What Is A Stay Interview And How Can It Help My Company?

Two HR professionals sitting at a conference table across from an employee writing notes while conducting a stay interview

Stay interviews can help your company hold onto its best employees in today’s dog-eat-dog talent acquisition market. 

At no time in recent memory have companies had to work so hard to recruit top candidates. Close to 40 million workers left their jobs during 2021’s ‘Great Resignation,’ smashing the record quit rate of previous years. By the end of that same year, there were 11 million open positions U.S. employers were looking to fill. 

With Americans leaving the workforce in droves and competitive companies offering all sorts of lucrative benefits to lure top candidates, employers must do everything in their power to keep their best employees on the payroll. One tactic that’s gaining popularity is the stay interview. 

Learn how stay interviews can help boost your retention rate and how to incorporate them into your talent management strategy. 

What Is A Stay Interview?

You’ve heard of exit interviews, where departing employees are asked to share their thoughts on their experiences and suggest how the company can improve. 

While they share some common goals, a stay interview is the opposite of an exit interview in that it gathers insights from employees who are staying in their jobs rather than leaving them. 

Typically held with high-performing employees, stay interviews are conducted with the goal of learning what motivates the individual to come to work each day, what they enjoy about their job and what they might change to improve the organization. Stay interviews are an opportunity to discover what the company is doing right and where it can make improvements that will help with retention, but they’re also a valuable tool in building trust with the company’s most valued workers. 

One important thing to understand about stay interviews is that their primary purpose is not to prevent employees from leaving (although lower turnover can be one of the secondary benefits of implementing them). Rather, stay interviews are an intelligence-gathering mission meant to help you fine-tune your talent retention strategy. 

Related: How to Conduct an Exit Interview

Benefits of Conducting Stay Interviews

Learn what drives top performers to stay 

Stay interviews can help you uncover why your best workers keep coming back day after day, year after year. When you know what’s important to them, you can do more of it–or improve upon the areas that are lacking before it drives them to seek opportunities elsewhere. 

Get first-person insights on what needs to change

What matters to the rank and file of an organization is often very different from what matters to its leaders. If most of your day is spent in the corner office, it’s easy to lose touch with how workers are feeling on the ground floor. Stay interviews can give you invaluable first-person feedback on what should be done differently to make a direct impact on employee satisfaction. 

Related: Strategies for Culture Change Management that Works

Take a proactive approach to retention

When one of your top performers hands in their resignation letter, it’s standard practice to make them a counteroffer to try and get them to stay. At this point, however, you’re already behind. Stay interviews are a proactive way to hold onto your employees rather than fighting to keep them once they’ve decided to leave. 

Related: Highly Effective Strategies for Employee Retention

Make employees feel heard

From entry-level workers to seasoned veterans, employees want to feel that their voice matters to their company. It’s a major driver of on-the-job engagement. In a Forbes global study of more than 4,000 workers, highly engaged employees were over three times more likely to say they felt heard at work than highly disengaged employees. Stay interviews give workers an active channel to exercise their voice. 

Related: How to Measure Employee Satisfaction

Build a culture of trust

Stay interviews establish the ability for employees to speak candidly with their managers–an important component of an organization with a strong culture of trust between leadership and staff. 

How To Conduct A Stay Interview

Follow these tips for conducting stay interviews that get results. 

Choose the right format

How you conduct your stay interviews will depend upon your organization’s culture. Is it a place where managers and their reports are in close and frequent communication? If so, a face-to-face conversation will work well. However, if your organization has a more hierarchical structure where there’s a perception of distance between managers and employees, an anonymous survey might work better. Remember, you want your interviewees to be able to speak their mind honestly, so choosing the right format is key to making sure that happens. 

Identify good candidates

You should conduct interviews with your highest-performing and longest-tenured employees–these are the ones whose experience you want to replicate since clearly there’s something that has kept them engaged and coming back. 

Time it strategically

Build-in enough of a buffer between your interviews and any significant company events; the week before performance reviews or year-end bonuses is not a good time to conduct stay interviews, as this may color the answers you receive. Also, it’s a good idea to do them all at the same time, otherwise, you risk giving the impression that certain people are being singled out. 

Make it a conversation

Even though it’s called an interview, it shouldn’t consist of the interviewer firing questions at the subject. Instead, shoot for a more back-and-forth format. Your employees will be more inclined to speak freely if it feels like a natural conversation and not like they’re under a spotlight. 

Put the feedback you get into action

The intel your stay interviews generate is useless if it’s just filed away in a folder somewhere. To reap all the benefits we outlined above, you have to actually do something with what you learn! So, make your efforts worthwhile–and maintain the confidence of your employees–by using their feedback to make organizational changes that will help with acquisition and retention.

13 Stay Interview Questions To Ask

1. What do you like about your job?

This will help identify the top-selling points of working for your company and/or in a particular department. 

2. What motivates you to come to work every day?

Find out what you’re doing right to engage your top performers and what it is about the role that makes it appealing. 

3. Describe what a “perfect day” at work looks like. 

What’s not mentioned may be even more telling than what is. 

4. What do you dislike about your job?

This pointed question will produce some of the most useful insights you can use as the basis for change. 

5. What aspects of your work would be the biggest motivators for you to change jobs?

Whether it’s low pay, lack of advancement opportunities, or poor morale, these are the things you want to focus on correcting ASAP. 

6. What do you want to do more/less of at work?

In addition to being useful on an organizational level, these answers can help you offer the right opportunities to your best employees on an individual level. 

7. What do you think of the way our employees are managed?

As we talked about earlier, it’s critical to get perspective from the people with ‘boots on the ground.’

8. How would you describe your work/life balance?

In survey after survey, top candidates cite work/life balance as one of the most important factors when deciding where to work. 

9. What could be done to improve your work/life balance [or any other job aspect that employees value]?

Use this opportunity to gather direct recommendations for improving the factors that matter most for recruiting and retention. 

10. What do you think of the professional development opportunities offered by the company?

Organizations that offer professional development enjoy retention rates that are an average of 34% higher than those that do not offer such programs. 

11. What “work things” do you think about when you’re not at work?

The more you can prevent employees from taking their work home with them, the happier they’ll be. 

12. Do you see a future for yourself at the company? What does it look like?

There’s no better way to gauge whether your top performers plan to stick around–and how they envision it panning out–than to ask. 

13. If you were the boss, what would you do differently?

Getting an honest answer to this question depends on a solid level of trust between the interviewer and the subject, but the responses can be eye-opening. 

Boosting retention should be a top objective for companies looking to maintain a strong staff in the face of a persistent talent shortage. Stay interviews can help you collect the data you need to formulate an effective employee retention strategy. 

Resources and Sources

  1. https://www.businessinsider.com/how-many-why-workers-quit-jobs-this-year-great-resignation-2021-12
  2. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/08/october-jolts-report-shows-11-million-openings-as-quits-remain-high.html
  3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolinecenizalevine/2021/06/23/new-survey-shows-the-business-benefit-of-feeling-heard–5-ways-to-build-inclusive-teams/?sh=4c691bc55f0c
  4. https://www.umassglobal.edu/news-and-events/blog/professional-development-benefits

About Peter Porebski

Peter Porebski is the Operations Manager at 4 Corner resources. A graduate of the University of Central Florida he has over 8 years of operations and process improvement experience with 5 being in the Human resources and staffing industry. In previous roles he worked to manage and analyze production flow trends and determine areas of improvement in quality control for the commercial retail industry. His areas of interest include web development, information technology, data analysis and reporting. He lives in Orlando, Florida with his wife and two cats.