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The Value of the Stay Interview

Employers strive to minimize employee turnover and want to retain top-performing employees and prevent those employees from quitting.  How can employers reduce employee turnover?  What makes high-performing employees want to leave a company?  How will an employer know if an employee is considering quitting their job?

The easiest way for employers to answer these questions is to simply ask employees directly in the form of a stay interview.  Employers should not assume they know what motivates their employees or why their employees are leaving and seeking alternative employment.  Normally, it’s too late to address employees’ concerns when the employer is only made aware at the exit interview of the employee’s reasons for quitting their job.  This is why the stay interview is in many ways a more valuable and powerful tool over an exit interview.  A stay interview can alert employers to problems that can be solved before their top-quality employees choose to leave their jobs.  Conducting stay interviews will allow employers to gain helpful insight as to the degree of employee engagement and satisfaction that exists within the company.  The stay interview is a fact-finding mission that enables employers to proactively take steps to improve their businesses and eliminate employees’ frustrations.  Unlike employee satisfaction surveys, a stay interview provides employers with the ability to ask clarifying and follow-up questions to truly understand employees’ current motivations or concerns.  Stay interviews will also help employers to build trust amongst their employees and demonstrate that the employer cares about their employees’ values and needs in the workplace.

Before conducting any stay interviews, employers should evaluate their company culture.  If the organization lacks a culture of trust and openness, employees may not be as truthful and may view these interviews warily.  Not only would these interviews be a waste of both the employer’s and employees’ time, employees’ answers will likely lead to ineffective changes that may result in top-performing employees leaving their jobs.  If the work environment lacks trust, employers should consider conducting team building and trust building exercises.  This will let employees know management cares about improving the culture of the company.  Once employers have built a foundation of trust and open communication in the workplace and have shown employees that management has successfully made improvements to the culture and workplace, they will then be able to conduct effective stay interviews.

How can employers use the stay interview to their advantage?  Begin with training managers on how to conduct the interviews and go over what questions should be asked.  Explain to the interviewers that these stay interviews are ways for them to effectively build trust with employees.  Teach the interviewers how to actively listen and engage employees in open-ended conversation.  Employers should note that it is worth spending the time to train managers and supervisors on how to conduct the interview if the training will result in a productive interview that informs employers on how they can improve their businesses.  It is important for managers or supervisors to conduct the interviews rather than Human Resources staff since a manager is most likely in the best position to make an impact on the employee’s daily working conditions.

Who should be interviewed?  It is important to evaluate which employees should be interviewed.  Employers should start by interviewing their top-performing employees to determine whether there are any issues or concerns that would cause those employees to look for new jobs.  This will allow employers to solve problems and address issues that come up in the stay interviews to decrease the chance that the employees making the greatest contributions to the company’s success will quit.  Employers should also consider interviewing recent hires.  Often, new or recent hires are more likely to turnover because they have less invested in the company.  It may be a good idea to interview recent hires who have had some time to acclimate to their new job and have been employed for at least six months.  This will allow employers to find out what can be done to improve newer employees’ workdays in order to increase employee retention and prevent employers from investing their resources, time and effort into training employees that will leave after one or two years.

What questions should be asked?  Start the interview by asking easy-to-answer, positive questions.  For example, begin the interview by asking about what the employee looks forward to every day at work.  Once the manager has “broken the ice,” they can start to ask tougher questions.  Some questions to help improve the employee’s workday include the following:

  1. How can management/managers/supervisors support the employee better?

  2. What kind of recognition or feedback would the employee like about their performance that they aren’t currently receiving?

  3. What opportunities for self-improvement would the employee like to have that extends beyond the employee’s role?

  4. What skills or interests does the employee have that management has not utilized to the fullest extent?

  5. What has the employee felt good about accomplishing while working for the company?

  6. Are there areas of frustration throughout the employee’s workday that could be improved?

  7. What kinds of flexibility would be helpful to the employee in balancing their home and work life?

  8. If the employee could change one thing about their job, department, or the company, what would it be?

Avoid asking closed-ended and yes-or-no questions, such as “are you happy working here?” or “are you earning enough money here?”  Employees always want to make more money and the simple yes or no answer to whether an employee is happy working for your company is useless to employers that want to decrease employee turnover rates.  Ask questions that provide meaningful insight as to the employees’ motivations and areas of the workplace that require improvement.  It is also important for the interviewer to make sure they are not treating the stay interview like a performance review.  Keep performance review discussions completely separate from stay interviews.

What should be done with the information collected after the stay interviews?  Employers should hold a debriefing session to provide the interviewers with the opportunity to discuss employees’ answers, looking for patterns throughout the company, and talk about ways to address common issues.  This will allow employers to determine the changes to be made on a company-wide basis and throughout individual departments.  Employers must not make light of how employees perceive the company or their specific departments.  Although you may disagree with employees’ views, the employees’ perceptions certainly impact their job performance.  Further, becoming defensive or trying to make excuses for issues brought to light during the stay interviews will only thwart your efforts to understand your employees’ motivations and levels of satisfaction.

Finally, employers must put in place methods to actually follow up on the information obtained from the stay interviews.  The only thing worse than expending the time and effort to conduct the interviews, is to completely ignore the employees’ answers.  When implementing changes as a result of the information gained in these interviews, be sure to communicate to employees that these changes were put in place to acknowledge their concerns and address the issues.  Employers should also set times to follow up with the employees interviewed to determine if the changes made increased employee motivation and minimized employee frustrations.

By conducting stay interviews, acting upon the information obtained in the interviews, and following up with employees to find out if the solutions im

plemented actually improved the workplace, employers are likely to increase their rates of retention of top-performing employees.


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