What Is a Stay Interview? 13 Questions to Ask

Plus, best practices for administering productive stay interviews
Kate Heinz
February 4, 2020
Updated: June 2, 2021
Kate Heinz
February 4, 2020
Updated: June 2, 2021

In the fight for talent, recruiters can’t wait until an employee is out the door to figure out why they pursued other employment options. 42% of employees say they plan to change jobs within the next year, so the time to act is now.

Incorporating stay interviews into your retention and employee engagement strategy can help you learn what matters to your team members and what they’d like to see improve — long before they decide to find another opportunity. Read on to learn what a stay interview is, why it’s valuable and the best questions to ask. 



Table of Contents


What Is a Stay Interview?

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Contrary to popular belief, a stay interview isn’t a one-on-one conversation where you attempt to convince a departing employee to stay. Rather, a stay interview is an in-person meeting with a long-term, high-performing employee in which you attempt to uncover the parts of their role and your company that keep them coming back every day. Moreover, a stay interview serves to uncover what might make a great employee disengage with your company and send them packing, as well as establish trust between managers and their direct reports.


A stay interview gives you the chance to avoid recurring problems; exit interviews offer the opportunity to learn from your mistakes.


The one caveat to stay interviews is your company culture. In order for stay interviews to be productive and yield honest feedback, employees need to trust management. If your type of organizational culture prioritizes hierarchy and separation between senior leadership and employees, in-person interviews are probably not the best method of collecting feedback. Until two-way communication is a core value and staple of your culture, stay interviews will not be productive. 


The Value of Stay Interviews

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A stay interview is just as, if not more, important than an exit interview. Stay interviews are conducted with enough time to identify and correct a problem. Exit interviews, on the other hand, occur when an employee is headed out the door. A stay interview gives you the chance to avoid recurring problems; exit interviews offer the opportunity to learn from your mistakes. Stay interviews are also valuable to your employer branding strategy as they provide the insight you need to create an employer brand that will draw in new talent.

Moreover, stay interviews are a useful engagement strategy. By identifying pain points before they become full-blown problems, you can improve your work environment to retain great employees. When incorporating stay interviews into your engagement efforts in addition to exit interviews, employee engagement surveys and other tools for tracking engagement can have a positive impact on your retention rate.


How to Conduct a Stay Interview

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If you’ve read our companion piece on exit interviews, you know there is a clear strategy behind these conversations. Use the following guidelines when scheduling and conducting your stay interviews to ensure they’re productive.


Who should conduct stay interviews?

Stay interviews should be led by the employee’s direct manager. This helps cultivate a strong relationship founded on trust and open communication, and an employee’s relationship with their manager significantly influences their decision to stay. Research shows that the top reason employees quit is due to a lack of trust in their manager.


Who should receive stay interviews?

Your most tenured, high-performing employees should be the primary focus of your stay interview program; they’ve been with your company the longest and clearly there’s something that’s kept them coming back. 

However, unlike exit interviews when you’re less interested in understanding why disengaged employees choose to leave, stay interviews should be conducted across the board for all employees. Why? Because people stay for different reasons. To prevent employees from walking out the door, you need to learn what makes your company valuable to each individual.




Where should you conduct a stay interview?

Much like an exit interview, you want to make the employee as comfortable as possible so they’re more inclined to share honest feedback. If possible, ask the employee where they’d like the interview to take place and be flexible with the location — they may ask to get out of the office and take a walk or visit a nearby coffee shop, so adapt to their requests when you can.


When should you conduct a stay interview?

A stay interview should not occur right after an employee starts, nor should it coincide with an annual review. The employee should be fully settled into their role and accustomed to the environment in order for the stay interview to yield useful results. 

Aim to conduct a stay interview annually for each employee, but ensure it’s not included as an add-on to a performance review. Conduct all stay interviews within a few days or weeks of each other. That way, you can promptly act on the data you’ve collected so employee feedback is not left unaddressed for a long period of time.


How long should a stay interview last?

A stay interview can take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. Unlike an exit interview where you have a set list of questions to get through, a stay interview should be more carefully tailored to the individual. Again, employees stay for different reasons, so take as long as you need to understand the individual’s satisfaction and frustrations. 


13 Stay Interview Questions to Ask

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Use the following 13 questions to start collecting valuable employee feedback during stay interviews. However, in order to convey your appreciation for the candidate and their value to the company, you must actively listen to what they have to say and ask thoughtful follow-up questions. 


