How to Hold an Effective Stay Interview

In a stay interview, managers invite current employees to talk — but they don’t run like a typical meeting. Instead, employees get a chance to discuss their roles, the work environment and the organization as a whole. These meetings are often contrasted with exit interviews, which business owners or HR decision-makers usually conduct after employees have declared their intention to leave.

Would a stay interview benefit your business? Here’s how to tell if you need them, as well as how to implement them to get the right results.

The Power of Conversation

Done well and in the context of a healthy corporate culture with average or better leadership, stay interviews offer the potential for significant benefits. Anything that encourages good dialogue between managers and employees also works to strengthen engagement. Common stay interview questions include:

  • What do you look forward to about coming to work?
  • What company benefits matter most to you?
  • How do you feel about the direction and strategy of the company?
  • Do you see the connection between your daily work and the overall success of the organization?
  • What could the organization do to better support you in your role?

Stay interviews can uncover opportunities for differentiated benefits, professional development or more visible support for community or social issues. In time, the insights you gather over the course of your interviews may inform company practice, demonstrating interest in and care for the company’s workforce. But don’t just assume employees will know that you listened and acted on their advice — instead, communicate consistently about any developments. Employees will feel more empowered to offer you recommendations and opinions when they know their feedback contributes to real decisions within the business.

A good stay interview can also raise flags before potentially unhappy employees leave. There comes a time in every job search when people tend to naturally disengage from their job as they seek out other work. Stay interviews offer the opportunity for early detection and constructive intervention that can re-engage an employee before they reach a point of no return and jump ship.

Fundamentals for Success

Stay interviews are not for every organization. When you ask managers and employees to give time to an effort like this, it is reasonable for them to expect your organization to make changes according to their feedback. Be wary of these interviews if the organization has trouble following through on large initiatives. If levels of trust are currently low, or if you doubt that you will be able to translate interview feedback into actions and outcomes, focus your attention on addressing other challenges before attempting systematic stay interviews.

Another common problem is that there are sometimes groups within the organization that either actively or passively resist these kinds of efforts. Be careful about implementing stay interviews if you’re not confident that you can eventually bring it to the majority of your organization. Visible resistors create pockets of dissatisfaction and make it significantly harder to promote the benefits of the changes you’ve made.

Though it can be a bad sign if you have trouble establishing and maintaining baseline performance review conversations, note that stay interviews can actually be a smaller, safer way to start introducing performance discussions to managers strapped for time or dubious about the value of structured manager-employee conversations.

Do Interviews Well or Not at All

Ultimately, it can make matters worse if managers run through a list of questions, the employee responds and then nothing happens. Managers will need tools and resources to keep the conversation going. Define processes that operate at both individual and system levels so that your business can standardize how it captures and acts on employee feedback.

All other things being equal, stay interviews have the potential to be stimulating for employees in impactful ways. A healthy pilot program with a select group of employees is a great way to get started. When you do, remember to ask them to weigh in on the stay interview questions. Their interest and engagement in stay interviews may give you momentum as you roll the program out more widely across the organization. In time, stay interviews can help you keep high-performing employees within your workforce, jump-start constructive dialogues to support more innovation and keep your finger on the pulse of employees’ growth and development across your company.

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