By John Bartley, Director – People and HR Services

In October 2021, TTC team member Jessica Stitz wrote an article about Employee retention during the Great Resignation. In it, in addition to providing 5 ways to retain employees, Jessica recommends conducting stay interviews as a step towards understanding what motivates and engages your employees.

Stay interviews are informal conversations that allow you to chat with employees about what they think about working for you while they’re working for you. The point is to learn how you might keep them before you’re doing an exit interview and they’re walking out the door.

52% of voluntarily exiting employees say that their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job.

According to Gallup, while you might assume employee turnover is inevitable, it’s not.  A stay interview can allow you to learn what might cause them to leave and change it before it’s too late.

One example in a recent article from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) quoted a 10% increase in retention over the last two years due, in part, to stay interviews.

Stay interviews are an excellent tool, it’s true! I’ve used them and found them beneficial, but I’ve also seen them backfire. If your organization doesn’t have the culture to support a stay interview, I might advise bringing in a third party or using a different tool.

In today’s blog post, I’ll dig into the stay interview and how to use these critical conversations to realize the best possible results.


First, let’s define what a “stay” interview is and isn’t

A stay interview IS:

  • A one-on-one conversation with your employee to understand their motivation and what keeps them working for you.
  • Focused on them and their satisfaction with their work. What brings them joy? What do they get excited about doing? What makes the day fly by because they’re so engaged?
  • A way to identify obstacles. What gets in the way? What slows them down? What would they change if they could? What tools or knowledge would make them more effective? What would make them leave?
  • Intended to help you to understand an employee’s career goals or next steps. What do they want to learn more about? What do they see as their next position? Who might be a good mentor to them?

A stay interview IS NOT:

  • A performance evaluation.
  • A review of current projects, priorities, or challenges.
  • An opportunity to complain about other employees or mediate employee conflict.


Next, the prerequisites

Without these prerequisite conditions, a stay interview will not strengthen your relationship with your employee. In fact, it might do more harm than good.

  • Trust
    If you don’t have a history of candid, meaningful conversations with your employees, a stay interview is going to come out of the blue. It may even scare your employee! If your relationship is not yet there, you might need an objective resource (such as an HR firm) to conduct these on your behalf.
  • Transparency
    You need to be clear with your employee about why you’re having this conversation: you want them to enjoy working for you, and ultimately, to stay! If you don’t typically operate with transparency and vulnerability, this may be a jarring shift in approach for your employee.
  • Ability to take difficult feedback
    You might receive some difficult feedback during the stay interview. In fact, the problem might even be something you’re doing. These revealing moments are gold, but if you squash them by being defensive, you may inadvertently shut down further valuable feedback.
  • Willingness to change
    Assuming you get valuable feedback and action items from your conversation, you’re going to have to do something about it. If you don’t, you jeopardize your relationship with your employee. They may even tell other employees, “Yeah I told them about it, but they didn’t do anything. It’s not worth it. They don’t listen.” If your employee tells you what they need and you don’t deliver (or at least close the loop on why you can’t deliver) then you might just be hastening their departure.
Wooden blocks with letters spell out the word retention

When should I conduct a stay interview?

With everyone so busy, there’s never a good time, is there? So I’ll tell you about some times to avoid.

  • Don’t do this during your typical performance evaluation cycle, because you don’t want to get these activities confused. Remember, this is not a performance conversation.
  • Avoid the busiest times for both you and your employee. This is a time to be contemplative together – if you’re both rushing back to the “real work,” then this conversation might get lost in the shuffle.
  • I wouldn’t be an HR person if I didn’t say this: don’t have a stay interview over Happy Hour. Actually, please don’t have any meaningful conversations with your employees during Happy Hour – trust me, it rarely ends well.

That said, don’t put it off. Find the time. Make it happen.


How do I have the conversation?

If you’ve never conducted a stay interview before, it might feel awkward. Think of it this way, though: you’re genuinely curious about your employee and what will keep them working for you. If you come from a place of interest, curiosity, and empathy, it’s hard to go wrong.

Be transparent, and introduce what you’re doing before you send the invite. Send them the questions in advance, so they have time to think and process. When you meet, you might want to start the conversation with something like:

“I set up this time with you because you’re a fantastic employee. I want you to be happy working here, and think of it as a place you can grow and develop. So today I want to have a conversation and ask you some questions to help me support that growth the best I can, does that sound ok to you?”

If this sounds too rigid or too formal to you, consider working a couple of stay interview questions into your regular one-on-ones. This also shows that your interest in their development is a year-round commitment.


The bottom line

Stay interviews are a useful engagement tool. But, let’s be honest, they can be time consuming. Maybe it hasn’t been your management style in the past. And what if you’re already struggling with turnover? At that point, it’s time to call in a third party.

Doing this can have multiple advantages. If there is already significant turnover, the likelihood of your employees being honest with you decreases for a variety of reasons. Additionally, the problem might be something you’re doing, and your employees might not be able to tell you that to your face.

Finally, a third party can recommend the appropriate approach for your situation, whether it’s one-on-one interviews, company-wide surveys, focus groups, or any combination of these excellent engagement tools.

And guess what? These are just some of the services Turning the Corner offers to our clients. We’re proud to have helped many companies and leaders reduce turnover, increase trust, psychological safety, develop flexible work policies, and build development programs. To set up a call with one of our HR experts, contact us today.

At Turning the Corner, we believe that meaningful work that we enjoy is one of life’s greatest rewards—it’s why we do what we do! Our mission is to end suffering in the workplace and empower businesses to thrive through various HR services and training opportunities.