Keeping Your Best & Brightest:
Stay Interviews Guide

Most people have heard about Exit Interviews—a way to gather feedback from employees who are leaving the organization—but what about Stay Interviews? According to research, only 29% of employees report having a Stay Interview at their current organization even though they have been found to have a positive impact on retention. 

Stay Interviews allow companies to gather feedback from their current employees on what makes them want to stay at the organization, what processes or elements could be improved, and what could make them consider leaving.  

Many have called Stay Interviews the antidote to Exit Interviews because they give you the chance to address employee pain points before they escalate and intervene before someone makes the choice to leave the organization.

What is a Stay Interview?

While exit interviews gain attention for gathering feedback on the reasons why employees leave, stay interviews provide a proactive approach to understanding what your staff values most so that they stay at your organization. By soliciting feedback from this group of employees, you can gain insights into what parts of their job they enjoy, what they would suggest changing, and uncover leading indicators of issues that may cause employees to leave. Stay Interviews serve a different purpose than Onboarding and Exit Interviews. Stay Interviews are intended for those employees that have been at the company for a while, have experienced the culture, and are not on the way out the door. 

Stay interviews offer a structured and confidential outlet for employees to express their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions for the organization.

What Makes People Want to Stay?

Why do people decide to stay in a job? There are as many answers as there are workers! It’s different for everyone, but you can oftentimes identify patterns and overlap. The first step is simply taking the time to ask them. Your people want to be heard and stay interviews allow them to have a voice and help you to make informed decisions. The first step in a more engaged and productive workforce is to understand why your team members come to work in the first place. 

Some individuals are motivated by career development and others by salary or benefits while some thrive on flexibility. You won’t know where your employees fall unless you ask. One sure way to retain your talent is to ask them directly what they like about their job. Conversely, you can also ask what they dislike about it. Knowledge is power here, and the more you garner, the better you can make decisions that will truly make a difference in your organization. 

Approaches to Stay Interviews

Traditional One-on-One Interviews

One of the most traditional approaches to conducting stay interviews is to have managers meet one-on-one with their employees and ask them questions. Managers are a go-to option because they should already be having regular check-ins with their people, building relationships, and encouraging open dialogue about what’s working and what’s not. Managers can add stay questions into their regular check-ins, but it is important to keep performance evaluations and discussions separate. In this format, the quality of the data is dependent on the manager listening and accurately recording feedback while refraining from influencing or dominating the conversation.  Some challenges associated with this format: 
  • Manager’s time and availability can be a constraint 
  • Inconsistency of questions being asked 
  • Managers not refraining from judgment or bias during interviews 
  • Employee not feeling safe enough to speak candidly

HR Leader conducting one-on-one interviews

A similar alternative to manager-conducted stay interviews is having an HR leader conduct them instead. Many in HR can serve as a confidential feedback loop between the manager and/or organization and the employee. This can help HR build relationships and learn how to better support employee needs and organizational development needs. While this approach can save managers time, there will still be time constraints around scheduling and conducting these interviews. There will always be a challenge of objectivity with internal interviewers, and employees may still feel uncomfortable sharing open and honest feedback. 

Stay Surveys

Incorporating stay surveys can provide organizations with greater benefits over the one-on-one approach. The confidential nature of stay surveys provides your people with an additional layer of safety. It provides time to process their thoughts and feelings, without worrying about how a person might react. This approach ensures the right questions are consistently asked across all employees. Feedback is collected quickly with little impact on internal time and resources. Additionally, leveraging multiple communication channels can help you gather more feedback with email, SMS, and phone options.  Feedback collected consistently in one system provides a holistic view of your people, while allowing managers and HR to assess the risk of attrition and understand individual barriers to success. A challenge to surveys is that they don’t provide a human connection. If managers don’t follow up on feedback provided, surveys won’t be as effective and can create distrust among employees. 

Third-Party Interviews

A happy medium between in-house interviews and stay surveys is third-party live phone interviews. This format provides a human touch and removes the risk of bias and judgment from the interviewer. Employees can be more willing to share their feelings and experiences without fear of internal reactions or retaliation. This approach can help people feel safe to speak openly and candidly. Professional interviewers are trained to dig deep and ask follow-up questions without judgment or asking leading questions. This leads to more rich and accurate responses from your workforce. External interviews save valuable time and resources by taking the responsibility off the shoulders of managers or HR leaders.

