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Move Over, Exit Interviews. There’s a Better Multifamily Management Tool in Town.

Multifamily Management Strategy for Retention

Use Stay Interviews to Empower your Team, Increase Productivity, and Reduce Turnover Among Your Multifamily Staff. 
 

From time to time I love to include team members and their insights on organizational pain points and solutions. Here's one that comes from Vice President of Operations, David Shaw, and his experience: 

As a multifamily leader with experience directing teams, you are probably familiar with the concept of an exit interview. An exit interview is an honest conversation held with an employee who is about to leave an organization. It is typically designed to uncover the employee’s reasons for leaving, their experience working for the organization, and their suggestions for improvement.  

In some organizations, the employee’s supervisor is responsible for conducting the exit interview. Other organizations take an arm’s-length approach and employ someone from the corporate team, usually a representative from Human Resources, to conduct the exit interview.  The thought process behind this is that the departing employee may be more likely to share honest feedback with someone other than their direct supervisor. Another approach many companies use is to skip the ‘interview’ part of the exit interview altogether and instead ask the departing team member to complete an exit survey about their experiences.  
 

The Perfect World vs. The Real World 
In theory, the idea of an exit interview is a good one. Employees who have chosen to leave an organization certainly have pertinent insights about their work experience and what is driving them to move on. The information they could share would be invaluable to the organization’s leaders and help to improve their practices and employee retention.  

In practice, however, exit interviews are not very effective for a variety of reasons. Employees will rarely speak candidly about the factors that drove them to leave their job. You can’t blame them, really. There’s great risk in being honest, especially if the team member has less-than-flattering perceptions to share. It’s uncomfortable to share negative feedback, and employees may feel their candor could jeopardize their relationship with bosses and coworkers, which isn’t a smart thing to do, even if they’re on the way out the door. Using exit surveys rather than interviews can ease those concerns by allowing the exiting employee anonymity. Still, many employees are suspicious about just how confidential their survey submissions really are. Research shows that the average response rate for workplace exit surveys is far lower than on other engagement surveys. Many departing employees simply won’t bother to fill them out.  
 

Introducing The Stay Interview 
There’s a better management tool for getting valuable feedback from your multifamily employees -, and better yet, you don’t have to wait until they have given their two-week notice to employ it. Meet the stay interview.  

A stay interview is a conversation held between a supervisor and their direct report. It is designed to build or strengthen trust, enhance communication, and uncover what the leader and the organization can do better or differently to enhance the work experience and increase the likelihood of keeping the team member satisfied, high performing, and on the team. The Robert Half organization, experts in recruitment and talent solutions, describes stay interviews this way: “Think of them as reverse performance reviews that you conduct with existing employees. Stay interviews are less about the organization evaluating the employee and more about the employee evaluating the organization.”  
 

Who, What, and When  

Which employees should you invite to participate in a stay interview? In a perfect world, it is ideal to conduct stay interviews with all team members periodically, as sentiments change over time. Practically speaking, however, it makes sense to prioritize stay interviews with your top performers. These are the team members it would be most devastating to lose. Investing in a 15 to 30 minute conversation can help you identify concerns that may be getting in the way of their performance. Stay interviews should be conducted one-on-one and in a private setting. In-person is ideal, but a phone call or virtual meeting can also work well.  
 

What to Talk About 

What questions should you ask in a stay interview? Focus on learning what the employee likes and dislikes about their responsibilities and the work environment, and where they see opportunities for the company to improve. A quick Google search will reveal dozens of good sample questions, ranging from “What do you enjoy about your job?” to “How do you prefer we show appreciation to you?”. You may want to craft questions that are specific to your organization and initiatives you have underway, such as “How easy was the implementation of the new property management software?”. The possibilities are endless, and all resulting dialogue can be valuable.   
 

In his book The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement and Retention, author Richard P. Finnegan shares five ideal questions to use in stay interviews:  

  1. What do you look forward to each day when you commute to work? 
  1. What are you learning here, and what do you want to learn? 
  1. Why do you stay here?  
  1. When is the last time you thought about leaving us, and what prompted it? 
  1. What can I do to make your job better for you?  
     

Finnegan further suggests these three techniques for conducting an effective stay interview:  

  1. Practice the 80:20 rule—strive to listen 80% of the time and speak only 20% of the time. Enter the meeting with a commitment to ask, listen and only ask again once you’ve digested all you heard. Listening without the distraction of thinking about your next question requires a high level of discipline, but you should strive for it,” suggests Finnegan.  
  1. Ask follow-up questions to learn more from your team members’ responses. “Probing not only develops more information but also shows you care,” says Finnegan.  
  1. Finally, with your team member’s permission, take notes during your meeting to document the important information that is shared. Don’t rely on your memory. We are far less able to recall detail than we think we are, especially when emotions are running hot. Capture what you hear, including direct quotes, to help you in future action planning.  
     

Why Stay Interviews are Effective 

What will you accomplish by using stay interviews with your property management team members? There is so much to be gained.  

First, conducting a one-on-one stay interview conversation with your multifamily team member will make that associate feel valued. Everyone likes to be heard, but the hectic pace of day-to-day apartment community management can make it difficult for supervisors and associates to connect in a meaningful way. Carving out time for a stay interview conversation can demonstrate that you and the organization want to hear concerns from team members and improve both communication and morale.  

Next, the information you learn from your team members during these conversations can allow you to make meaningful improvements to your multifamily workplace. It’s important to act on any pressing issues you discover and report back to your associate so they can see that you are making a sincere effort to address their concerns. Help your team members be as effective and productive as they can be in their roles by clearing away roadblocks they bring to your attention.  

Last, conducting stay interviews with your property management team members may help you to boost employee loyalty and drive down employee turnover. The ongoing labor shortage and sky-high multifamily employee turnover rates mean effort spent on keeping your valued employees is always a good investment.   

Adopting stay interviews doesn’t mean you must abandon your efforts at exit interviews. There’s no reason you can’t do both. The more feedback you can uncover from your apartment community team members, the more information you have to make effective management decisions. Dedicate the time to meet with your associates individually, find out what’s working well for them and what needs improvement, and act on what you learn. Your multifamily team’s morale, productivity, and tenure will benefit. 

 

Sources:  

How Stay Interviews Help You Retain Star Employees, https://www.roberthalf.com/blog/management-tips/how-stay-interviews-help-you-retain-star-employees    

The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement and Retention, Richard P. Finnegan, https://amzn.to/3yMab1I  

Understanding America’s Labor Shortage, https://www.uschamber.com/workforce/understanding-americas-labor-shortage-the-most-impacted-industries  

Multifamily Employee Turnover Rates: 2010-2019, https://www.naahq.org/multifamily-employee-turnover-rates-2010-2019  

 

 

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