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Conducting Stay Interviews: Tips and Best Practices

Date Published: April 14, 2022 | Last Updated: September 15, 2023 | By Linda Pophal

Many companies these days are concerned about their ability to attract and retain qualified workers. In fact, in an era marked by what many call the “Great Resignation,” organizations are worried their employees may choose to leave for another job—or leave the workforce altogether.

Employers don’t have to sit passively and wait for employees to give their notice before taking proactive steps to keep them on board.

Stay interviews are a critical tactic that organizations can implement to boost the odds that employees will remain engaged and to gather insights on changes they could make to policies, processes, and organizational culture to minimize turnover.

Stay Interviews: An Antidote to Exit Interviews

Exit interviews are commonly used to gather information from employees who have decided to leave the organization voluntarily. But why wait until they give notice to gather input? Stay interviews offer a proactive way to ensure employees understand how much they are valued and keep lines of communication open.

“Workers are also feeling more confident about the number of opportunities available and their ability to find another job—especially if they have in-demand skills,” says Paul Lewis, Chief Customer Officer with Adzuna. “Recognizing this trend, companies need to use these interviews as a useful engagement strategy to identify pain points before they become full-blown problems; this can greatly improve an organization’s work environment, helping to retain great employees.”

Stay interviews are nothing new, says Lewis. “But these interviews have become increasingly important and a best practice as the Great Resignation continues to spark questions around career progression, work-life balance, and long-term objectives with employees,” he says. Stay interviews allow employers to “proactively attempt to combat turnover by understanding these needs,” Lewis says. Stay interviews represent “the first step in giving employees validation of their importance to the business, as well as having them share how they’ve been feeling, what they are enjoying about the company, and what can be done to keep them from looking elsewhere if they’re on the fence about their future.”

Best Practices for Conducting Stay Interviews

While one reason for conducting stay interviews is to learn about aspects of an employee’s job or the company culture that may be leading to disengagement or dissatisfaction, it’s essential to not give the impression that you will automatically act on any of the input you receive. There may be good reasons why you can’t allow certain employees to work remotely or why your benefit structure is the way it is.

Provide training, coaching, or guidance for supervisors and managers to help them handle these conversations—and they should be considered conversations rather than formal “interviews”—effectively. Some key tips:

  • Ask open-ended questions.
  • Listen!
  • As necessary, ask clarifying questions, but don’t interrupt, prompt, or attempt to speak for the employee.

Another important consideration when adopting stay interviews is to conduct them consistently. Suppose you only do stay interviews with certain employees. In that case, it won’t be long before others begin wondering why their input hasn’t been sought—and, potentially, seeking new opportunities if they don’t feel valued.

Stay Interviews in Action

At marketing firm Dixon Schwabl + Company, Vice President of People and Development Britt Liu says: “We position stay interviews as informal conversations. We suggest offering to have a cup of coffee or lunch together.” Liu recommends allowing enough time to really listen, but not trying to “force the conversation into a five-minute timeframe.” At the same time, put a limit on how much time you want to spend to accomplish your goal. “We encourage follow-up on any issues raised and intentionality around fulfilling any commitments made to the employee in further follow-up conversations,” Liu says.

Liu says that the content of the conversion is not critical—“it’s the intent that counts.” At Dixon Schwabl, Liu says: “We suggest keeping questions open-ended, then opening our ears and our hearts to the feedback.”

Some of what you hear may be surprising—maybe even scary, Liu says. But, he stresses, it’s better to learn about any frustrations before employees think about leaving.

Even during the separations caused by remote and hybrid work, gathering this input remains important—maybe more so. Liu says that conversations have continued via video—with cameras on or off depending on employee preference. Managers are coached to be “intentionally present,” Liu says, “which means turning off their email, placing their phone out of reach, even showing one’s hands in the video window and making as much direct eye contact—or eye-to-camera contact—as possible. We encourage them to literally and philosophically lean into the conversation.”