The Benefits of Stay Interviews

Employees want to do great work, and they want to feel valued for their contributions, but companies are often out of touch with what individual employees need. The resulting frustration can build up over time, leading to unnecessary turnover. That’s where stay interviews can be incredibly powerful tools. They not only tap into the issues and opportunities affecting the workforce, but also provide opportunities to take action and improve the current environment. There are generally four main reasons that companies conduct stay interviews.

1. To Support Employee Segments

The first reason to do stay interviews is to target employee populations that are historically difficult to recruit or retain. The value in using stay interviews to support these high-value employee segments is in identifying friction points before someone resigns. For example, in a hospital setting it may be difficult to recruit RNs so stay interviews could be used among this specific population to get a better understanding of what they enjoy about their work. 

2. To Uncover the Tipping Point

The second reason for stay interviews is to discover the tipping points that could lead to employee turnover. Those tipping points can come in many forms, including employees feeling undervalued, devoid of adequate support, or questioning compensation. You want to identify these yellow flags and adjust before they turn into red flags for your workforce. 

3. To Gain a Well-rounded View

Thirdly, organizations use stay interviews to supplement exit surveys with current employee feedback. This provides an interesting intersection of two key data points—why did they leave and why did they stay—providing a more well-rounded picture of how people are actually feeling. 

4. To Show Employees You Care

Finally, organizations utilize stay interviews to show employees that they care and want them to stay. While this isn’t the primary reason you would conduct a stay interview, it’s still highly relevant to this conversation. People want to know that their company and leaders care about them and value their input.  

Stay Interviews vs Engagement Surveys

What is the difference between a stay interview and an engagement survey? When should you use one instead of the other? 

Stay interviews and engagement surveys have similarities. They are both feedback tools that can be used to learn more about how current employees are feeling about their workplace, but they serve distinct purposes.  

The main goal of an engagement survey is to capture the overall engagement level of your organization and identify what factors are driving engagement. Typically, engagement surveys are deployed annually to the entire workforce and ask a variety of questions aimed at understanding work experience and measuring employee engagement. 

On the other hand, the goal of stay interviews is to understand individual employee’s intention to stay and what factors are having the greatest impact on that. Unlike engagement surveys, stay interviews are not typically administered to the entire population at once and instead are used strategically among specific segments, high turnover positions or at-risk groups. Additionally, stay interviews are more qualitative in nature. Whether you are doing one-on-one interviews or using surveys, they often have fewer questions than an engagement survey and consist of a higher percentage of open-ended questions to gather detailed feedback on specific areas of their work.  

Both stay interviews and engagement surveys are valuable pieces that should be a part of your employee listening toolkit and can be used in conjunction.  

Practical Use Cases for Stay Interviews

When is the right time or scenario to deploy a stay interview? There are many great opportunities to ask your employees for feedback throughout their time with your organization. You don’t want to wait until it’s too late to try. A few examples include: 

  • Tenure milestones 
  • Times of high turnover 
  • Signals from exit interview insights 
  • Hard-to-Fill positions 

Times of High Turnover Rates

The example above illustrates the use of a tenure milestone coupled with a time of high turnover. High turnover rates can be an indicator that a stay interview is needed to get more information on what could be causing employees to leave. To leverage this, look for times when the most turnover occurs and strategically place a stay interview before it. Asking stay questions before employees make the decision to leave will give insight into what specific factors are contributing to them staying at the organization. 

Tenure Milestones

Employee milestones can be a good indicator of when it is time to run a stay interview. Employment anniversaries are a great trigger or reminder that it is time for that individual to participate in a stay interview or fill out a survey. Depending on how often you want to ask stay questions, you could deploy annually on their anniversary date.  Additional tenure milestones could include when an employee moves into a new position within the organization, takes on additional responsibilities, or if there is a significant change in their role. These could all be integral times to check in and note any changes in their stay attitudes.  A practical example of a tenure-based stay interview is within a company that offers signing bonuses.  Say the bonus was paid out incrementally, with the last installment being after 24 months. If they notice that the biggest spikes in turnover are happening when employees reach their 26th month, they could conduct stay interviews at 22 months. This way, they have a chance to understand what is going on and how they can adjust to get ahead of the turnover. 

