Engage and Retain Employees With the Stay Interview

November 21, 2022

Learn about the stay interview and how HR teams can use them to engage and retain their current employees.

Blog Post

With a record high of 4.5 million Americans quitting their jobs in November 2021 alone, recruiting is a hot topic. But while hiring is heating up, organizations need to also think about ways to drive retention efforts with their current workforce, particularly those thinking about leaving. Yet relying on exit interviews from former and departing employees is not enough. Leading HR professionals are using the stay interview to uncover useful, actionable insights to create an environment that attracts new talent and retains your employees. But how can HR scale this 1-to-1 approach with such limited resources?

Read on to learn about the stay conversation and how you can incorporate them into your employee engagement strategy.

What Is a Stay Interview?

A stay interview, sometimes called a retention interview or stay conversation, is a one-on-one meeting between a current employee and their manager. During a stay interview, managers ask employees pre-determined questions so they can glean insights into why employees stay at the organization—and what might risk them leaving.

Equipped with this valuable information, managers can identify challenges and implement solutions before an employee may consider leaving their role. Stay interviews work best when there’s a culture of trust at the organization, so employees feel comfortable sharing their perspectives and voicing concerns.

What is the Purpose of a Stay Interview?

The purpose of a stay interview is to get the conversation started when there’s still time to course correct. They can improve managers’ relationships with their direct reports, enabling them to intercept any at-risk talent and give HR teams crucial workforce-level insights to build lasting culture and connection. On a larger scale, these insights allow organizations to learn what employees care about personally and professionally, helping them understand what really motivates an employee to remain at a job.

“Organizations have their perception about what they value, but that mindset doesn’t always align with their employees. They may think that employees like hanging out at the office because they get free food, but employees think it’s a great opportunity to interact with their peers and connect with people in different departments. A stay interview helps organizations discover what truly sets them apart.”

- Calvin Sun, Senior Director Comp Benefits and Talent Analytics, Paylocity

The stay interview gives employees the opportunity to voice their feelings, which makes employees feel valued and important – and more willing to offer feedback next time. And questions are designed to directly identify issues that impact company culture, employee engagement, personal wellness, career development, and more. Using these retention interviews in addition to other strategies can help you be proactive and make impactful improvements to your work environment.

Stay Interviews vs. Exit Interviews

Both stay interviews and exit interviews are essential features of an employee retention and engagement strategy. But the value they provide and the approach organizations take in conducting them differs.

Exit interviews take place when an employee has already chosen to leave the organization. It’s a time to reflect on their motivation to end employment and share their why. Organizations can leave these conversations with a roadmap for how to prevent employee turnover and learn what employees will tell others about their experience. Will they recommend your organization or not? Typically, these conversations are more formal and are facilitated by HR.

On the other hand, stay interviews can happen at any time during an employee’s active employment. As opposed to exit interviews, stay conversations are an opportunity to learn what’s going right. Some of the information covered in a stay interview includes why an employee stays, what engages them, and what they find motivating. Stay interviews are usually conducted by managers, but HR can step in when needed.

Successful outcomes for these interviews depend on how well the interviewer uses active listening skills and how comfortable the employee is sharing. 

How to Conduct Stay Interviews

To conduct stay interviews successfully, keep your process structured, simple, and straightforward.

