Skip to Main Content
Filter By +
Topic +

How to Retain Top Talent With Stay Interviews

Most companies conduct exit interviews when employees resign. For good reason, too: The practice can help HR identify and address specific causes of turnover.

But as Abe Breuer, CEO of VIP To Go, told Forbes, “an exit interview allows you to learn from your mistakes,” while “a stay interview allows you to avoid repeated issues.”

Exit interviews are still useful, but they only let HR patch a leak after the proverbial ship takes on water. Stay interviews, however, give businesses a chance to quell problems before they sink retention. An overwhelming 91% of businesses that hold them enjoy higher retention, according to a Pollfish survey commissioned by Paycom.

Even with their widespread use, not every stay interview is as effective as it could be. After all, a single conversation could touch on:

  • benefits
  • development
  • advancement
  • leadership
  • technology
  • workplace policy
  • and more

Whether you’re preparing to introduce stay interviews or tweak a preexisting process, it’s important to understand their purpose. Let’s consider what stay interviews are, why they’re useful and how to ensure they hit the mark with your workforce.

What is a stay interview?

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines a stay interview as “an interview conducted with an employee to learn why the employee continues to work for the employer and what could trigger the employee to consider leaving.”

Often, managers, directors and other supervisors in the same reporting chain will conduct a stay interview. In some instances, HR may conduct them. For example, if employees have concerns about a specific manager, it could be easier for them to speak candidly with a representative outside their department.

What is the difference between stay interviews and exit interviews?

Again, exit interviews occur after an employee decides to quit. While you might catch an employee at their most candid during these meetings, they may not yield anything actionable.

Stay interviews, on the other hand, aren’t spurred by a resignation notice. They can occur anytime during an employee’s tenure, though they might not be ideal for your newest hires.

In addition to identifying problems, stay interviews help employers focus on what keeps people engaged, motivated and satisfied. If employee surveys already help collect feedback, consider stay interviews the next logical step.

What are the benefits of stay interviews?

It’s a given stay interviews help businesses uncover what employees want. But the advantages run even deeper. Consider these five benefits as you plan and deploy your stay interview strategy.

1. Insight into employees

It’s hard to address employees’ concerns if you don’t know what they are. When held in a way that helps people feel comfortable sharing their perspective, stay interviews give employers a glimpse into the reality of their workplaces.

Stay interviews can yield some uncomfortable truths, but many companies find the conversations indispensable in getting the upper hand on turnover. In fact, 63% of organizations that held stay interviews reported a better understanding of why employees stay and quit, according to Pollfish.

Beyond attrition, stay interviews help employers learn about:

  • tools, technology and other resources employees use or want
  • employees’ expectations around their development and advancement
  • satisfaction with pay and benefits
  • effective — and ineffective — management styles
  • the state of communication and collaboration in the company

2. Increased retention

Stay interviews can help companies spot forces behind turnover before they deter employees. But the practice isn’t just for unearthing the toxic and negative. As the name implies, these interviews help employers learn why people stay.

Speaking with a senior employee, for example, could help you recreate the portions of their experience that allowed them to thrive. Less established talent might cue managers in on development opportunities that inspire talent.

Regardless of industry, most companies have something to gain from stay interviews. After all, Pollfish found 90% of organizations conduct stay interviews.

3. Cost efficiency

Replacing employees isn’t easy or cheap. According to SHRM, the average new hire costs $4,683. By helping businesses keep employees, stay interviews reduce costs associated with:

  • recruiting
  • onboarding
  • training

4. Engagement and trust

Stay interviews aren’t just beneficial for employers. Regular communication and requests for feedback let employees feel heard. When people know their position is valued and their opinion matters, it’s easier for them to align their personal goals with the organization’s.

Even if employees are perfectly comfortable, stay interviews let them know they’ll have a chance to share their perspective as they see fit. Pollfish discovered 67% of companies increased engagement and 64% improved trust with stay interviews.

