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5 questions for an effective stay interview – and why they really matter



As the labor market remains tight and the Great Resignation rages on, employers and HR have to be creative and strategic when it comes to retention.

Although most HR pros are well-versed in the exit interview, a “stay interview” – a structured discussion with each individual employee to learn the specific actions they must take to strengthen that employee’s engagement and retention within the organization – is a proactive tool leaders can use to stay on top of retention and improve the employee experience.

How companies are getting retention wrong

Stay interviews aren’t new but have become especially important in a post-pandemic world, as employers struggle to attract, engage and retain top talent.

“In these competitive times for talent, your employees can leave to get more of whatever they want … they can leave for anything. The only glue you have to keep them is that they don’t want to leave their day-to-day work environment, they don’t want to leave their colleagues and they don’t want to leave their boss,” said Richard Finnegan, stay interview expert and CEO at C-Suite Analytics, in his recent SHRMTalent talk.

So then why is retention so hard to maintain? Because many companies get retention all wrong, Finnegan suggests. Many take a “one size fits all” approach to retention, where the onus is on HR to improve retention through:

But retention isn’t an HR-only problem. In fact, retention has more to do with day-to-day interactions and processes, meaning that supervisors and leaders can significantly influence whether an employee stays or goes – and it all comes down to trust.

“Leaders drive retention by building one-on-one trust with each employee,” Finnegan says.  

To make a lasting positive impact on retention, it’s essential to move the responsibility from HR to operations, “where it’s always belonged,” according to Finnegan. HR can help shift the responsibility by coaching managers to conduct stay interviews in order to get more in touch with what employees need.

Boosting retention with stay interviews

A stay interview can uncover what’s working – and what’s not – and provide valuable insight into what employees really need. In addition to brining forward information that can be used in the here-and-now, they provide an individualized approach to retention, as well as help put managers in the solution seat.

However, stay interviews are only effective when they’re done right. Here are some best practices to conducting a stay interview:

Finnegan gives five essential stay interview questions that can help uncover what employers need to do in order to retain talent amidst an uncertain job market.

1.    When you come to work each day, what things do you look forward to?

“Our brains are built to be negative,” says Finnegan. Asking employees what they look forward to forces them to shift their mindset from negative to positive and can help bring their thinking into the here-and-now.

2.    What are you learning here?

“Helping people learn is not low-hanging fruit; it’s fruit on the ground,” Finnegan says. With more and more employees desiring opportunities for learning and development, focusing on learning and career development can help give managers insight into what an employee already knows and what they can improve on.

3.    Why do you stay here?

Many employees don’t have an immediate answer because it’s not thought about very often, but having an employee identify why they stay can help shine a light on the positive and give leaders insight into what they enjoy so they can be more engaged at work. “The goal is to get the employee to discover why they stay and announce it out loud so they hear themselves say why they stay,” says Finnegan.

4.    When was the last time you thought about leaving our team and what prompted it?

This can be a vulnerable question for employees, especially when talking to their supervisor, but can uncover what’s not working within the company and help leaders identify areas for improvement.

5.    What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?

This can help managers identify what they can do for employees to improve retention and engagement. In stay interviews, employees complain the most about work processes, Finnegan found, showing that many gripes that employees have are about day-to-day activities that could be simplified or streamlined.

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