What Is a Stay Interview? Everything Small Businesses Need to Know
This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
A stay interview is a discussion between an employer and employee about what makes the employee want to stay in their job or with the company and what might cause them to leave. Unlike traditional job interviews, stay interviews seek information from current employees (rather than potential employees) on overall job satisfaction and how they engage within the company and with their colleagues. When done correctly, stay interviews add significant value to your company’s employee management process.
How to Give a Stay Interview
A stay interview should be straightforward and informal—don’t overcomplicate it. Your goal is to get honest feedback from your team members and strengthen employee engagement by taking action based on what employees tell you. If they open up to you but don’t see results, that can have an adverse effect on engagement and, ultimately, increase turnover. Just as you would with a job interview, have a structured interview process to ensure you get the information you need.
Given the changing workplace dynamics brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors, companies must take proactive steps to ensure attrition rates stay low. As such, we consider stay interviews a valuable tool to improve employee retention for any business.
Step 1: Open the Stay Interview
You want to set a casual tone to put your employee at ease, making it more likely for you to get honest feedback. This isn’t a discussion about putting someone on a performance improvement plan, where you have difficult information to deliver. You should tell your employee that you are simply looking for feedback to strengthen employee engagement and determine why they want to stay with the company—or even what might make them leave.
Although some companies prefer their HR team conduct stay interviews, the best approach is to have direct supervisors handle them. Managers are more aware of what employees deal with day-to-day and better equipped to engage in transparent conversations with their team members. HR-led interviews, on the other hand, can make for a sterile conversation that never gets to the meat of a problem. It can be difficult for employees to discuss negatives with their direct supervisor, but these discussions can also cultivate a stronger relationship based on trust and open dialogue.
Step 2: Ask Open-ended Questions
Stay interviews shouldn’t take as long as traditional interviews—try to keep them to around 30 to 45 minutes—so don’t plan more than half a dozen questions. Here are some examples:
- If I were a friend asking you about your job and company, what would you tell me are the three best and worst things about working here?
- What are your thoughts on how employees are recognized? How can I better support you?
- What would make your daily work more satisfying?
- What causes you the most work-related stress, anxiety, or frustration?
- What would make you leave for another company?
Make sure you actively listen to the answers and ask follow-up questions. You’re unlikely to get extensive answers without some prodding, so you need to be alert and look for opportunities to dig deeper.
Step 3: Close the Stay Interview
Here’s where you show you were listening—summarize the key points made by the employee. Show that you heard what they said about the highlights and drawbacks of the company, and possibly even you. Also note that you will work with them to make improvements to the organization, giving them a better employee experience.
Above all, end the stay interview on a positive note. Thank the employee for their honesty and feedback. However, that can’t be just words; genuine action must follow.
Step 4: Follow Up
So many companies forget to take actionable steps after conducting stay interviews. According to a 2022 Achievers Solutions report, 52% of workers state they stay in a company that makes them feel supported. While you can’t please every employee all of the time, if your employees take the time to give you feedback and you do nothing with it, it will negatively affect your employee engagement.
When to Give a Stay Interview
To be effective, stay interviews need to occur after employees have been on the job for some time. Employees need to be settled in their roles, absorb the company culture, and feel comfortable in the environment. Otherwise, a stay interview will not have the desired effect. While regular check-ins are great for every employee, especially new hires, wait at least three months post-hire before doing a stay interview.
Companies often try to ask stay interview questions during a performance review, thinking that utilizing the time to cover multiple topics is efficient. Employees are in a different frame of mind during performance reviews, expecting to speak very little and not engage in an open discussion. You’re attempting to achieve different outcomes with each of these employee management tools, so don’t try to combine them into one—you won’t get the outcome you need from either.
It’s also a good idea to have a time gap between stay interviews and performance reviews. You want employees in a relaxed state of mind where they are more likely to share honest and potentially blunt information. So, if your company does annual performance reviews at the end of the year, do stay interviews in the spring or summer.
We also generally recommend having a set time of year for doing stay interviews so that you collect the information from your team at once and review their insights as a whole—you only want to take action after you’ve been able to spot trends in responses from multiple employees. However, you might consider conducting a one-time stay interview with an employee who is disengaged and whose manager has addressed this concern with the employee at least once. This will allow you to dig deeper into the employee’s concerns and determine how best to address them.
Why Companies Use Stay Interviews
Ultimately, the purpose of stay interviews is to reduce your turnover, which has never been more important (nearly half of workers are considering a job change). But even if you have low turnover, stay interviews allow you to effectively take action at the first sign of problems. Expect to gain insight into:
- Employee happiness
- Employee morale
- Job satisfaction
- Work–life balance concerns
- Management issues
- Raise and promotion concerns
- Professional development wishes
- Company culture changes
- Relationships with colleagues and managers
Did You Know?
According to engagement and retention consultancy C-Suite Analytics, stay interviews can help reduce turnover by 30% or more.
Stay interviews also give managers and employees the chance to build better relationships. When employees have these honest and transparent discussions with their manager, they’re usually discussing hard topics. When people feel comfortable enough with one another to have these conversations, rapport, trust, and companionship are built.
Additionally, stay interviews are generally more effective than employee surveys—too many employees rush through surveys, simply looking to finish and get back to work. With stay interviews, both employees and managers dedicate time to a full discussion. Investing this time leads to better conversations that can reveal unpleasant issues.
Do’s & Don’ts + a Final Tip
Keep the conversation informal
Let HR handle the stay interview
Actively listen and ask follow-up questions
Make it an interrogation
Come prepared with structured questions
Ignore employee concerns and fail to follow up on information you’ve learned
As we discussed earlier, to get actionable data, a structured stay interview is a must. But you can also have a consistent pulse on your organization through regular, informal, check-ins. Especially for remote workers, this helps managers understand their team members’ engagement and the issues they’re facing. These conversations can start with a simple “How are you?” that provides deeper insight on a regular basis. The importance of structured stay interviews cannot be understated, but neither can the importance of regular, brief check-ins and the information they can provide.
Need help hiring? Check out our guide on how to hire employees.
Stay interviews can increase your company’s retention rate. The key is to use the information you get from these discussions with your employees and take actionable steps to improve their experience. You can learn if your team is happy overall or if there are specific issues that need to be addressed. Take proactive steps and show them you hear them. Ultimately, this will improve your company’s retention rate, employee engagement, and productivity.