5. Boosted employer brand

Engaged and empowered employees are a company’s greatest advocates. People who enjoy their experiences — even with work — tend to share them. And when a business prioritizes the feedback of its workforce, word gets around.

Plus, prioritizing feedback creates a culture of transparent communication. Top job candidates take note of this as they vet potential workplaces. If your stay interviews lead to positive changes, some high-value applicants may even inquire with your company directly.

Who should receive a stay interview?

Every employee should have a chance to participate in stay interviews. But depending on your goal, specific workers can be better suited for the discussions.

For instance, an employee who requests a stay interview should get one, even if they’re newer or not a top performer. Their move could signal a willingness to talk about a specific problem, and disregarding the request could aggravate the issue before HR has a chance to address it.

Similarly, you should consider employees who express dissatisfaction through an engagement survey or another forum. If you conduct exit interviews (and you definitely should), any employee who’s identified by a resignee as at risk is prime for a stay interview.

You should also pay attention to engagement relative to performance. A historically top performer should be considered for a stay interview if they suddenly exhibit low:

  • attendance
  • work quality
  • productivity

If you’re trying stay interviews for the first time, lean on employees who represent a wide spectrum of your workforce. This could help you prepare for a higher volume of conversations down the road.

What are some best practices for stay interviews?

Remember, stay interviews are versatile. They’re multifaceted and multipurpose. The exact structure of these conversations will shift based on what’s best for employees.

Even so, some best practices for stay interviews are universal. Keep these four best practices in mind.

1. Set clear objectives

Stay interviews aren’t useful without purpose. Before diving into any conversation, ensure it has a clear objective that’s been shared with everyone participating.

Employees should know exactly why they’re taking part and how their feedback will be used. Communicate with your workforce about stay interviews well in advance to excite and prepare them. You should also give people time to ask questions about the process, especially if they’re unfamiliar with stay interviews.

2. Use a structured approach

When it comes to stay interviews, don’t fire from the hip. Create a list of questions that cover broad topics like:

  • job satisfaction
  • career aspirations
  • work-life balance
  • development opportunities

You could also dial in on specific topics, such as a workplace issue or an upcoming training seminar.

To help bolster conversations about performance and job expectations, consider using a performance management tool. It allows employers to set and track employee goals while providing real-time feedback. Meanwhile, it lets HR focus less on data reentry and more on enhancing employees’ work lives.

3. Encourage open and honest communication

If employees feel threatened during a stay interview, it sabotages the entire conversation. They need a safe environment where they feel comfortable sharing their ideas, concerns and perspective.

Here, a powerful survey tool is especially useful. It can help you gauge interest around stay interviews and even capture anonymous feedback that you may not receive in a face-to-face setting.

4. Take action

Stay interviews aren’t useful without action. Follow through with a plan of action, even if any steps you take won’t be immediate. If you’ve made a specific commitment to an employee, make sure they know how to track it. HR tech is ideal for this, but even something as simple as a post-meeting email can give the meeting more significance in an employee’s eyes.

If a worker’s willing to be vulnerable about their experience, the least they could expect from their organization is accountability. And if you encounter a consistent issue — such as a lack of understanding around something in the workplace — learning management software helps clear the air.

This tech lets you create and deploy short video content and track comprehension with performance evidence tools. For more in-depth training, the best options will feature a built-in training library complete with courses on:

  • compliance
  • work culture
  • specific job duties
  • diversity, equity and inclusion
  • and more

What are effective stay interview questions?

The right questions make or break stay interviews. With a lot of ground to cover, you need to determine questions that truly speak to employees, yield useful information and push you closer to an overarching goal. You could ask:

  • What are you most excited about at work?
  • How would you describe the impact of your job?
  • What limits and encourages your growth here?
  • Are you interested in any other part of the business?
  • What do you consider the purpose of your work?

Read our guide, Why Employees Quit (and 7 Steps to Retain Them), for a more extensive list of possible stay interview questions.

And explore Paycom to learn how the single software helps you communicate with employees and foster a workplace where they want to stay.


DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.