Asking for feedback is a huge part of people management. But too few organizations do that effectively—or at all. A stay interview can provide crucial feedback about the employee experience.
In many organizations, that input is in short supply. Consider that more than 15 million U.S. employees who quit during the Great Resignation regret their choice. Almost two in five who resigned say a stay interview could have changed their mind. In other words, they wish someone simply would have asked them how they feel about their job.
Stay interviews can help avoid these unnecessary resignations. This benefits both employees and their company.
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What Is A Stay Interview
Stay interviews are similar to exit interviews in some ways. But they’re obviously different in others—primarily in their purpose.
With exit interviews, the employee has resigned. So, the company seeks feedback on why they resigned. In stay interviews, companies learn how to keep employees loyal. Exit interviews ask departing employees about their experience with the company. They aim to pinpoint factors that led them to resign. But they also look at the overall employee experience.
With stay interviews, the employee isn’t resigning. So, they have a different goal. Instead of determining why an employee quit, they seek to understand how to persuade the employee to stay.
With the increased focus on employee experience, stay interviews are growing in popularity. But do stay interviews really work? Absolutely. After all, asking in-depth questions is the only way to understand how employees truly feel.
Reasons to Conduct A Stay Interview
A stay interview has many important benefits.
- Learning what employees enjoy about their work. You’ll learn where they find purpose. And you’ll also learn what they dislike. So, you can pinpoint ways to enhance their fulfillment.
- Emphasizing that you care deeply about employee satisfaction. In doing so, you’ll boost loyalty.
- Helping the employee envision a promising future with your company.
- Learning how to motivate the employee.
- Opening communication channels. The conversation shouldn’t end with the interview. Rather, the interview can spark a longer-term dialogue.
Stay interviews can inform the design of programs and policies in a range of areas:
- Professional development
- Diversity, equity, and inclusion
We’ll address any lingering questions about stay interviews next. Then, we’ll look at how to hold a stay interview that gets results.
FAQs About Stay Interviews
Let’s clear up a few common questions about the stay interview process.
Q: Who should receive a stay interview?
A: Ideally, every employee. Otherwise, some employees may feel their opinions hold less importance. Obviously, you’ll want to interview solid performers. But stay interviews may also reveal ways to help underperforming employees improve.
Q: What organizations should conduct stay interviews?
Any company would be wise to use this tool to boost retention.
Q: Who should conduct stay interviews?
Managers should conduct stay interviews with their own employees. HR can start the process by conducting stay interviews with top-level leaders. Then, these leaders will know how to hold their own stay interviews, says Richard Finnegan in The Power of Stay Interviews.
When managers conduct the interviews, it promotes trust and openness, asserts SHRM.
Q: Where should you conduct a stay interview?
A: Hold the stay interview in a private, quiet location like a closed office. If at all possible, hold it in person. Alternatively, you can conduct a stay interview via an online platform. Make sure you’re in a private location, regardless.
Q: When should you conduct a stay interview?
A: Try to conduct them at least once a year. But don’t schedule stay interviews for peak times. Schedule them at less busy times of the year.
Incorporate them into the onboarding process as well. For instance, conduct a stay interview at 30, 60, and 90 days.
Q: What is the ideal length of a stay interview?
Often they take 20 minutes or less, SHRM says. But block out at least 30 minutes. Don’t cut it short unless you’ve finished the conversation.
Q: When should you conduct stay interviews?
Hold stay interviews at a time when you’re not conducting performance reviews. You don’t want to give the impression that they relate to performance evaluations. And don’t wait until you sense there’s a problem. By then, it might be too late.
Q: How formal are stay interviews?
A: It is important to take a structured approach to the interview. That means having a set timeframe and a set of questions. But stay interviews should feel like a relaxed conversation. Employees don’t need to dress up or prepare answers in advance. Sounding polished is not the goal; authenticity is.
Q: Are there any drawbacks to stay interviews?
A: Not if you follow best practices. We’ll explain what they entail next.
How to Conduct A Great Stay Interview
Follow these key steps to maximize the benefits of your stay interviews.
Explain the Purpose
When setting up the interview, explain its purpose to the employee. Say you want to learn how to improve their experience. You might share a few central questions or topics you’ll cover, too.
Don’t focus directly on retention when explaining the purpose. Instead, focus on the benefits to the employee.
“If an employee feels like their stay interview is solely for the purpose of retaining talent [to] benefit the company, then the intent of the interview has been lost,” says Amy Mosher, the chief people officer of isolved. You’ll build trust and loyalty by focusing on them.
Needless to say, stay interviews have no bearing on performance appraisals. HR should make that clear to employees and managers upfront. Emphasize that employees are not the ones being evaluated—the company is. Employees are simply asked to be candid about their concerns.
