What Is a Stay Interview?

Turnover is always a hot topic. How can it be reduced? How can you keep top employees from leaving? What makes a good employee want to leave your organization? How can you know if someone is considering quitting?

Some employers have decided the best way to get answers to these questions is to ask employees directly. Instead of making assumptions about what employees need and whether they may consider leaving, employers are proactively asking employees what makes them stay. And that’s the basis for what’s being called the “stay” interview.

A stay interview is a way for employers to gather actionable information about what the employees value and what may need to be changed. Conducting stay interviews from as many employees as possible can allow an employer to determine what trends exist in the answers employees give. By proactively asking these questions, the organization can get information about what is working and what isn’t—and can make changes accordingly, hopefully reducing turnover in the process.

The idea behind a stay interview is quite similar to the idea behind an exit interview—it’s a bit of a fact-finding mission to discover ways the organization can improve. But unlike an exit interview, with a stay interview, it’s normally not too late to implement fixes for the problems an employee brings up—there may still be time to improve the experience for that individual.

Many employers also find stay interviews to be a great addition to employee satisfaction surveys because, unlike surveys, they give the opportunity to ask follow-up and clarifying questions to truly understand what employees value or, conversely, what they need that they’re not getting.

Tips for Conducting Stay Interviews

Here are a few tips for conducting stay interviews:

  • Wait to interview new hires until they’ve had some time to get to know the job. But don’t wait too long—new hires are often more vulnerable to turnover because they have less invested in the organization. Consider conducting these interviews more than once in the first year of tenure with the organization, and annually thereafter.
  • Let employees know in advance the intent behind these meetings. If they’re aware that you’re looking for their honest input, they’ll have the chance to give thoughtful answers and insights.
  • Keep the discussion completely separate from performance reviews or other types of meetings. (This is about the employee’s needs, not about the employee’s performance.)
  • Use the opportunity to express how much you value the employee. This is a great time to communicate the organization’s appreciation for their work.
  • Ask questions from both sides of the topic. Ask about what makes the job one they want to keep, and also ask about what frustrations they have with the role or the organization.
  • Be sure to have methods in place to actually follow up on the information obtained during these interviews. The only thing worse than not even asking what employees need is to ask and then completely ignore the answers. When making changes as a result of the information gained in these interviews, be sure to communicate about it—employees need to know their concerns were heard and are being addressed.
  • Pay attention to company culture before you begin. If your organization does not have a culture of openness and trust, employees may view these interviews warily, and they may not be as forthcoming. If this is a concern, consider working on incrementally improving the company culture and sticking with more anonymous means of soliciting feedback until you’re more confident that the opportunity to give feedback openly will be welcomed. That said, stay interviews can help to build trust, as long as the organization is transparent and sincerely acts upon the feedback given to show the employees their input is valued.

Stay interviews can help the organization gain valuable insights into what things employees value (and thus should be kept because they’re influencing retention) and what will make employees leave.

Has your organization utilized stay interviews to gain insights into what makes employees stay or go? What did you do to ensure that the information gained was quickly acted upon after the round of interviews was complete?

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