Stay Interviews 101: A Simple Way to Retain Exceptional Talent

Drew Whitehurst | June 21, 2024

There’s no denying it: losing an employee is expensive. In fact, it’ll cost you up to twice that person’s salary to say goodbye to an established team member.

Between the loss in productivity while a role is left open, finding a new candidate, and bringing that person up to speed, replacing lost talent is a time-intensive, exhausting, and expensive process.

Additionally, a competitive talent market makes the risks even higher—and makes it even trickier to source and hire new employees who are qualified, skilled, and ready to get up to speed.

Modern HR teams have all kinds of creative ways to improve retention, spanning the full recruitment lifecycle from screening to more onboarding and, of course, regular reevaluation of benefits.

But tracking turnover, strategizing on recruiting processes, and finetuning perks aren’t enough on their own. To make a real impact on your organization’s retention rates, getting real-time feedback from your star players is essential. After all, how will you know what to improve without insights from the folks you’re trying to keep?

Workplace surveys on employee sentiment are a great option for keeping a pulse on these issues. But stay interviews are another, potentially even more insightful, option.


What is a Stay Interview?

A stay interview is an intentional conversation between a manager or HR professional and an employee, in which they discuss what keeps the employee interested in staying with the company. The employee should also be invited to offer their perspective on how the company can improve its culture or operations to make it more likely that other team members will want to stick around, too.

Where an exit interview provides a forum for a member of your organization and a departing employee to discuss what motivated that person to seek a new opportunity elsewhere, a stay conversation is your chance to get ahead of employee departures. You want to use stay interviews to learn what you’re doing well enough to keep employees happy, and where you need to improve—before people start submitting their two weeks’ notice.

These conversations are helpful in several ways, revealing insights such as:

  • Employee sentiment around your current perks, benefits, and culture
  • Employees’ sense of commitment to your organization
  • What unique benefits your company can offer to new hires
  • Where department cultures may be straying away from your core values
  • Why some areas of your organization have higher retention rates than others
  • Employees’ sentiments around the employer brands of your competitors
  • Which employees are engaged, happy, and available to help with culture initiatives, referral programs, and other HR exercises

Overall, you want these conversations to offer an open floor for honesty and actionable feedback from your top performers.


How to Conduct Stay Interviews

The playbook for conducting stay interviews—sometimes referred to as retention interviews—is pretty straightforward. Similar to the way you set up regular, structured conversations around performance, you can set up stay interviews between your employees, their managers, and an HR representative to discuss sentiment and retention initiatives.

Educate your leaders on what makes stay interviews so impactful, and ask for their suggestions on who to speak with and what sorts of questions might be worth asking. You can also identify good candidates for stay interviews by parsing through those annual performance reviews: really high scorers deserve some congratulations, and their perspectives can be particularly helpful in crafting retention programs that make a difference.

For the interviews themselves, asking for managers’ input on topics to cover can be helpful. But for repeatability and tracking purposes, you should be sure to provide consistent questions that will help structure the conversation.

Some particularly helpful stay interview questions might include:

  • What do you love about your current role? What don’t you love about it?
  • Does your role meet your initial expectations? Why or why not?
  • How do you feel recognized and appreciated for your work?
  • Do you feel heard by the broader organization? If not, how can we help address that gap?
  • What types of technology, learning, or efficiency investments might help improve your day-to-day work?
  • What do you appreciate most about our company culture?
  • What’s one thing you’d change about our company culture?
  • What does your career development path look like, moving forward? How do you think it can unfold here—and what might require you to grow elsewhere?
  • How are you feeling about work-life balance?
  • What makes you feel respected by your colleagues and leaders? Does anything make you feel disrespected?
  • How has our company changed during your time here? Do you prefer it as it is now, or how it was when you started?

Focus the questions in your stay interviews on topics like company culture, work-life balance, development opportunities, and job satisfaction. But build in plenty of time, and practice active listening throughout the conversation. You may find yourself asking a lot of follow-up questions and not getting to every item on your list; that’s okay! You can always ask to chat further another time.

Finally, make sure your employees know how you’re taking action on their feedback. You shouldn’t make any promises or commitments you can’t keep, but you should inform them of how the feedback gets cycled into your retention and benefits programs; how and which leaders will hear about the insights coming out of stay interviews; and, when the time comes, which initiatives were inspired by their input.


How Stay Interviews are Used by Top Organizations

Many organizations in industries ranging from the financial sector to tech are using stay interviews to monitor employee sentiment and get ahead of retention issues before they start.

People leaders engaged in this process have sometimes even found that they can proactively engage with top employees to learn what new interests they’d like to explore moving forward and find ways to help those employees grow within the company—even if it’s on a new team or in a new department. Since upskilling and internal moves are such a boon to modern recruiting strategies in the current economy, this outcome is a win for everyone.

The simple practice of conducting retention interviews can help employees feel like their feedback is welcome and wanted, and that their input can have an impact on company-wide initiatives and priorities. Plus, since roughly 47% of employees looking for new roles cite company culture as a motivation for leaving their current employer, direct feedback is an important way to keep eyes on how your culture feels in practice for your team members.


The Role of HR Tech

Adding yet another regularly scheduled meeting to your HR calendar might seem intimidating, but there are plenty of ways to streamline stay interviews for your organization. Leveraging the right technology is a big one.

Extend your investments in recruiting software, particularly video interviewing software, to make stay interviews a new staple in your retention strategies.

For example, with a platform like interviewstream, you can lean on tech to do much of the heavy lifting for your stay interviews:

  • Conduct stay interviews via remote video interviewing. This will soften the impact on everyone’s calendar by requiring less time and placing no physical restrictions on these conversations. Additionally, the conversations can be saved for later review in a trusted, secure platform.
  • Invite employees to submit some of their thoughts via one-way interviews, if desired. Some employees may be freer with feedback recorded solo, according to prompts, rather than in a face-to-face conversation with a manager or colleague.
  • Use self-service interview scheduling tools to simplify the overly complicated process of finding a mutually available time on everyone’s calendar and booking it before it’s filled up by something else.
  • Refresh and fine-tune your stay interviews with an AI assistant that’s ready to help you put together any questions or materials for the stay interview with just a few clicks.


Help Your Top Performers Feel Heard

Stay interviews are an enlightened way to keep the pulse on employee sentiment at your company, gather real perspectives from across your many teams, and help employees feel seen and heard at an organizational level.

If you’re wondering how you can keep your top performers on board—and attract more talent like them for your next open roles—odds are they have the answers you need. All you need to do is ask.

Best of all? The same software you invest in for your recruiting strategy can also help you set up a successful, impactful stay interview toolkit. Leveraging a platform like interviewstream will enable your HR team to prioritize employee engagement and retention via a familiar, repeatable, and scalable process—and make it easy and comfortable for your employees to provide their honest feedback.

Reach out to our team today for a free consultation. We’re here to help you implement a scaleable recruitment and retention strategy that meets the needs of your organization!

About The Author

Drew Whitehurst is the Director of Marketing at interviewstream. He's been with the company since 2014 working in client services and marketing. He is an analytical thinker, coffee enthusiast, and hobbyist at heart.


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