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5 Essential Stay Interview Questions You Need to Ask Your Employees [+Checklist]

Stay interviews help HR predict turnover and shine a light on issues that they may not even know about within the organization.

Anna Coucke

by Anna Coucke - May 15th, 2023


Employee turnover is expensive – very expensive. Voluntary turnover costs companies an eye-popping $1 trillion every year, and the kicker is that 52% of exiting employees said their manager could have done something to prevent them from leaving their jobs.

It’s not just expensive, either – having employees leave voluntarily means losing institutional knowledge, high performers, and growth-focused mindsets. Organizations can rely on exit interviews to see where they went wrong, but there is another practice you can use to retain employees before it's too little, too late. Conducting stay interviews allows managers and companies to identify what your company does well to keep employees – and what practices may contribute to employees quiet quitting or eyeing the door.

What is a stay interview?

Stay interviews ask employees to assess what they like and dislike about working for their organization. These interviews help HR predict turnover and highlight issues they may not even know about within the organization, so employees are encouraged to speak sincerely about their experiences.

Since stay interviews dig a bit deeper into the employee’s experience than employee engagement surveys, it may be more effective for a manager or supervisor that the employee works with closely to conduct them rather than a member of HR. However, HR can provide guidelines and questions for conducting stay interviews throughout the organization.

Are stay interviews effective?

Organizations may first look to exit interviews as the best resource for feedback on what they are doing well and what shortcomings are present. However, stay interviews are more effective because they allow for awareness of issues before they lead to the loss of employees. In today’s competitive job market, taking a proactive approach to employee engagement and retention is absolutely critical.

Holding stay interviews is a retention tool in itself, as it shows that the organization cares about its employees’ thoughts and experiences. By allowing employees the space to speak, they are also more personal and conversational than merely conducting anonymous surveys. 

The 5 most important stay interview questions

While there is a wide range of questions you can focus on, here are five of the most essential questions you may ask during a stay interview. 

1. What do you look forward to when you start work each day? 

This question allows the employee to picture themselves starting their work day and which specific role elements excite them.

2. What keeps you working here? 

Similar to the previous question, this question makes the employee think about the broader aspects they enjoy about working for your organization, such as benefits, culture, growth opportunities, etc.

3. What do you like least about working here?

While the previous questions have the employee think about what they enjoy about working at your company, this question makes them consider what may not be working as well.

4. What would you like to learn here?

This question allows the employee to think about their personal growth and the avenues they want to explore at your organization.

5. What can I do to make your experience better?

If the interviewer is the employee’s direct manager, this question opens up the floor for the employee to list specific actions the manager can take to improve their experience.  

How do I conduct a stay interview?

While the questions in stay interviews can vary, there are a few key elements when conducting stay interviews that they should all follow.

Establishing trust

If employees fear reprisal, they may be hesitant to speak candidly. According to a 2021 Gartner survey, just 29% of employees trust their organization with data gathered through standard feedback processes. For stay interviews to be effective, employees need to know they can trust the interviewer specifically and their employer generally. They need to know that their employer will listen to them and strive to improve based on their learning.

Some of this trust-building will take time. Employees will probably become more open and expressive after you've interviewed them a few times, especially if they’ve seen changes in response to their feedback. However, when you first get started with these interviews, reassuring employees that the answers they give will not affect their performance reviews or result in any kind of retaliation is helpful.

Conducting the interview 

Stay interviews are meant to be a conversation that opens up discussion – so make sure they are done face-to-face (or via Zoom) and not via a survey that can be passively answered or ignored. Make sure to schedule them beforehand and allow enough time for discussion – around 30 minutes should be enough.

Closing the interview

Once you finish the interview, review the highlights of the discussion, and check to see if there is anything else the employee would like to add. Thank the employee for their time and let them know what to expect going forward.

Documenting the interview

Throughout the interview, be sure to document what you discuss. After the interview, share your notes directly with the employee. 

Follow up with the employee about any changes made due to their feedback. Also, be sure to inform them if the company can't make any expected or desired changes and why (if appropriate). Transparency is key, especially as you won’t be able to fix everything or please everyone. If you share with employees why the company behaves the way it does, they’ll be more likely to trust you and share their concerns in the future.

Final Thoughts

Employees know the ins and outs of your organization, and the resulting feedback they bring is vital to improving your organization, retaining good employees, and attracting new ones. 

While surveys can get a broad idea of employee sentiment, Incorporating personal stay interviews into your performance management process allows for an in-depth understanding of how employees feel about working for your organization – good and bad. 

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