When it comes to foodservice workers with a wandering eye, the job market can be a dangerous place—at least for operators. The industry has added 267,000 jobs over the past 12 months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, creating more of a job-seeker's market. Turnover costs can eat up around $2,000 per hourly employee, said Rob Gifford, executive vice president for the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, at a recent industry event. So, operators might want to catch employees—and keep them—before they head out the door.
At the University of Vermont in Burlington, stay interviews help retain around three out of every five employees who are considering making a move, says Aleks Zivadinovic, human resources manager for the Sodexo dining team. The team conducts stay interviews—like exit interviews, but before a resignation—at the 30- to 45-day mark of a worker’s employment. Read on to uncover the must-ask interview questions that have helped tamp down turnover.
2. What does your best day at work look like?
Lead with the positive, says Victoria Vega, vice president of operations for corporate dining at Unidine. The company hosts stay interviews between direct managers and subordinates, as well as skip-level interviews between a district manager and cook, for instance.
Starting these discussions with positive topics such as personal and professional motivations and fulfillment creates more productive meetings, Vega says. “That way, it’s not a dumping ground of complaining—it’s a collaborative, solution-driven discussion.”
3. What can we change to make you stay?
When a team member raises professional concerns, Zivadinovic begins brainstorming solutions with that staffer. She works with team members on everything from pay to scheduling to transfers. “We collaborate with other managers on campus and even other college dining programs in Vermont,” she says. “There’s no reason to lose good employees if they can be happy at a different unit.”
But before the dining team moves heaven, earth and—more painstakingly—schedules to accommodate an employee, Zivadinovic asks if that team member would commit to staying. Even when the dining team has an exit interview on the schedule, she tries to turn it into a stay interview, asking the worker why they're leaving and what changes might get them to consider sticking around.
Special assignments are one way Vega tries to turn around an employee’s experience. “Managers are sometimes hesitant to load more work onto a struggling employee,” she says. “But we’ve found it’s those image-building projects that excites them.”
4. What is your dream job?
Each year, Unidine updates its retention question guide for stay interviews based on annual staff satisfaction surveys. But one constant ask is: “What is your dream job, and how can we make this your dream job?” The query often stumps people, Vega says, but that gives managers the opportunity to follow up with staff.