Ask the Right Questions
Importantly, don’t skew questions in a negative or positive way, writes Stephanie Vozza on SHRM. It shouldn’t feel like you think employees want to leave. Rather, ask a range of questions that solicit input on positive and negative aspects of work.
Here are some great stay interview questions to ask. We’ve categorized them into key topics to address. Use this list as a stay interview questionnaire template.
- How did you feel coming into work today?
- What aspects of your work do you enjoy the most?
- What aspects do you enjoy the least?
- What do you dread about your job?
- What are the main reasons you work here?
- What is the biggest single reason?
- What makes you feel motivated?
- If you were in my shoes, what would you do differently?
- What other roles in this company appeal to you, and why?
- Describe your desired career path. What are your goals for the year? For the next several years?
- What skills do you need in order to pursue that career path?
- What barriers to success do you face? How can we remove them?
- What talents do you have that go unused in your current role?
- How do you feel about your team members?
- Who do you feel most connected to here, and why?
- What is working well about our relationship? What could improve?
- How can I better support your daily efforts?
- How appreciated do you feel? What would make you feel more valued?
- How do you want to be recognized?
Education and Development
- What are you learning in your current role?
- What do you want to learn?
- Where do you need more direction or feel confused?
- What professional development opportunities have you engaged in this year?
- What types of opportunities would you like?
- Describe the mentoring you receive. Would you like more of it?
- Describe your level of work/life balance.
- Describe your workload. Is it fair or too heavy?
- Do you feel you can leave work at a reasonable time? Why or why not?
- What needs to improve? How can we support that?
You can also ask what has prompted them to consider leaving in the past. As SHRM says, all employees have thought about quitting at some point. So, ask them directly about why. Possible follow-up questions include:
- Has that issue been resolved? What still needs to change?
- What is the most important thing we can do to fix the problem?
- What led you to stay rather than leave?
- What might tempt you to consider leaving?
With a well-balanced range of questions, you’ll gain a thorough range of input.
Don’t attempt to solve problems in the moment. “In your discussion, encourage people to express a full range of emotions,” writes Sabina Nawaz in HBR. “No matter what’s shared, don’t attempt to solve the problem or negate their experience.”
It’s fine to solicit their thoughts on potential solutions. But if you propose solutions, they might feel coerced into agreeing out of politeness. Plus, you should never propose solutions if you’re not sure you can implement them. So, it’s best to focus on their perspective and ideas. Save the brainstorming for later.
Likewise, do not suggest ways that employees can improve personally. The interviewer should not be giving feedback in this conversation.
Don’t Minimize Their Experience
It’s all too easy to unintentionally negate someone’s feelings. We often want to make others feel better in the moment. But responses like these can minimize their emotions:
- “You’re so resilient, though.”
- “Everybody feels that way sometimes.”
- “What if we just [insert minor change]?”
Instead, you might say something empathetic, like, “That sounds challenging. Tell me more.”
Listen 80% of the time, says Finnegan. Strive to listen without thinking of your next question. This takes discipline, he notes. And it might mean there’s a pause in the conversation. That’s okay.
Ask Probing Questions
Don’t just continue on down the list when an employee raises a big concern. Instead, ask further questions about the issue. You’ll then recognize the gravity of the problem. Plus, you’ll get better input.
Take Careful Notes
Notes are indispensable. They’ll remind you of key concerns so you can act on them.
Use the Right Tools
Additionally, prepare for stay interviews by sending periodic pulse surveys. They’ll tip you off about key issues employees may be experiencing.
End on a Proactive Note
Conclude a stay interview by thanking the employee for their insights. Affirm that you’ll carefully consider ways to address their input. Emphasize that you’re committed to improving their experience.
Invite them to share further thoughts in the coming days, too. Then, make a plan to check in soon about potential solutions.
SHRM also offers a stay interview template, which includes a questionnaire. It also covers the basics of how to begin and end the conversation.
Finally, HR should provide managers with a list of resources employees can access. Does the company offer tuition reimbursement? Would it pay for an employee to attend a conference? Could you hold a group webinar around a topic of interest?
Compile these resources in advance. Then, work to secure additional resources if necessary after learning about employees’ needs.
Questions to Avoid in A Stay Interview
Are there any questions you should avoid asking? You bet.
Don’t make a stay interview feel like an interrogation, as Vozza says. And again, keep the focus on how you and the company can improve. Questions like these are sure to set the wrong tone:
- Are you thinking about leaving the company?
- Are you looking at other positions now?
- How do you personally contribute to [insert problem]?
- Is [insert concern] really that big of a deal?
By holding stay interviews, you’ll build trust with employees. And by taking action afterward, you’ll strengthen engagement and commitment. Continue following up on their concerns, and you’ll see their satisfaction grow.
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