Stay Interviews May Help Companies Reduce Turnover, HR Experts Say

Mar 14, 2023

The point isn’t asking employees to stay; it’s to discover what dissatisfactions they have that might lead them to leave their current job.

Everyone is familiar with “exit interviews,” but the fierce competition for talent is leading many companies to take a more proactive step: “stay interviews.”

As the name suggests, stay interviews are designed to give employees a chance to give feedback and insight into their experience at work so that companies can better meet their needs and concerns. The point isn’t asking employees to stay; it’s to discover what dissatisfactions they have that might lead them to leave their current job.

The concept is gaining more attention in the media, as large numbers of employees have left their jobs and employers are scrambling to find better strategies to attract and retain employees. Despite ongoing warnings of a recession, the labor market remains red-hot. A December report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found there were 11 million job openings in the U.S., even at a time when there is very high employment. The same report found that more than 4 million Americans quit their jobs in November of last year.

Writing the book on stay interviews

Perhaps the biggest proponent of stay interviews is Dick Finnegan, CEO of C-Suite Analytics, who has written several books on stay interviews as a management tool, including his first book, “The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement and Retention,” originally published in 2012.

In a 2021 interview, Finnegan noted that employee turnover isn’t about money, rather it is often about trust. “The number of employee quits has never been higher,” says Finnegan.

“The number one reason employees stay or leave, or engage or disengage, is how much they trust their boss. The good news is that it doesn’t cost you any money to fix this problem, but it does require you to choose and develop your supervisors in ways that can build that trust.”

Finnegan also advises that such interviews be conducted in person and individually, not in groups, and that they should focus on specific issues and improvements at work, rather than the performance of the individual. “Leaders should also emphasize that the focus will be on things they can influence or control versus issues that relate to broader company policies, but that they will listen to all concerns,” Finnegan says.

Framing the questions

Finnegan defines stay interviews as a structured discussion that a supervisor conducts with individual employees to understand what specific actions the manager should take to strengthen that employee’s engagement and retention with the organization.

There are multiple online sites that suggest questions for stay interviews, but Finnegan’s C-Suite Analytics site features five main questions:

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

2. What are you learning here?

3. Why do you stay here?

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

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

A blog at the website cautions that close-ended questions, such as “Are you happy working here?” or “Do you make enough money?” are problematic and should be avoided. Instead, questions should help employees understand the company recognizes and appreciates their loyalty, cares about them as people, and is open to making changes.

HR experts also caution that companies should not just make a show of holding the interviews — they must be willing to act on what they learn. “The key is to use the information you collect from stay interviews,” says Kate Heinz in an article for Built In. “Failing to act on what your employees have to say will make you appear disingenuous and cheapen the value of stay interviews. Your team members took the time to share their honest feedback, and it’s your responsibility to try to make improvements.”

By Scott Wooldridge