Illustration by Lara Borovcic-Kurir

Imagine a workplace with motivated and engaged people that talk honestly about how they feel about working for the company. Doesn’t that sound great? 

If you, like many others, are fed up with the merry-go-round of recruiting, sourcing and training new recruits, just for them to leave a short while later, there is a solution. A simple process that takes just 20 minutes and needs to be conducted only once or twice a year. Enter the stay interview.

A vital and cost efficient tool in any manager’s toolbox to keep employees happy, engaged and trusting in their employer. This simple, yet overlooked (let’s be honest, totally underused) strategy was pioneered by consultant and retention expert, Richard Finnegan. Having written a number of books around engagements and retention solutions, he urges managers to sit down and hold one-to-one conversations with their people on why exactly they are working for the company.

Here, we’ll break down how to conduct these meetings, along with the five simple, yet important questions that managers should ask. It really is as easy as that!

Illustration by Lara Borovcic-Kurir

What exactly is a stay interview?

A stay interview is a one-to-one informal conversation between a direct manager and each of their employees, on why they work for the company and ultimately why they stay. It consists of (but is not limited to) five key questions that help prompt the manager and employee to discuss essential issues. Held once or twice a year, for up to 30 minutes, stay interviews can help identify issues before they become a real problem.

Ideally these interviews should be held in person, but for remote workers, video interviews also work. The key takeaway here is that listening on both sides occurs, and by that we mean, listening with the intent to understand not just reply. By demonstrating that you’ve noted and understood your peer will help to build a compassionate working relationship.

The stay interview vs the exit interview

The key differences between the stay and exit interview.

Photo credit to AIHR

Why you need to implement stay interviews and what benefits you’ll see

The goal of any manager is to keep their employees for the long term. Making sure they’re happy, engaged and motivated along the way.  

And stay interviews are a great foundation for learning what really motivates your people. They're an ideal way to build trust with your employees and a great resource to have in your back pocket when internal promotion is required. Here are some of the key benefits you’ll expect to see.

Stay interviews;

✅ Bolster trust between employees and leaders, which increases job satisfaction, performance and retention.

✅ Can help identify issues before they become a really big problem. 

✅ Reduce the time and cost associated with recruiting - $4129 per employee.

✅ Let a company know its strengths and weaknesses showing exactly how and where to build upon. 

✅ Help boost loyalty for employees.

✅ Take the guesswork out of how people are feeling towards their work. Swapping assumptions with qualitative interviews is vital in keeping your people happy! 

✅ Are a proactive way to check in on your employees and will help to boost morale.

Illustration by Lara Borovcic-Kurir

How to conduct an effective stay interview 

With a simple 4 step process, you’ll be conducting quality stay interviews in no time. 

Step 1 - Communicate your intention

Notify your teams in advance that you’ll be holding stay interviews and let them know when. The intention needs to be set so that each and every employee understands that they’ll have an opportunity to voice their opinions on issues they can influence or control. 

Step 2 - Set a time limit and manage expectations

Schedule the timing for 30 minutes maximum, so staff are aware it’s not a long and tedious process. These aren’t performance reviews, rather a way to identify specific improvements that raise employees levels of engagement and retention.

Step 3 - Make them meaningful

Don’t send the questions in advance, this will only reduce the conversation and won’t bring about the desired results of spontaneous and open discussions between employee and management. A scripted opening by managers is advisable, especially if these are new to both parties. This will help point employees in the right direction and ease a nervous manager into the flow of conversation. Make sure to take notes so that you can form a stay plan and so that both sides can follow up on points raised.

Step 4 - Long-term goals

Make sure the company and leadership are committed to holding these conversations for the long-term, and that this isn’t a fad de jour (otherwise known as a one hit wonder!) If the organization fails to sustain these commitments, it will only erode the hard won trust and confidence that managers have started to build within their teams.

Key questions to ask in a stay interview

We‘ve established why and how you should conduct these interviews, but what questions should you ask? 

Finnegan states that you need to ask these 5 simple questions below, no more, no less. And the order you ask the questions in is also vital. From extensive research, Finnegan concluded that asking the questions in this order helps elicit trust and openness and helps to build  rapport between managers and employees. These questions are a springboard for an individual's stay plan, which we’ll discuss a little later on.

Question #1 - When you travel to work each day, what things do you look forward to?

Question #2 - What are you learning here?

Question #3 - Why do you stay here?

Question #4 - When was the last time you thought about leaving our team? What prompted it?

Question #5 - What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?

For question number 5 there are additional questions that can help guide the conversation such as;

  • What should I do more or less of? What do I do that frustrates you?
  • Is there anything I do that strikes you as particularly unfair or unreasonable?
  • Do you feel like I truly hear your concerns when you have them?

Moving forward with a stay plan…

As with any one-on-one discussion between a manager and their employees, there needs to be a follow up process, and this is exactly what a stay plan is. A short list of simple actions that both parties have committed to. These items need to be actioned within 30 days, so the employee feels that their comments have been listened to. There needs to be a level of accountability from both sides to make these a success, raising the level of trust and engagement from the employee.

The beauty of having a stay plan is that the employee feels valued and appreciated and will therefore accept more responsibility for staying. Having a manager conduct the full stay interview process, including; asking questions, actively listening and then creating an action plan off of this, builds a new form of connection between the two. If an employee has any issues in the future they’ll proactively approach their manager knowing they’ll be listened to, before they resort to planning their exit. 

Once a stay plan has been agreed upon and individual development plans outlined, keeping a pulse on how its going is vital. Anonymous employee engagement surveys are a great way to check in with people, they should be run alongside stay interviews. Make sure that you're asking the right questions to the right people though. As survey fatigue is real, and asking questions on issues that they don’t care about isn’t going to elicit the desired response, nor make you any the wiser on key issues.

Practice makes perfect when mastering the art of conducting stay interviews. What at first might feel uncomfortable will soon feel more natural as time progresses.

If you need help with boosting your employee retention strategy, get in touch with our friendly team.

Written by
Claire Stone
Content Specialist

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