HR Strategy

How to Conduct a Stay Interview to Boost Retention and Engagement (With Sample Questions) 

July 20, 2023

A stay interview is a powerful tool to discover exactly how you can retain your current workforce. Companies across Canada are experiencing higher rates of turnover compared to last year, which can cost some companies over $100,000 each year on expenses associated with recruitment and lost productivity. Retaining employees in a tight labour market is essential to a thriving business. Employees who are satisfied with their jobs are also more productive and loyal. Use stay interviews to pinpoint what changes you can make to promote employee retention and engagement.  

Currently, employers at large are not meeting the demands of their workforce. Some of the top benefits jobseekers desire are flexible work hours (64%), remote work (56%), and shortened work weeks (40%). But only 44% of employers offer flexible work hours, while 35% offer remote work, and 22% offer a shortened work week. If companies don’t offer employees what they what, they may lose their talent to another employer who will. Knowing how to conduct stay interviews and what questions to ask can help you make strategic business decisions before your employees call it quits.  

What is a stay interview?  

A stay interview is conversational in nature. In most cases, an employee’s manager will ask them a standard set of questions to gauge what it would take to have the employee stay at the company. Employees may reveal what they enjoy about work, specific ways leaders can engage and motivate them, and what organizational changes would make the work experience more gratifying. While all feedback is valuable, stay interviews are designed to pinpoint actions leaders can take to improve retention at the company.  

Some companies use exit interviews to learn how they can improve the organization and retention in the future. While exit interviews are still useful, stay interviews differ because they target existing employees in hopes of meeting individual needs and preventing turnover in the first place. 

Benefits of Stay Interviews 

Consider adding or enhancing your existing stay interviews to:

  • Improve retention and reduce turnover;  
  • Build trust between managers and employees;  
  • Promote teamwork by working towards a common goal: a more enjoyable work experience;  
  • Address problems before they escalate into larger issues; and  
  • Encourage employees to come to leadership with concerns before they quiet quit or apply for alternative employment.  

Planning and Conducting the Stay Interview  

Step 1: Decide on a Suitable Location  

Questionnaires are an efficient way to collect employee feedback, but they limit the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. Instead, conduct stay interviews one-to-one with the employee in a private, distraction-free setting. The interview should be held in a location where both you and the employee are comfortable having an honest conversation. Typically, this means somewhere away from the employee’s workspace and where they cannot be overheard by neighbouring employees.  

Step 2: Assign an Interviewer  

When possible, the employee’s supervisor should interview them to build trust and rapport. However, any other leader within the company, from managers to executives, can also conduct stay interviews with employees who are not their direct reports. Because stay interviews are about identifying where leaders can make a difference, refrain from having HR conduct the interview unless necessary.  

Leaders should always be interviewed before they interview direct reports. This means the stay interview process should begin with the executive team and cascade down the organizational chart until every employee has been interviewed.  

Step 3: Schedule an Appropriate Time  

When scheduling stay interviews, be mindful of each employee’s time and their commitments. Do not conduct the interview when the employee will be pressed for time, like when they have an upcoming deadline or an appointment immediately following the interview.  

You can also be strategic with when you conduct stay interviews throughout the year. Consider the following best practices:  

  • “Pulse” your stay interviews by checking in on employees regularly throughout the year. This way, you can respond quickly to changes and new concerns as they arise.  
  • Schedule stay interviews throughout the most critical time of the employee lifecycle: onboarding. Conduct mini-interviews at the employee’s 30-, 60-, and 90-day check-ins.  
  • Ensure that stay interviews are scheduled separately from performance appraisals. Stay interviews are designed to learn what leaders can do for employees, not how employees should change or improve.  

Step 4: Plan a Set of Standard Questions

According to a survey from The Harris Poll for Express Employment Professionals, the top causes of turnover were:  

  • Higher pay and benefits elsewhere (36%);  
  • Resigning employees (35%); 
  • Overwork (33%);  
  • Retirement (30%); 
  • Increased workplace demands (29%); and  
  • Better perks elsewhere (28%).  

To improve retention, employers should find trends in their turnover data. They can also learn what employees desire most through stay interviews. A 2022 RSM Middle Market Business Index report revealed that middle market employees considered work-life balance (54%), support from their supervisors (43%), and fulfilling work (41%) the most crucial aspects of their job.  

Ask questions that focus on these areas, like:  

  • How would you describe your working relationship with your supervisor?  
  • How do you feel about the working conditions at the company?  
  • Are you adequately recognized for your achievements and supported in your current career goals?  
  • Is there anything you would like to change about your role that would help motivate you to contribute to the success of the company? 

To make the most meaningful changes for each employee, ask questions that indicate how you can support them as a person, and not just their work. Consider the following questions:  

  • What hobbies outside of work do you work on, if any?  
  • Do you volunteer? Tell me more about that cause and what it means to you.  
  • What goals do you have outside of work?  

In today’s labour market, retention and employee satisfaction are critical. A retention program planning form can prepare you to assess trends in your workforce, set goals, and make tactical decisions to improve retention. Leverage our experience and successfully meet your goals with help from our team of HR consultants.