  1. Identify employees to interview: You don’t need to interview every single employee right away. Focus on both high-performers and at-risk employees first. Each can provide valuable information about the health of the employee lifecycle.
  2. Decide on a frequency: How often organizations schedule stay interviews depends on their needs, but at least once per year is optimal.
  3. Determine when to schedule interviews: Keep stay interviews separate from annual performance reviews. Otherwise, schedule all stay interviews within a brief time frame—days or weeks—so gathering and applying insights is timely.
  4. Designate an interviewer: It’s best to have managers interview direct reports because they’ve built rapport and established trust, which makes it more likely for the employee to share candidly. If a manager does not have experience conducting stay interviews, upskill them prior to the interview for better outcomes.
  5. Schedule the interview: Notify the employee ahead of time so they’re in the loop. Make sure you provide enough time to have a meaningful conversation. Stay interviews usually take anywhere from 30-60 minutes, so plan accordingly.
  6. Ease into the interview: Check in with the employee for a few minutes. Ask about their weekend, what hobbies they enjoy in their free time, or how their pet is doing. Establish a conversational feel and set them at ease. When employees feel like they’re on the spot and being evaluated, they’re less likely to open up.
  7. Ask topical questions: Prepare stay interview questions ahead of time and standardize them for every employee that participates. That way, it’s easier to identify trends across roles and departments. Feel free to ask follow up questions to encourage them to share more, especially if they’re touching on good information.
  8. Listen actively: Ensure managers understand and have developed active listening skills. Utilize these skills to create an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing and can explore their thoughts.
  9. Summarize the conversation: Before wrapping up, spend a few minutes summarizing what the employee shared. Clarify their reasons for staying and articulate where they see room for improvement. It’s vital employees leave the conversation feeling heard.
  10. Follow up: Send a thank you — email, handwritten note, video message, etc. — to the employee afterwards for taking the time to share their perspective.
  11. Compile data: Organize and upload answers to a single, accessible database. Share relevant insights with other managers, HR, and leadership.
  12. Take action: The stay interview process is incomplete unless the organization uses the insights and information gathered to improve employee retention and engagement practices.

How to Start Stay Interviews at Your Organization

These 1-on-1 conversations provide much-needed insight but may not feel realistic for organizations with limited HR staff and resources. If live conversations feel out of reach, one way to scale stay interviews for any size organization is to employ the help of technology.

A questionnaire solution like Surveys allows you to send a few key questions over time to gather valuable feedback with minimal lift. Other tools, like discussion and expert groups within collaboration solutions such as Community, give employees the opportunity to organically bring up concerns.

But one of the most impactful ways to make stay interviews happen is to empower managers to have these conversations with their teams, passing along any relevant feedback up the ladder.

Stay Interview Best Practices

It’s important to equip your managers with stay interview templates and guidance ahead of time to keep the conversations consistent and productive, while also ensuring your managers feel supported. Here are some helpful tips for conducting a stay conversation and creating a trusting environment where employees feel like they can be honest and open:

  • Let the employee choose between video, phone only, or in-person settings based on their comfort level.
  • Send a friendly message, email, or short video describing the intention of the 1:1 so employees know it’s a two-way dialogue.
  • Tell the employee that they’ll be listened to carefully and that they can ask any questions or bring up any concerns.
  • Be sure the interviewee knows the conversation is transparent and, when appropriate, feedback will be provided to HR or leadership later—and confidentially, if necessary.
  • Avoid naming the meeting a “stay interview” to help ease tension and prevent the impression it will be an interrogation.
  • Consider letting employees who don’t feel completely comfortable with the idea to provide their feedback using a survey or in another way.
  • Shoot for an hour-long discussion but don’t worry if it takes less or more time. Focus on getting valuable insights.

Top Tip: Viewers retain 95% of a video’s message compared to 10% of a written message. Encourage the use of video if you want your employees to understand the intention behind the stay interview or need to follow up with any critical takeaways!

Sample Stay Interview Questions

Keep in mind that “stay-related” questions should focus on what the employees want from their work experience, how they feel about their role, how they can be better supported, and where they see themselves going within the organization. Whether you incorporate some elements into regularly scheduled check-ins or implement full stay interviews, the goal is still the same.

“Because of this Great Reshuffling—four or five million people changing jobs each month—you have to start asking these questions now. You must get the ball rolling down the hill and keep it going. How an employee felt six months ago versus today can be very different."

- Calvin Sun, Senior Director Comp Benefits and Talent Analytics, Paylocity

Save the following stay interview questions to adapt at your organization and remember to set a regular cadence for engaging your employees with them. These are designed for either managers or HR teams to learn what is and isn’t going well, and methods to improve morale, engagement, and retention:

Manager Stay Interview Questions:

  • What excites you about coming in or logging in to work each day?
  • What projects or tasks would you like to do more of? Less of?
  • What kind of feedback would you like to see from me?
  • How would you like to give feedback on me or your peers?
  • Do you see yourself moving into a new role or upward in the company?
  • What has been your favorite accomplishment so far? Least?
  • What talents or skills are you interested in developing, and how can I help?
  • Are you able to maintain a positive work-life balance?
  • What “is the why” for doing the job you do?
  • What specifically about the company or your role keeps you here?
  • What might cause you to consider looking elsewhere?

