Employee Stay Interviews: The Key to Retention?
It remains a job-seekers market, in spite of frequent headlines around layoffs. More than half of employees (53%) are actively looking for new job opportunities, according to a 2022 poll from WTW and 55% of senior managers said they’re open to job offers.
As employers fight to hold onto staff, there’s one tool they can take advantage of: the stay interview.
What Are Stay Interviews?
A stay interview is a conversation between a manager and an employee about the employee’s experience on the job. It typically covers what they like about their role as well as frustrations, pain points, perceptions and motivations.
Companies typically use stay interviews to better understand their staff’s wants and needs.
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What Is the Point of Stay Interviews?
The purpose of stay interviews is to empower leaders with the knowledge to keep employees motivated, engaged and content to stick around.
Susan Hanson, chief people officer at RainFocus, said stay interviews help managers and HR leaders gauge what benefits are working, while identifying room for improvement. "They can be a solution that allows leaders to be proactive in addressing concerns and create an information highway that fosters a culture of feedback," she said.
That culture of feedback — getting to the heart of what employees really want from their experiences and acting on that information — can be key to getting workers to stick around, something that’s critical in today’s labor market.
“Right now, companies are severely struggling to try to find enough candidates who are qualified to fill their roles,” said Cara Silletto, president and chief retention officer at Magnet Culture and author of “Staying Power: Why Your Employees Leave & How to Keep Them Longer.”
In the current market, Silletto said, employers are finally realizing how critical a focus on retention really is. “Because they know now that they cannot replace the people who walk away.”
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Stay Interview Questions to Ask
What questions are asked in a stay interview will depend on what you’re trying to find out about your employees. You might tailor questions to focus on what staff like about the company or their individual roles or to identify friction caused by technology or processes.
Some examples of stay interview questions include:
Tell Me About a Great Day at Work and What Made It Great
Silletto recommends asking this open-ended question, along with its inverse: Tell me about a frustrating day at work and what made it so frustrating.
“Typically, when you ask those two questions, you find out a lot about what’s really going on day-to-day, as well as personal preferences,” she said.
One person might love fighting fires all day and doing 18 things at once, Silletto said, while another person might prefer more repetition and less chaos in their work. Once you know these preferences, you can better tailor positions to fit your employees and their strengths.
What Would Tempt You to Leave the Company?
Even happy, engaged employees will leave a company for better offers. This question will help managers gauge the benefits employees seek both short- and long-term — and what will make them to stay.
The top five reasons employees leave a position for another, according to the WCW survey, include:
- Pay and bonus
- Health benefits
- Job security
- Flexible work arrangements
- Retirement benefits
What Is One Thing You Would Change in Your Role?
This question is critical to understand employees’ feelings and how they perceive their value within the organization, said Hanson.
For example, an employee might say they’d prefer more flexible work opportunities — such as the ability to work from home two days per week — or more paid time off. It’s then management’s responsibility to look through these desires and see which ones they can reasonably fulfill.
What Helps You Be the Best at Your Work?
Employee performance doesn’t always come down to focus or motivation. Sometimes, employees simply don’t have the information, tools or resources they need to get the job done. As such, Hanson recommends management ask this question.
Employees who’ve been on the job day after day know best what they need to hit their goals. For example, they might want a single resource for finding company policies and procedures. Or maybe they’d prefer a specific tool over one they currently use.
What Talents Are You not Currently Using in Your Role?
Most workers have skills beyond the ones utilized on-the-job. Employers can tap into those talents — and engage workers further — by asking this question.
For example, you may have a worker sitting behind a desk who loves socializing and interacting with people. You could create an action plan that allows them more customer-facing responsibilities. Or you could talk with that employee about a career progression path that zeroes in on their skillset and interest.
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How to Conduct Stay Interviews: Best Practices
The stay interview process isn’t the same at every company. Some may take a more formal approach than others or tap into stay interviews more often. However, there are a few best practices to follow.
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Start With Informal Check-Ins
“Don’t launch stay interviews out of the blue,” said Silletto, “because many managers haven’t built that rapport and trust with their staff.”
If you start the stay interview process without those things, she said, employees will immediately question the company’s motives. They might worry that if they tell the truth, they’ll get in trouble.
“We encourage managers to start asking those questions in a more informal setting,” Silletto said. These questions will tell staff that managers are listening and want to know how things are going. “You can eventually get to formal stay interviews that are scheduled with set questions, and then you’ll get more candor.”
Sit Down One-on-One
Once ready for formal stay interviews, managers should avoid drive-by check-ins with employees, said Silletto.
“What we mean by drive-bys,” she said, “ is when you see someone in the hall or on the floor, and you say, ‘Hey, how’s it going? Yeah, great. Alright, holler if you need me.’ That’s the entire conversation.”
She recommends a sit-down, one-on-one interview between management and employees instead — even for just 10 or 15 minutes. “It builds so much more trust and rapport between that manager and that employee. The employees feel heard, the employees feel more valued and listened to.”
Think About Generational Challenges
“Whether someone is just entering the workforce or if they are entering a different phase of their career, having a pulse on those areas that are relevant to a specific generation can be helpful,” said Hanson.
An entry-level employee, for example, may want more information on how to set up benefits or guidance on financial planning. They may also desire more feedback from management on their performance and output. More seasoned employees, on the other hand, might want access to courses on emerging technology or information on how to plan out the last five years before retirement.
Keeping these generational differences in mind will allow leadership to tap into more refined insights about individual employees.
Conduct Stay Interviews Regularly
Silletto recommends holding stay interviews every six to 12 months. That might include some sort of stay interview at 30, 60 and 90 days. Then another at the six- or nine-month mark, depending on the company’s level of turnover. And another at the 18-month mark.
Another tip from Silletto: “We recommend the interviews do not happen at the same time as performance reviews.” Instead, she said, companies should aim to hold stay interviews at the halfway mark between every performance review.
Take Action After Interviews
If you listen to your employees about their frustrations and pain points but fail to address anything, you’ll lose the trust you’ve built with your team. According to Silletto, asking for feedback and taking no action is worse than never asking for feedback.
She recommends management evaluate employee feedback and break down the data into three buckets:
- Easy-to-fix low-hanging fruit: Problems management didn’t know about that can be fixed quickly.
- Longer-term initiatives: Management is now aware of the problem and will need some time, investment or approval to fix it.
- Ain’t gonna happen: For whatever reason — budget, resources, capacity — the issue cannot be resolved.
It’s also crucial to communicate these improvement plans to employees: what the issue is and how you plan to resolve it. Or conversely, what the issue is and why you can’t resolve it.
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Stay Interviews: Part of Ongoing Employee Retention Efforts
“Individual needs change rapidly,” said Hanson. “As such, it’s critical that HR leaders are prepared to adjust their strategies to meet employee wants and needs accordingly.”
Stay interviews, when conducted regularly, allow companies to gather valuable employee feedback, identify these changes and pivot when necessary for the sake of employee retention and, ultimately, overall employee happiness.
About the Author
Michelle Hawley is a Pennsylvania-based senior editor and writer for CMSWire and Reworked. She's worked in digital marketing and journalism for 7+ years and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. In her free time, she likes to write fiction, play piano and hang out with her dog, Porky.