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What Is a Stay Interview?

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Posted by: David Garcia August 12, 2023

You’ve heard of an exit interview, you’ve probably either given or conducted one. But have you heard of a stay interview? 

Stay interviews are conversations conducted with current employees who aren’t on track to leave. They’re more formal than check-ins, less evaluative than performance assessments, and designed to benefit the employee just as much as the employer.

These types of interviews are enormously popular among employers because they’re so effective. If you want to boost retention rates among your workforce, learn why you might want to make the stay interview a cornerstone of your management practice.

Understanding Stay Interviews

Exit interviews are such a common step in most turnover processes that many employers don’t even question their value. Stay interviews shouldn’t necessarily replace exit interviews, as asking employees tough questions once they’re no longer bound to a job can be extraordinarily illuminating. But stay interviews are a far more versatile form, combining assessment with communications – all the while boosting retention.

The Harvard Business Review notes that exit interviews are a great strategy to employ when a workplace is experiencing high turnover. Gathering honest and impartial data from soon-to-be former employees can help you diagnose the problem. Once you have a diagnosis, you can start working on a cure.

But damage control should be your last resort. Stay interviews are a great strategy to maintain the health of your workforce so that you don’t experience periods of drastic turnaround. Gallup finds that the cost of replacing an employee ranges from one-half to two times their annual salary. Multiply that by two, three, even ten, and you’ve got an existential problem on your hands.

Sometimes the term “stay interview” is used to describe a kind of exit interview that turns into a last-ditch effort to keep a departing employee. But real stay interviews should be conducted long before employees ever consider moving on. HR professionals who conduct these conversations regularly deliberately seek out high-performing and high-satisfaction individuals. What you learn from them can benefit everyone in the company.

Stay interviews are also used to boost employee morale and improve retention rates. They can have a direct impact on retention rates because properly conducted stay interviews flatter employees, and make them feel valued, knowledgeable, and listened to. 

A 2021 study conducted by the Workforce Institute found that 86% of people do not feel heard as employees at their places of work. 34% reported that they’d rather quit or switch teams than actually speak honestly about their concerns with management, and conversely, 95% of employees with a high sense of belonging report feeling heard by management.

Stay interviews make employees feel heard and appreciated. Appreciation causes satisfaction, and satisfied employees don’t quit.

What Are the Benefits of Stay Interviews?

The primary reason employers conduct stay interviews is to reduce retention rates. These kinds of conversations help foster bonds between management and the workforce based on honesty, open communication, and mutual investment in success. 

But stay interviews have many other benefits as well. The five primary benefits include:

1. Improve Trust

Trust is the bedrock of any relationship – a friendship, a marriage, and even an employer/employee relationship. A 2021 study by Elements Global Services (via Forbes) showed that over half of U.S. workers don’t trust their bosses. The reasons for lack of trust range from fear of retaliation to lack of confidence to poor communication creating a bad impression.

There are many ways to build a good foundation of trust. Running background checks on potential employees verifies an initial degree of honesty that goes a long way toward creating a solid foundation. But stay interviews are important because they help maintain that level of trust after the glitter fades and the toll of real work sets in.

2. Reduce Turnover

Employee retention is more vital than ever in a time when workers are taking back their independence in the form of remote/hybrid work and the rise of freelance and contract labor. 

Stay interviews help reduce turnover because they allow management to identify problems before they get too big. Locate the source of employee discomfort and address it before you’re facing down a wave of two-weeks-notices.

3. Gather Information About Workplace Politics and Trends

These kinds of conversations will also give you a download on current workplace politics and trends – which managers don’t work well with which employees, which managers and employees don’t work well, and more.

Getting this intel will help you make smarter management decisions.

4. Boost Employee Engagement

Stay interviews are a huge driver of employee engagement. Engagement is vital because it shows that your employees have a vested stake in what’s happening at work. They aren’t merely there to clock in, drone on mechanically, clock out, and collect a paycheck. 

You want an active, enthusiastic workforce, so show them your active enthusiasm for them in the form of a stay interview.

5. Model Healthy Communication

If you want your employees to practice healthy communication, you have to model it for them. Not because you’re working off the assumption that they don’t know how to communicate, but because they need to see that they can speak openly to you without fear of retribution or being ignored.

How To Conduct A Stay Interview

Stick to the same set of steps and guidelines when conducting stay interviews. Standardizing the experience will ensure that all employees feel they’re being treated equally. Here are five things you must keep in mind.