Signals from Exit Interview Feedback

Exit Interviews can provide real insight into potential risk areas that you want to get ahead of before more people leave.  Monitor exit feedback regularly to look for anomalies, significant changes in the data, or a decrease in favorability across groups. This can provide a signal to gather stay feedback from others impacted who haven’t left yet. While it is important to know what is not working, it is equally important to learn what is working to nurture those initiatives and replicate them in other areas. 

Hard-to-Fill Positions

No matter what industry, it can be hard to fill certain positions either due to the type of work, skills needed, or high market demand. Stay interviews can be used to ask current employees in those roles for their thoughts on how to improve the position or what they enjoy most about it. Learning first-hand from employees and giving them a voice to share their experiences is a win-win situation. These insights can then be used to help attract new employees and keep the current ones engaged.  

Get started with Stay Interviews

Best Practices for Successful Stay Interviews

1. Develop a Strategy

An important piece for successful stay interviews is to lay out a strategic plan. First, you can start by understanding what information you want to glean. Identifying your goal and purpose for collecting stay feedback will help you lay out a well-defined strategy. Your plan should outline who your target audience is, how often you will ask for their feedback, and what the delivery method will be. For example, your target audience could be all employees who have been with the company for more than 1 year. Next you could decide that you will ask for feedback in Q1 and Q3 of each year, and you will use online surveys sent out via email as your delivery method

2. Consider Confidential Methods

When selecting the method for collecting feedback, consider that employees will only candidly share how they feel about work if they believe it is a safe and confidential environment. It is important to assure them there will be no chance of retaliation against them. A confidential online stay survey allows employees time to process their answers in their own space and at their own pace.

3. Take Action on Opportunity Areas

Stay interviews will not be effective if you don’t act on the feedback you get. Once feedback is gathered, the next phase of the process is crucial. Leadership should schedule one-on-one discussions with managers to further understand, learn, and address concerns mentioned in the survey feedback. This process provides an opportunity to build and strengthen the relationship between the organization and all employees, driving the positive changes they collectively seek.

Five Must-Have Questions in Your Stay Surveys

Making employees feel seen, heard, and valued can be summed up in simple questions that focus on how employees feel about the work they do every day and what you can do to make sure they are thriving. Whether it is through a survey or a one-on-one conversation, here are five stay interview questions you should be asking your people on a regular basis: 

  1. What do you look forward to at work?
  2. Do you like the type of work that you do? Why or why not?
  3. Do you feel valued as an employee?
  4. What would you change about the company and the culture if you could?
  5. What are some deal breakers for you that would make you consider leaving this job?

If you really want to get well-rounded data on how your people are feeling, also ask them to rank workplace factors by how much they motivate them to stay. For example, you could give them a list of the following factors and ask them to rank them in order of importance or on a scale of impact:

  • Coworkers
  • Manager
  • Pay/Compensation
  • Work/life Balance
  • Learning & Development Opportunities
  • Schedule & Flexibility

Nurturing Retention in Your Workforce

Ultimately, stay interviews come down to one word: retention. Retention is defined as how to keep the employees you already have. Higher levels of retention can be enhanced by simply listening to and understanding your people. 

As Josh Bersin recently noted “Employees are not labor or ‘tools’ to be used. They are the core, lifeblood, and source of all value in your company. If you treat them as tools, they break, leave, or hold your organization back.”  

Chris Coberly, CEO of People Element, says developing efficient employee listening processes and acting on the data collected is critical to retaining employees. He has seen countless organizations make meaningful changes for their teams by prioritizing employee feedback. Listen as he chats with ProjectHR about the art of stay interviews and exactly why you want to know before they go. 

Many organizations are struggling to keep talent from leaving, yet few take the time to talk to their employees and discover what factors make them want to stay. By getting to the heart of what motivates current employees to stay in their job and what might trigger them to leave, organizations proactively nurture retention which can cascade into a host of additional benefits. 

People Element’s stay interviews provide a proven, easy-to-use solution for both conducting these interviews and accessing resulting data for better informed decision-making. Learn more and request a demo today.  

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