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Let’s call it a retention review

What's a retention review? It's a conversation where employees share what actions the leader can take to ensure employees are recognized, appreciated -- and willing to stay.

4 min read


Image of 2 people in a retention review conversation


We have all heard about the Great Resignation. The notion that many people are leaving their job or not returning to work has been a persistent theme of 2021 and 2022. There are any number of theories as to the cause of this trend:

  • Pay scales were too low.
  • Government benefits were too high creating a disincentive to work.
  • People were fearful of getting sick and/or bringing the virus home to members of their family.

However, those aren’t the only issues. As we wrote in January 2022

“While pay is often a factor in the thinking of employees, it does not get at the most pressing issue for many people — feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions — especially for those employees who worked in industries hardest hit by the pandemic — and went “above and beyond” to treat patients, serve patrons and help customers under very challenging and sometimes, dangerous conditions.”

One specific response to this situation was an innovation called the “stay interview.” This process involves a conversation between an individual employee and a leader.

However, an “interview” is usually thought of as structured experience in which the leader’s goal is to determine if the person is qualified for the position. Therefore, we prefer to call this process a “review,” where the goal is to retain the employee by encouraging them to share what actions the leader can take to ensure the employee feels appreciated and their efforts are recognized.

What is a retention review?

  • It is a brief, one-on-one conversation.
  • The goal is to learn what the leader can do to make all aspects of the work a more positive and engaging experience.
  • It is not a performance review and should not be integrated with or be an addendum to the employee’s regularly scheduled performance evaluation.
  • The leader should make extensive use of open-ended questions that begin with “How,” “What,” “When” and “Why.”
  • It’s important that the leader do less talking and more listening and use active listening skills during the conversation. Active listeners use such phrases as “So, you saying that …” and “Let me see if I understand what you’re saying …”
  • In fact, it’s generally a good idea for the leader to prepare a few good open-ended questions in advance of the conversation.
  • Additional goals of the review include:
    • The employee should leave the meeting believing that the leader really cares about them and wants them to stay with the organization.
    • Building a level of trust such that, in the future, the employee will come to the leader with their concerns rather than simply leave the job.

Sample retention review questions

  1.  What are some of the best things about your job?
  2.  What do you like best about this company (or organization)?
  3.  What can I do to make this a better experience for you?
  4.  To what extent do you have the freedom to use your judgment about how best to get the job done?
  5.  What can I/we do to show our appreciation for the work you do and recognize you for your efforts?
  6.  To what extent do we give you the respect that you deserve as a member of this team?

After the review, what’s next?

If you collect information and ideas from your staff about what you can do to improve their work experience and recognize them for the efforts, they have every reason to expect some action on your part.

As a health care executive told us during an interview for our new book on leadership: In a time of crisis, “when people told us what we could do to help, we made sure to get it done or tell them why is was not possible.”

A good, well-planned and well-executed retention review is simply the first step in this process.  It is of limited value — and may even make the situation worse — unless you follow up and act on the employee’s recommendations.

Glenn Parker is an internationally recognized organizational development and leadership consultant. He is the author or co-author of some 16 books, including the recent, “Positive Influence: The Leader Who Helps People Become Their Best Self” (HRD Press). This article is based on research for a new book that focuses o leadership in a time of crisis. You can follow him on Linkedin. For more information, go to

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