1. What do you look forward to at work every day?

Dive right in and get to the heart of what motivates and excites employees about their role, your office and their work life. 


2. What do you dread about work every day?

Again, the goal of a stay interview is not only to figure out what your people like about working for you, but to uncover any grievances they have that could compel them to look elsewhere for employment. 


3. What do you think of the way employees are recognized?

20% of employers with a culture that focuses on employee recognition have 31% lower turnover rates. To keep your people around, you need to adequately recognize them, and in a way that resonates with each individual. Asking this question in stay interviews can help you understand how comprehensive your employee recognition program is and identify different methods of acknowledgment that resonate with employees. 


4. How would you rate your work-life balance? How could it be improved? 

In addition to employee recognition, work-life balance is a huge retention factor: 27% of people report leaving their job due to a lack of work-life balance. If employee’s typically come in early, stay late and work into the wee hours of the night, work-life balance must be improved. Consider implementing a work-from-home policy to offer employees more flexibility.


5. What do you enjoy about the professional development opportunities available to you? What do you dislike?

No one wants to fall stagnant in their role. In addition to clearly outlining career paths and providing opportunities for growth, it’s important to make employee development a central aspect of your company culture. After all, 94% of employees would stay in their current role longer if they felt the organization invested in their professional development.


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6. When was a time, within the past year, that caused you significant anxiety or frustration? 

Answers to this question will help identify standout and serious problems for your team members. Then, ask if the employee can explain the source of their frustration within the situation. Once they’ve explained the cause, ask them about the solution: Can you pinpoint what eventually occurred to help alleviate your stress? This series of questions will target what might make employees want to leave and what keeps them around.


7. When was a time, within the past year, that you view as a “good day” at work?

As an alternative to the previous question, asking about a recent good day at work will provide insight into what the employee enjoys about their job. They may define a good day as when they were recognized for their success on a project, when they could work from home or didn’t have to interact with a particular employee. Ultimately, an answer to this question should clue the manager into which aspects of the role or office have a positive impact on the employee’s day-to-day and which don’t.


8. What does your dream job look like?

Since this question is rather broad, employees will be forced to answer it in whatever way is most meaningful and impactful to them. For example, if an employee describes their dream job as one they can leave in the office at the end of the day, they probably don’t have that luxury right now and you should take note to evaluate and improve your work-life balance. Or, an employee may say their dream job is a cross-functional role that involves regular communication with employees meaning they are probably feeling siloed in their current position. 


9. What did you love about your last position that you no longer have? 

Get down to the nitty-gritty of the employee’s role and responsibilities. What don’t they enjoy about their current position and what do they wish they could carry over from their previous role? Answers to this question will help managers understand how they can improve the day-to-day experience of their direct reports.


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10. What did you love about your last employer that you no longer have? 

Answers to this question will likely account for your company culture, flexibility, office environment, as well as employee perks and benefits. Aggregate responses to establish a holistic representation of your shortcomings as a potential employer. You can then begin to address the most common qualms and make impactful improvements to your office.


11. What do you think about on your way to work?

A response to this question will help illustrate the employee’s shift in mindset when they’re headed into the office. Ideally, if they’re happy at work and excited about their job, their thoughts will be positive. Or, they may not even think about work. A cause for concern is when the employee has negative thoughts about and/or while headed to work as that can indicate dread and dissatisfaction. 


12. What do you think about on your way home from work? 

Similarly, the employee’s response would ideally suggest a positive sentiment about work, but not necessarily about leaving work. Of course, people are generally excited to get back to their life outside of the office by the end of the day, but you don’t want the five o’clock whistle to be a prolonged sign of relief. Furthermore, you don’t want employees to leave irritated or annoyed by the day’s events.


13. What can I do to make your experience better?

Again, a stay interview should be conducted by a direct manager since they are in the best position to enact change for the employee.

The objective of a stay interview is three-fold: 1) learn what employees enjoy about your company; 2) learn what employees dislike about your company; 3) reinforce two-way communication between management and employees. This question targets all three objectives, allowing the employee to express what they want in their role, what currently dissatisfies them and encourages them to establish trust in their manager. 


Remember, when done correctly, stay interviews can have an extremely positive impact on your employee retention rate. The key is to use the information you collect. 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. For more recruiting tips, check out our resource library.









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