Exit interviews are a fairly common practice in the People Ops world, but stay interviews are much less common. Why? We want to know why people “exit” companies. Shouldn’t we also want to know why people stay?

A stay interview is pretty much what it sounds like. A manager sits down, one-on-one, with a direct report to learn what it will take to retain them. The learnings can be applied to the entire company, but the goal is for your manager to make a “stay plan” that will help them retain that single individual.

This may seem like a lot of extra work for busy managers—especially those with large teams—but the effort is well worth it. This annual 20-minute meeting can reduce regrettable turnover, saving managers countless hours backfilling positions.

How stay interviews improve employee retention

If you want to know what will entice your best people to stay, your managers should simply ask them. Implement changes where you can and communicate those changes to your employee. Make a point to also discuss which issues you’re not able to address and why. This level of transparency can do wonders to improve employee retention.

Stay interviews can also help with:

  • Improving employee satisfaction and engagement: Acting on the feedback collected during stay interviews can improve employee satisfaction and engagement. This creates happier employees who will go above and beyond in their work, improving the company culture and overall team morale. In turn, this can lead to higher employee retention.
  • Building stronger manager relationships: Poor manager relationships are a common reason for employee turnover. Regular communication and feedback between managers and their direct reports leads to stronger working relationships, which should boost retention.
  • Creating more authentic employer branding: Employee feedback can help you craft a more authentic employer brand, which is more likely to attract the right candidates and allow others to self-select out. This upfront, realistic view of your company can reduce turnover down the road.

When to conduct a stay interview

There’s no single right time to conduct a stay interview—but your data may offer a few good opportunities:

  • Employee onboarding: Do your new employees tend to leave within 90 days of joining your company? If yes, bake a stay interview into your employee onboarding process.
  • Employee anniversaries: Do your employees tend to leave around work anniversaries? If so, conduct your stay interviews 90-120 days before employee anniversaries.
  • Times of high turnover: Are you seeing a sudden increase in employee turnover? Conduct stay interviews to learn why some people are staying, and compare responses to those found on exit interviews to identify trends.
  • When business is slow: Does your company have a slow period during the year? It might be best to wait and do all of your stay interviews during that time. 

Stay interview questions you can ask

The main goal of the stay interview is to listen. Managers should prepare some questions ahead of time to steer the conversation, but allow the employee to do most of the talking.

Here are some questions they may want to ask, and why:

  1. What’s the best thing about your role at [company]? This open-ended warm-up question is a great way to begin the stay interview, and invite the employee to share some positive feedback. The manager may ask follow-up questions if they want the employee to expand on specific points. Let’s say the employee says their team is the best thing about their role. Their manager may ask how the employee’s current team compares to teams the employee has been part of in past roles. Then future hiring decisions could be made with this feedback in mind.
  2. What can we do to make your role better? This is a good question to get some constructive feedback. Managers can ask whether the role has been what your employee expected, and what they like least about their role. They can ask about the challenges the employee faces in their role, and how the company and team can better support them. They may also prompt the employee for feedback around the way the company is run, how they like their team, and anything else you care to know about. These opportunities for improvement have the potential to improve the employee experience for everyone at your company.
  3. Why do you stay at [company]? Now for the million dollar question! Managers should directly ask your employees why they stay at your company, and give them some time to think about it. They should try to suss out the single biggest thing that keeps them at your company, as well as the other “little things” that make a difference, and learn why those things are important. This sort of information can be useful for developing new employee experience programs, as well as for building an authentic employer brand. Let’s say your employee likes the ability to work from home because commuting cuts into their family time. You could implement other parent-friendly programs, like a house cleaning benefit, and share those perks on your career page to attract other parents to your company. 
  4. What would entice you to leave [company]? After learning why the employee stays, managers should find out what it would take for them to leave. A 15 percent salary increase? Make a plan to get them a compensation boost, even if it’s a promotion that’s over a year away. Would they leave for a shorter commute? See if you can offer remote work, if even just a few days each week.
  5. What do you envision as the next step in your career? Employee development is an important part of retention. If you don’t already practice career mapping, take this opportunity to learn about your employee’s professional aspirations. Follow up by asking what skills they’d like to develop to prepare for the next step in their career, and put together a development plan. Then ask about other goals and aspirations they have for their careers. Where do they see themselves in five years? What about in 10 years? Use this information to feed into your employee’s career map and your company’s succession plan.
  6. Is there any other feedback you’d like to share today? Managers can wrap up the stay interview with this last open-ended question to catch any feedback that wasn’t already mentioned.

Final thoughts on stay interviews

Stay interviews are a great way to collect employee feedback and truly understand what it will take to retain your employees. Managers should put together a stay plan for each employee to ensure their feedback is being implemented to the best of your ability. Feedback should also be shared with company leadership to help identify trends and opportunities for improvement at an organizational level.