Stay Interviews: When and What to Ask

Not sure what to ask in a stay interview? These 5 questions will tell you everything you need to know to retain your top talent.



Is your company utilizing the valuable retention tool of stay interviews?

While you may already be asking occasional, light-hearted questions like “Why do you like working here?” or “What keeps you coming back?”, there’s a strategy to what you ask and how you probe for more information in a stay interview.

"What is a stay interview and why should my company do this?" Colin explains in this video.

What is a Stay Interview?

A stay interview is typically a 1-on-1 meeting between an employee and a manager where the manager asks probing questions to see what is and isn’t working for the employee.

The best stay interviews show that you care about the employee, that you appreciate their efforts, and that you’re open to making changes. As the interviewer, you should listen 80% of the time, take notes, ask probing questions, and prepare an action plan based on the insight provided.

How often should I conduct stay interviews?

According to Richard P. Finnegan, author of “The Power of Stay Interviews,” these interviews should be held twice a year. For new hires, the first interview should be held at 90 days and the second one at 180 days. For existing employees, stay interviews should be held every 6 months.

Should a stay interview be conducted with a performance review?

Stay interviews allow the employee to evaluate the company, whereas performance reviews allow the company to evaluate the employee. Since the purpose and mood behind each interview is completely different, these stay interviews should be held separately from each other.

Stay Interview Questions: What should I ask?

Most managers know to ask open-ended questions rather than simple yes/no questions to hear legitimate employee feedback, but there’s more to it.

According to Finnegan, these are the five most important stay interview questions:

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

This question helps employees visualize coming to work. By stating it as, “What things do you look forward to?”, the employee stays focused on what they like about their job in their answer.

2. What are you learning here?

Oftentimes talented employees leave a company because they need a challenge. This question helps employees realize that they’re not stagnant in their jobs; that their current employer is encouraging them to learn and wants them to develop new skills.

3. Why do you stay here?

While a smart remark may initially surface such as, “To buy my kids shoes,” you can simply respond with, “Me, too --- but why do you really stay?” There may be awkward silence for a moment, but resist filling the gap.

Once the employee digs deep and recognizes the reasons for why they really stay, they’ll remember those reasons. According to Finnegan, “These types of exchanges… improve employee output and engagement, and ultimately improve employee retention.”

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

Everyone considers leaving at one time or another, so you may need to probe deeper on this question. Ask how important a particular issue is to them, how you can make it better, how often this issue occurs, who/what they believe the culprit is, and get a firm commitment that they’ll come directly to you the next time this issue surfaces again. Attack these core retention issues head-on.

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

Be prepared to get feedback on your management style with this question. Most importantly, resist the temptation to be defensive. If the employee blows off this question, it could be that they don’t want to offend you or aren’t sure how you can really help.

Probe for details. Ask if they’re getting enough feedback about their work; if you’re around them enough; if your instructions are clear; if you seem genuinely interested in their career; if they prefer to be recognized in private or public; etc. Answers to these questions should give insight on how to adjust your management style to different employees.

Contact us for more Retention Tips

Stay interviews are just one piece of a retention strategy. For more information on this or other retention tools, please contact your certified HR expert.

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