Preparing for Stay Interviews

When employees leave, the exit interview can help you understand why. You may not be able to convince the departing employee to stay, but you may be able to make improvements that help you retain others.

In this article, we’re going to focus on another kind of employee interview — the stay interview. Like the exit interview, the stay interview solicits employee feedback; but instead of being conducted as an employee exits, it’s conducted before employees decide to leave. As the name implies, the stay interview asks employees why they stay.

Preparing for Stay Interviews

Stay interviews ask employees to assess what they like and dislike about working for their organization. But if employees fear reprisal, they may be hesitant to speak candidly. For stay interviews to be effective, employees need to know they can trust the interviewer specifically and their employer generally. And they need to know that their employer will listen to them and strive to make improvements based on what they learn.

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

Scheduling the Interviews

Most stay interviews take less than half an hour. Make sure you first ask the questions you most want answers to, as some employees may have long answers that lead to a fruitful, but possibly tangential, conversation.

How often you conduct these interviews will likely depend on how many employees you have, who you have conducting the interviews (individual managers or HR), and whether you have regular check-ins with employees.

If managers have regular one-on-one meetings with their employees, then conducting a stay interview once or twice a year should be sufficient. In fact, a great way to start every regular one-on-one meeting is to ask how things are going for the employee. If you’re regularly chatting with employees about these matters — say once or twice a month — a separate stay interview might not be necessary. However, having HR conduct a separate stay interview can be helpful in cases where employees are not comfortable discussing these matters with their manager.

Executing the Interviews

You may wish to open the interviews with a statement such as, “Thank you for meeting with me. I wanted to have an informal discussion about how your job is going, how you enjoy working here, and what we can do to support you. We value your feedback, and we want this to be a great place to work.”

Good leaders ask great questions that inspire others to dream more, think more, learn more, do more, and become more. -John Maxwell

Questions have power. When I look back at the progression of my life, I can see that questions have marked the way for my growth, prompted positive changes of direction, and led to many successes. Though many of us try to make ourselves look smart by giving clever answers, we would be much better off if we focused our attention on asking questions. If we ask good questions of the right people, we will have a wonderful return for our lives. Never forget: good questions inform; great questions transform!

Open-ended questions are best, as they can provide more actionable information. But it’s also important to limit your questioning to matters that are within your power to change.

The following are questions you may ask during a stay interview. You should have several open-ended questions on hand. It’s important to listen and gather ideas from the employee about how you and your organization can retain him or her.

Effective listening requires more than hearing the words transmitted. It demands that you find meaning and understanding in what is being said. After all, meaning are not in words but in people. -Herb Cohen

  • What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?
  • What do you like most or least about working here?
  • What keeps you working here?
  • If you could change something about your job, what would that be?
  • What would make your job more satisfying?
  • How do you like to be recognized?
  • What would you like to learn here? What motivates (or demotivates) you?
  • What can I do to best support you?
  • What can I do to add value to you?
  • What can I do more of or less of as your manager?
  • What might tempt you to leave?

Closing the Interviews

At the close of the stay interview, review the highlights of the discussion and let the employee know what to expect going forward. You might say something like “I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me today. I am committed to doing what I can to make this a great place for you to work.” “Let me summarize what I heard you say about the reasons you stay at [ABC Company] as well as reasons you might leave. Then, let’s develop a plan to make this a great place for you to work.”

Documenting the Interviews

To ensure that you and the employee are on the same page about what was discussed during the stay interview (or regular check-in), take notes about what was discussed and share them with the employee afterwards. Something like, “Here’s a recap of what we’ve discussed. If I missed anything or if you have any additional feedback, please let me know and I’ll be happy to add it to the list.”


If any changes are made because of the employee’s feedback, be sure to let the employee know in the recap. Also, let them know if any expected or desired changes couldn’t be made, and why (if appropriate). Transparency is key, particularly as you won’t be able to fix everything or please everyone. Employees may not like the way everything is done, but if you share with them the reasons the company behaves the way it does, they’ll be more likely to trust you and share their concerns in the future.



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Leyda Lazo, SHRM-SCP

Leyda Lazo, SHRM-SCP


Founder & CEO | Leadership Coach | HR Executive | Everything DiSC® Facilitator