice moving forward. Conclude the exit interview by expressing gratitude for the employee’s honesty and service. The procedure is doomed if you just go through the motions to appear “interested” or “legal.”

To make an exit interview valuable, take these steps:
  • Prepare yourself (as you do for hiring interviews).
  • Explain that you value the employee’s opinions and plan to use (or pass on) the information to improve the practice.
  • Ask questions that get to the root of why the person is leaving.
  • Ask the employee what measures, if any, were taken to resolve the issues, and listen for obstructions or suggest actions that could have been taken — the employee might accept some responsibility for the situation.

Finally, take the time to discuss the results with the appropriate people within the practice. Use the interview responses as an opportunity to develop action steps to improve the business. If you merely type up the interview and file it away, there will be no benefits.

What’s In It For You?
Given the high cost of turnover, it behooves a veterinary practice to review both stay and exit interview information and take action where needed. Stay interviews offer the opportunity to identify and solve problems before an employee resigns. Exit interviews should be viewed as a proactive means to address complaints, improve the practice and prevent litigation.

In the end, when you receive a letter of resignation and want to tell the employee not to let the door hit them on the way out, imagine that door swinging back and hitting you for failing to improve your business through stay and exit interviews.

Ms. Dunn is an award-winning speaker, writer and consultant who brings over 40 years of in-the-trenches experience and business education to veterinary management. She is founder and CEO of Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting, which helps veterinarians develop strategic plans that consistently produce results.

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