Schedule Ahead and Stick to the Agreed Time

Respecting someone’s time is important. As management, if you flaunt the rules for everyone but yourself, your employees won’t respect you, and they’ll be liable to leave.

Scheduling the meeting ahead of time shows how important it is, and sticking to the agreed-upon time shows how important they are.

Establish Trust

Build trust in the interview by listening, refusing to get defensive, and welcoming the truth. Open communication and trust go a long way.

Listen More than You Speak

Employees have to listen to management speak all day, every day. Inviting them to do a stay interview allows them to speak and see you listen. It will make them feel valued and empowered. Managers should be interested in their employees’ ideas, and active listening shows that.

Don’t Watch the Clock

There’s nothing that will break a connection (and break trust) faster than catching someone checking the time while you’re talking. They might as well yawn in your face. Respect your employees’ voices and time by giving them your full attention.

Take Notes, but Pay Attention

It’s important to take notes during a stay interview because valuable information will be shared. But don’t get lost in note-taking, or it may come off as though the employee is being evaluated. Then they may give you the answers they think you want to hear, not the truth. The truth is what you want here.

Essential Stay Interview Questions to Ask

If you’re unsure how to have a performance conversation or stay interview with an employee, here are some helpful suggestions to start.

  1. What do you like most about working here? 
  2. As your manager, what am I doing that helps, and what am I doing that hinders?
  3. If you had an issue, would you feel comfortable bringing it to management? If not, how have you been discouraged from doing so?
  4. Do you feel heard when you speak, and do you feel valued for what you contribute?
  5. Have the expectations around your role been clearly communicated to you?
  6. What do you look forward to each day at work?
  7. Is there one aspect of company culture that inhibits your performance more than all the others?
  8. Does the company promote a fair and healthy work-life balance?
  9. Is there an appropriate amount of conversations like these happening – stay interviews, check-ins, and performance evaluations?
  10. Are you a visual thinker, an auditory thinker, or a text-based thinker?
  11. Within the past (quarter, year, since you started, etc.), what was a situation that challenged you, and how did you overcome it?
  12. What does a good day at work look like here?
  13. What worked at your previous place of employment that we don’t do here, but maybe should?
  14. Are you currently having any issues with your coworkers, subordinates, and/or superiors?
  15. What can we do to make your experience here better?

Stay interview questions should point more toward the employee being interviewed than the HR professional or manager conducting the interview. They’re about validating them, listening to them, and learning from them. Try and curb your impulse to cut in and explain if their observations sting your sense of accomplishment. If you want to feel truly proud of the company culture you’ve created, allow them to help you improve it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Questions Are Asked in a Stay Interview?

If you’ve been asked by management to give a stay interview, don’t worry. This isn’t a covert performance evaluation, and they aren’t going to sneak bad news in. Be yourself, be vulnerable, and be honest – the questions will ask about your feelings, not test your expertise.

What Is the Downside of Stay Interviews?

One potential downside of stay interviews is that they allow employees the chance to vocalize their generalized discontent. Often, that results in employees learning what needs to change and implementing those changes. Other times, it will wake them up to the fact that they need to move on. You have to take that risk.

Why Do We Need To Have Stay Interviews?

Stay interviews can help boost retention rates, which every employer should rank high on their list of important success metrics. How long you can keep an employee says a lot about your company culture and the true benefit of working for you. Stay interviews help you gauge that value.

What Do You Call a Stay Interview?

Most employers simply call them stay interviews. Some reserve that name for meetings called to convince employees to stay after they’ve indicated that they plan to leave. In that case, these meetings may be called morale meetings or simply check-ins. Remember to plan them in advance; your employees should be shown that their time matters to you as much as theirs should matter to them.

Final Thoughts

Stay interviews should become a cornerstone of your personnel management practices. Emails, polls, and group meetings aren’t conducive to honest and helpful answers. 

But stay interviews allow employees the chance to honestly and succinctly share their insights with management. With those insights, companies can grow to eliminate as many impediments as possible that stand in the way of their employees achieving. 

ScoutLogic can offer you a free, no-commitment, assessment of your current process to check for compliance, cost savings, and more. Get a free assessment today.

While stay interviews aren’t necessarily the time for verification, a human resources department’s commitment to integrity, honesty, and transparency is never done. Whether you’re fine-tuning your company’s policies, implementing new procedures, or somewhere in between, you can depend on ScoutLogic to help keep your team’s background verification simple and current. Contact us today to get started.

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