What Is a Stay Interview?

Definition & Examples of a Stay Interview

A business woman is conducting a stay interview with an employee.
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A stay interview is an interview between a manager and an employee that's designed to learn what keeps employees working for an organization and what aspects need improvement.

Learn more about stay interviews and how they work.

What Is a Stay Interview?

Exit interviews are relatively common. While they can glean essential information, they also come too late to retain valuable employees.

A stay interview is preferable because you ask current employees why they continue to work for your organization. At the exit interview, it’s too late to identify and solve the problems for the exiting employee.

The results of a stay interview give you knowledge about what the organization can improve now and how you can retain your remaining, valued employees. You also learn what your organization or department is doing well when employees identify what they like about their current position.

How a Stay Interview Works

The stay interview is an opportunity to build trust with employees and to assess the degree of employee satisfaction and engagement that exists in an organization. Stay interviews are preferable to employee satisfaction surveys because they provide a two-way conversation and a chance to ask questions and follow up on ideas. They also deal with current employee happiness or concerns, not with how they felt last month or over the past quarter or year.

If you decide to conduct stay interviews with your employees, approach the process carefully. If your organization has a culture that encourages open communication and employee involvement, these interviews are useful for identifying areas that need improvement.

If your organization lacks trust and open communication, stay interviews may not provide meaningful information. Staff turnover, attendance, total sales, and profitability tell you whether your organization is positioned to hold stay interviews. If you're uncertain, anonymous employee satisfaction surveys may be the way to go first.

If your organization’s climate lacks trust, you'll need to rebuild that trust before you can conduct meaningful stay interviews.

Stay interviews should be at least twice with new hires during their first three to six months. Established employees should have a stay interview at least once per year opposite their annual review.

Commit to Positive Changes

If your organization decides to conduct stay interviews, you must commit to making positive changes. Otherwise, it's an exercise in frustration for the employees. When you make changes, inform employees these resulted from their suggestions and responses in stay interviews.

In most cases, the employee's direct manager should conduct stay interviews to develop open communication. The manager is the person who can most readily make an impact on the employee's daily working conditions. Human resources staff can help with difficult interviews.

Ask Meaningful Questions

Start your stay interview with positive, easy-to-answer questions such as "What do you look forward to every day at work?" As the interview progresses and the ice is broken, ask tougher questions such as:

  • What keeps you working here?
  • How do you like to be recognized?
  • How could we support you better?
  • What would make your job more satisfying?
  • Do you feel fully utilized in your current role?

A stay interview should take 30 minutes to an hour. Jot notes as needed during the meeting, but the focus should be on the conversation.

Over time, you'll find the stay interview questions that yield the most useful information.

Implement Positive Changes

If your organization decides to embark on stay interviews, managers should discuss the results, look for patterns across the organization, and share ideas gleaned from the employees.

Debriefing allows the organization to determine what needs to happen in individual departments and what's better addressed on a company-wide basis.

Be careful not to trivialize how employees perceive a department or organization. You may disagree with the views expressed, but they are real to the employees participating in the stay interviews.

Explaining away the responses, making excuses, or becoming defensive will derail your quest to understand employee satisfaction. After all, the goal is to create an organization that retains its best. As employees see their organization respond to their concerns and needs, the stay interview process will positively impact employee morale.

Key Takeaways

  • Stay interviews are designed to learn what keeps employees working for an organization and what aspects need improvement.
  • Stay interviews are preferable to exit interviews because you gain insight into how to retain employees while they're still employed. 
  • Stay interviews build trust as long as meaningful changes are implemented. They can also improve employee morale.