We’re all familiar with the exit interview—figuring out what prompted a team member to leave at the time of their departure.
However, why wait to find out this information? Why not have an interview earlier on to determine what is and isn’t working?
This is where the stay interview comes in.
What Is a Stay Interview and Why Should Your Organization Make Use of Them?
A stay interview is an interview conducted between a manager and employee to get an idea of what’s keeping the employee at the organization, where improvements can be made, and what may cause them to leave for pastures new.
The stay interview should be a human resources tool that you always have ready at your disposal. They should be part of your company culture and can be great drivers of employee engagement.
Making use of stay interviews can do wonders for employee retention. By addressing any issues early on, and taking action on them, you can help ensure current employees are on the path they wish to be on.
Stay interviews are also great trust builders.
As the stay interview can get pretty deep into the information that you're looking to collect, it can be a great way to build trust between the one being interviewed and the one conducting the interview. It can go a long way in showing them that they are a valued employee.
Tip: The individual conducting the stay interview should be the direct manager of the current employee in question.
Remember, more often than not, current employees do not leave jobs —they leave managers. Employees need to be able to trust their manager. If conducted correctly, stay interviews can be one of the best possible ways of building that trust.
When Should You Conduct Stay Interviews?
Another way of wording this would be "how often should you be conducting stay interviews?" The answer depends on how long they’ve been with the company.
Stay interview with new hires
I encourage organizations to make use of the stay interview during the onboarding process for new hires.
Stay interviews are a great tool to have at your disposal once employees get settled into the organization and have a feel for things for their new job.
In this case, I suggest conducting a stay interview after about 90 days of new hires starting in their role. If you haven't done so, I would suggest your organization looks into creating a 30-60-90 day plan to help with employee development.
With new hires, things to cover are what went well in the onboarding process, development opportunities that they would like to explore, or their thoughts about the work environment from a new hire’s perspective.
What about current employees who have been at the organization for some time?
This is up to your discretion—I'd suggest somewhere in the range of 3-4 times a year.
A year feels too long of a time where things can build up that will chip away at employee satisfaction. You could possibly get by with twice a year, but it might be the same case.
To note, these stay interviews shouldn't take more than an hour—they don't need to be all morning or afternoon affairs.
Where Should Stay Interviews Be Conducted?
The stay interview does not need to be a super formal meeting—you don't need to be sitting in a boardroom.
As of writing this article in July 2021, there is a shift of organizations moving back towards the office, and a hybrid blend in regards to remote work and in-office work.
So if you're still in a position where the stay interview needs to be conducted over Zoom, that isn't an issue. Face to face is ideal, but it all depends on what your organization is doing on that front.
If you can meet in person, I'd recommend finding a coffee shop nearby or somewhere with a more casual feel than the office.
How Should I Conduct Stay Interviews? What Should I Ask?
Now that we've covered what the stay interview is, who should be conducting them, how often to conduct them, and where to have them, let's dig into how to conduct them, and what kind of questions that you should be asking.
Before we jump into a list of stay interview questions, I want to briefly discuss the importance of the follow-up question.
The last thing that I would want you to do is to ask them a question, get their answer, and then move onto the next question that you have lined up.
At that point, it feels more like a checklist that you're simply going through instead of really digging deeper into their answers.
If they bring up an interesting point, a phrase, a term, or emotion in the answer they've given you, I want you to dig deeper into that answer.
Perhaps they bring something up in regards to work-life balance, or something comes up about other team members in their answer that you want to dig into further.
Ask a “why” or “what” related question to go more in-depth regarding what they said—get to the root of what they’re trying to convey.
Remember, what we say, what we mean, what we do, what we feel are all different—but there’s an overlap that exists amongst them. It’s by digging in deeper that you’ll be able to gain more insights.
I recommend that you make use of the 5 Whys Technique. In a nutshell, it's asking a "why" based question to their answer up to five times to dig further into their answer and get more detail.
I'd rather have you ask only a couple of the stay interview question prompts featured below, and go really deep into their answers, than simply going through the list and just asking the questions robotically.
So, with that out of the way, let's now look at some recommended questions you can ask while conducting a stay interview:
- What challenges or barriers to your work have you come across lately?
- What would you like to see changed in your role?
- What would you like to see more from or less from me as your manager?
- What are some of your skill sets that you think we are underutilizing in your work?
- What would you need from us in order to support you better?
- What are some skills that you would like to work on in your role?
- What would an ideal day in your role look like?
- What would your dream job look like here?
- What is something you had or did in a previous role that you would like to see here?
- What keeps you working here? (Save for the end).
As a stay interview should typically be no more than an hour, this list here should be more than enough to get you started. And, again, I'd rather have you using 2-3 of these questions and digging deeper into their answers.
Do note that I would leave questions such as “what keeps you working here?” to near the end of your interview—those are the kind of questions that you build up to.
As well, remember that I suggest you conduct several stay interviews throughout the year.
In an ideal world, 3-4/year for an employee would be great, but that of course depends on factors like time, team size, etc. So don’t worry if you don’t cover everything that you wanted to—their answers are what will be driving the conversation.
Lastly, make sure that, after taking the time to conduct these stay interviews with individual employees, you do something with the information that you collect. That way, the next time that you meet, you can demonstrate you’ve actioned on what they’ve told you.
There are fewer things more annoying than having poured your soul into these answers, only for a manager to do nothing with them.
It would be a shame to let valuable employees and top performers brush up their Linkedin profiles and look elsewhere when simply talking to them earlier could have salvaged the situation
As a next step, take a look around if anyone else within the organization makes use of the stay interview.
Try running some pilots first. Remember that while collecting the information is important, you want to keep them more on the informal side when possible.
Also Worth Checking Out: 25 Useful Exit Interview Questions + Template
Join The Conversation
Stay interviews are great tools to have in the people management arsenal. It demonstrates that you value employee’s happiness as well as their opinions, and might be the difference between them staying, getting promoted, and leaving.
Have you ever thought how a promotion could possibly affect an employee negatively? Find out in our article about the Impostor Syndrome.
If you want some more advice on how to conduct them, or indeed wish to impart some, leave a question or response in the comments. You can also apply to join the People Managing People Community, a supportive place you can connect and share knowledge with experienced industry professionals.