Stay Interviews Help Retain Talent

Published On: February 19, 2018By Categories: Business Management, People at Work

Learn what makes employees want to keep working for you.

By Alexandra Walsh

Job creation is on the upswing, and the unemployment rate has declined to its lowest rate in years. With a major skills gap in the United States, the pool of available qualified candidates is shrinking. As they say in real estate, it’s “a buyer’s market.”

Today, it’s not unusual for a candidate to be inundated with multiple job offers at once. As a result, job seekers are being more selective, becoming more comfortable waiting for an offer that meets their specific criteria, and willing to job-hop when another offer comes in.

The shift from an employer-driven market to a candidate-driven market has created a war on talent, requiring employers to compete more heavily for good candidates than ever before. They also need to be more alert to signs of dissatisfaction or restlessness on the job.

Doing the Listening

Consider the new best practice of conducting stay interviews for valued team members while they’re still on the job.

What’s a “stay interview”? It’s an informal review in which the manager and staff member sit down to discuss progress, ideas, and the feedback both parties may have for each other. Ideally, the manager does more listening than talking.

The aim is to learn what makes employees want to keep working for you. It’s designed to elicit what might make key employees want to leave. Conduct enough stay interviews, and you might find most of your employees are citing the same reasons for staying—or wanting to go. Companies using this process are finding it significantly helps reduce turnover.

These informal reviews should be candid, which requires the employee and manager to develop a relationship of trust. If an employer wants someone to stay, they must be able to tell the individual respectfully not only what they need to improve and what is required for promotion, but be able to draw out meaningful feedback about what the employee needs and values most to stay.

Interviewing in the Industry
Find out why a water well drilling company in Minnesota sees benefits of conducting stay interviews with its employees in a sidebar article by Stacey Henrich, an executive assistant with Bergerson-Caswell Inc. in Maple Plain, Minnesota.

The employer may also want to share their goals for the company with the employee and set individual milestone goals with a reasonable deadline.

If the employer and staff member can establish a relationship where both parties understand what’s expected—and again are able to be candid with each other—both sides will have an easier path to achieving their goals and the company will have a better ability to retain its best talent.

Experts recommend doing stay interviews at least once a year opposite the employee performance review, and twice in the critical period during which your company experiences turnover of new hires.

Also, don’t space out the interviews—conduct all of them (with all your key employees) within weeks of each other. That way, you can take what you’ve learned and promptly build around that information. For new hires, conducting the interviews at four and eight months is acceptable.

The Questions to Ask

In an effective stay interview, managers ask standard, structured questions in a casual and conversational manner. Most stay interviews take less than half an hour.

To open the stay interview, a manager may use the following or similar statements:

  • “I would like to talk with you about the reasons you stay with our company so I understand what I might be able to do to make this a great place to work for you.”
  • “I’d like to have an informal talk with you to find out how the job is going so I can do my best to support you as your manager, particularly with issues within my control.”

The following are questions you may ask during a stay interview. You should have several open-ended questions on hand. It’s important to listen and gather ideas from the employee about how you and your company or organization can retain him or her.

  • What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?
  • What do you like most, or least, about working here?
  • What keeps you working here?
  • If you could change something about your job, what would that be?
  • What would make your job more satisfying?
  • How do you like to be recognized?
  • What talents are not being used in your current role?
  • What would you like to learn here?
  • What motivates you or makes you less motivated?
  • What can I do to best support you?
  • What can I do more of or less of as your manager?
  • What might tempt you to leave?

These are just some of the questions you can consider asking in a stay interview. Ask them, and you’ll be well on your way to improving engagement and retention.

Closing the Interview

To close the stay interview, summarize the key reasons the employee gave for staying or possibly leaving the company or organization, and work with the employee to develop a stay plan. Be sure to end the interview on a positive note.

Examples of closing statements include:

  • “Let me summarize what I heard you say about the reasons you stay at our company as well as the reasons you might leave. Then, let’s develop a plan to make this a place you prefer to work at.”
  • “I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me today. I am committed to doing what I can to make this a place you prefer to work at.”


Remember you’re taking a big step just by periodically asking your people if they’re happy. Many employees are excited simply by the fact the company or organization is concerned about their future—and their manager took the time to consult with them.

Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.

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