The Value of the Stay Interview & Why You Should Be Conducting Them

Most businesses know that they should have some formal, structured process for holding annual reviews.  Employees expect and deserve them,  budgeting is easier to manage with a process, and personnel files benefit from clear, consistent documentation.  In good organizations, reviews may even be conducted on a more frequent basis.  After all, millennials will comprise over 50% of the workforce within the next two years, and they crave demand frequent feedback.   However, what many still fail to realize is that if you’re only having scheduled discussions concerning an employee’s performance, you’re missing the mark.  Are you talking about goals?  Are you digging into the reasons employees stay?  Asking questions about why they may leave?  Do they have an open forum to tell you what they need from you to enable them to reach their goals?  In today’s third installment in our Communication Series, we teach you everything you need to know to add the Stay Interview to your playbook. 

The Stay Interview is an opportunity to build trust with employees and a chance to assess the degree of employee satisfaction and engagement.  Employees prefer to work in an environment that cares to know about and understand their thoughts, needs, and feelings- especially when they see actions take place following a series of Stay Interviews.  The insights gained from these interviews are valuable, and when acted upon can make a considerable impact in retention and employee satisfaction.  According to Richard Finnegan, author of the book, The Stay Interview,  “Hard data proves the top reason employees quit is they don’t trust their managers.  Stay Interviews are the absolute best trust-building activity…and therefore the best retention tool.” 

Here are a few easy steps for incorporating Stay Interviews at your business.

The interviewer must be the employee’s direct supervisor.

The Stay Interview at its core is all about building trust.  The most valuable relationship at any organization is the one between manager and team member.  First level managers are directly involved with team members daily and have the most significant impact on their career development, environment, and experiences.  Tasking a manager a level up or handing this off to HR doesn’t work. 

The interview is a conversation, and listening is critical.

The interviewer must give the employee plenty of room to speak and expound upon responses.  They should also be prepared to ask follow-up questions of a leading nature after listening to the employee’s answers to the core questions.  Secondary questions and requests for additional details are where you’ll typically find the gold.

Don’t prep the employee in advance.

Don’t supply the employee with the questions in advance so they can prepare.  You want authentic responses.  When an employee has too much time to think, they’ll naturally second guess how a response may negatively impact them.  They’ll edit to put the best spin on an answer.  The point of this exercise is to get to their real thoughts and feelings.  You lose a ton of authenticity with the polish that comes from any prep-work the employee may do for the interview. 

Change up your questions.

At the end of this article, we provide five questions to get you started today, but you’ll want to swap new questions into the rotation as you return to the same employees for additional rounds of the Stay Interview process.  There is a litany of things you can ask; the key is to remember that the employee is the focus of the interview.  It’s about their thoughts, what they want, and what you can provide them.

Be prepared for money to come up.

Though this isn’t the employee’s annual review, be prepared to discuss money.  When you’re asking questions about someone’s experience and thoughts about work, compensation is bound to enter the conversation.  If “I need more money” comes up, ask follow-up questions.  “Tell me why you need more money.”  “What skill can you build that makes you able to contribute more?”  “Is there another job here you’d like to learn more about?”  “Would you like to build a plan so you can learn more and build those skills’? 

Be prepared to handle your complainers. 

What do you do when an employee voices a complaint about something in their work environment?  Start by asking more questions, so you have the facts needed to determine later how you’ll address it.  A simple “tell me more” works remarkably well.  Don’t feel the need to fix the issue then and there or even offer an excuse or explanation.  Take time to think and plan after the interview.  And remember, once you agree with a statement, you become a peer.  Your job as a manager is to understand the needs of the employee and the business then find the best balance between the two; not to join in on the latest gossip or fuel the fires of dissent.  Have an employee complaining about senior leadership?  Instead of agreeing with them (even if you DO agree with them), try offering statements like, “Our leaders sometimes know things we don’t.”   It’s easy to be critical of unpopular decisions without knowing all the facts that led to the choices.  If you hear the same complaint from several employees, this information may need to be shared with the leadership team.  The issue may lie in a lack of top-down communication or a need to better involve all stakeholders anytime a significant change is on the horizon.  One of the main goals of a Stay Interview is to uncover concerns that may ultimately drive your workforce out the door BEFORE they have one foot out so you can make necessary changes.

Make them answer all questions.

Some of the questions are tough, and an employee may not be able to give you a full response at the time of the interview.  That’s okay.  If after continued conversation they’re still stuck, give them a deadline to get you a response back.  Complete the interview.

Keep it old school.

Put away the keyboard and laptop for this interview.  You’ll definitely want to take a lot of notes but use a pen and a pad.  Writing helps you stay engaged and feels a lot more personal.  It will also prevent you from being distracted by the latest email notification.

Take action.

Collecting information does no good if you don’t act on what you’ve learned.  Has an employee told you they want to learn more about another department?  Get them involved with some shadowing and on the job training.  Did a team member share talk about a skill they’d like to obtain to take the next step?  Hold them accountable and help facilitate where you can.  Did an issue arise concerning the physical workspace that you’re able to change?  Make that change! 

Schedule your interviews and get started!  Here are five key questions to get the ball rolling:

1.       When you travel to work each day, what things do you look forward to?

2.       What are you learning here?

3.       Why do you stay here?  NOTE: Make them discover and announce why they stay.  It can’t be only money.  Don’t bail them out.  This is about getting an employee to learn something they didn’t know about themselves.  Everyone can tell you why they’d leave.  This will help you uncover strengths and play to them.

4.       When was the last time you thought about leaving our team?  What prompted it?

5.       What can I do to make your experience at work better for you? 


Remember, you’re taking a big step just by periodically asking your people if they're happy. Most employees are excited merely by the fact you’re concerned about their future and are taking the time to meet with them.

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