HR Stay Interview Questions:

  • How would you like to provide feedback to members of HR or leadership?
  • How would you like to receive feedback from HR or leadership?
  • How could the company enable a better work-life balance for you?
  • What do you like most about the company? Least?
  • Do you believe the company takes care of you personally and professionally?
  • Do you have any suggestions on how we can enhance employee engagement?
  • Are there any tools we can offer to improve communication or transparency?
  • Do you believe that the company values your contribution?
  • Do you feel you have a voice here, and if not, how can we help?
  • Is there anything about how the business operates that would cause you to leave?

What Happens After a Stay Interview?

Whoever conducts the interview, encourage them to end on a high note by thanking the employee in an email, chat, or video message. But remember, as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words so tapping into stay interviews won’t mean much if there’s no follow through. You don’t need to start from scratch or totally overhaul company policies or organizational tools immediately. But send a summary of the stay conversation to the employee and note if and how you’re following up with HR or leadership and keep them updated.

“When you ask any employee any question during any conversation, make sure that your employee knows you genuinely care about their answer. You’ll get nowhere if they feel like you’ve just checked a box on your to-do list."

- Kate Grimaldi, Senior Director Talent Management and HR, Paylocity

Even if there isn’t an actionable response to a complaint, be sure they understand the company—whether it’s a manager, HR, or someone else—is listening and always will. Without consistency and a noticeable attempt to resolve or address issues, you can do more damage by giving the impression your efforts aren’t genuine.

Here are potential solutions to some common feedback:

  • The employee said they wanted to develop their skills in or outside their role. learning management system can offer courses on new competencies, products, and more.
  • The employee mentioned a desire for more transparency, better communication, or a stronger connection to the organization collaboration hub centralizes accurate and timely company information while providing meaningful collaboration, including groups around common interests.
  • The employee asked for a better method of tracking than goals. Performance management tools let them define, develop, and manage individual objectives with their managers while tracking progress.
  • The employee requested a user-friendly, interactive way to document their takeaways of their stay interview and other meetings and milestones at work. Self-reflection tools like Journals let employees document their thoughts throughout their entire employee lifecycle.
  • The employee said they’d like more quick ways to provide feedback. Employee surveys can empower employees in this situation.

Finally, incorporate the feedback you’ve received on a regular basis to leadership. Together with metrics around turnover, employees at risk for turning over, and other workforce challenges you’re facing, direct feedback is extremely helpful in decision-making. You’ll have insights to help you know exactly what steps to take that will have a direct and speedy impact on improving employee retention rates and attracting new talent. And perhaps more importantly, it includes employees in creating a stronger employee experience!

Top Tip: Surveys can be used to supplement stay interviews as well as continuous feedback. Build a regular cadence such as quarterly, monthly, or send them after major changes or new initiatives launch. Journals and Community can also be used to keep an ongoing pulse on employee sentiment.

Get Started Today

Without a doubt, the stay interview is a great way to engage with employees, especially those who may be at risk of leaving. And uncovering issues is just the start of improving the employee experience. Employees want (and deserve) to be recognized, heard, and supported, hopefully before they’re looking for a new job opportunity elsewhere. By taking the time to engage with them regularly, capture their voice and opinions, and offer them the tools and opportunities they want, you’ll be able to drive meaningful engagement that improves morale, now and in the long term.

Learn more about the critical tools and processes you need at every stage of the employee experience by checking out our Post-Pandemic Survival Checklist.

Be sure to check out our podcast for more on stay interviews.

The Tools You Need to Attract and Retain

Embed employee experience features from recruiting, onboarding, and beyond with tools built for the modern workforce. Kick off day one with a welcome message using video. Connect your employees with collaboration tools and peer groups. Develop your team with relevant and interesting training. Keep the conversation going with surveys. And do it all while automating and collecting data to proactively make improvements.

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