Want to retain your best employees? Ask these “stay” interview questions to learn what you can do to keep high-performing employees happy.

During times of high turnover, like the Great Resignation of 2021, you may find yourself conducting more exit interviews than you’d like. This is a great case for prioritizing the underutilized stay interview and learning which stay interview questions are most effective.

When quit rates rise, conducting stay interviews with your top-performing employees may help you uncover solutions to your retention problems that you hadn’t otherwise considered. And it may help you get to know better the people who are sticking with you, which may generate insights into what you need to look for in new candidates, too.

Yes, alongside exit interviews and employee surveys, stay interviews are a powerful employer-listening tool. Ideally, it should be a regular part of your HR strategy.

Read on for:

  • The basics of stay interviews and why they’re important
  • A list of the best stay interview questions
  • What not to ask during stay interviews

Stay interview basics

You can use stay interviews to improve retention and check in with your highest-performing employees long before they might decide to leave your company. The purpose of these interviews is to find out what is motivating them to stay with you (and what might entice them to work for someone else).

Like having sound recruiting and performance review processes, implementing a stay interview strategy can help you understand what it may take to address turnover.

Stay interviews can be especially powerful because you are selectively having these conversations with employees you trust and respect.

Working with what you discover after the interviews, you’ll be able to generate a list of actions you could take to improve employee morale, engagement and retention. And any improvements you may make to your organizational culture may help with recruiting and hiring new talent.

When planning a stay interview template, consider these basic tips:

  • Set aside time to focus on the conversation with your employee, perhaps incorporating the discussion into your standing one-on-one meetings.
  • Hold a face-to-face meeting (either in person or via videoconference calls) to help you assess an employee’s body language.
  • Rather than calling it a “stay interview,” invite the employee to share their perspective on how things are going at your organization
  • Give the employee time to think through their responses.
  • Aim to conduct your stay interviews with your high-performing employees at least once a year. This will help you keep an eye on changing attitudes, which may help you intervene more quickly to resolve a rising problem.
  • Schedule stay interviews months away from annual performance reviews, whenever possible, to keep the goals distinct.

Next, with a few great stay interview questions in hand, you’ll get the most out of these conversations and discover new ways to improve employee retention.

6 effective stay interview questions

Try these stay interview questions to find out how to keep your best employees around.

1. “What kind of feedback about your performance or recognition would you like that you aren’t currently receiving?”

This question gives employees the chance to vocalize any concerns they may have from a recognition standpoint. Some people may need very little reassurance that they’re doing a good job. Others, meanwhile, may thrive on recognition of a job well done.

It’s possible, when your company first started, that your original team didn’t need much validation. As your team grows in size, however, you’ll have a wider variety of personalities and work styles.

Asking this question pinpoints what each individual is looking for in terms of recognition and feedback and may point toward what your organization needs more of as a whole.

2. “What opportunities for self-improvement would you like to have that go beyond your current role?”

If you’re able to offer them opportunities for self-improvement (e.g., relevant online courses or access to industry conferences), this is a great question to ask. This is their chance to speak up and ask for further education or learning related to their role in your organization.

If this isn’t an area where you can invest money in your employees, do some research on training opportunities that are free or cost very little. You might be surprised how much you’re able to find that doesn’t require dipping into your budget.

For instance, HubSpot offers many free certification courses for sales and marketing professionals through its online academy. And several other Internet-based learning portals (including LinkedIn) also offer free or low-cost courses for a range of professions and industries.

Even if you’re not in a position to pay for your employees’ training and development at this point in your business journey, you can demonstrate your desire to help them get what they need to be successful.

Consider allowing employees to use work time to take advantage of the training resources available to them, so they’re not having to cram it in on their own time.

Bottom line: Don’t rule out self-improvement opportunities for your employees just because you don’t have a big budget. With a little creativity, you’ll likely find plenty of cost-effective employee training and development to keep your team in growth mode.

3. “What kinds of flexibility would be helpful to you in balancing your work and home life?”

There are tons of companies out there today embracing working from home, paid time off and flexible hours to help with work-life balance. It’s a competitive market and lots of people are beginning to expect more flexibility.

Before asking this question, know what you are able to offer. Don’t promise or tease with things you can’t deliver. You may be in an organization where there isn’t a lot of flexibility on hours or vacation time (and there may be valid reasons for that).

If the employee says they would love to have the option to work remotely once a week, don’t give them hope that it’s possible unless it is.

4. What talents, interests or skills do you have that we haven’t made the most of?

It’s possible things at your organization move quickly and some people aren’t being utilized to their potential. Asking this question could illuminate solutions to problems you’re having that also give an employee more fulfilling responsibilities.

For example, maybe you have an employee who’s been there for a decade and is overloaded with a dozen different random tasks they take care of every month – because when they started, they were the only option.

It’s highly likely newer employees could be quickly trained to help lighten tenured employees’ workloads. By freeing up some of the time they currently spend on repetitive tasks, you’ll allow them to get more involved in other efforts that better utilize their talents and pique their interests.

The answer to this stay interview question may shed light on areas where employees could be helping you but currently aren’t.

5. What have you felt good about accomplishing in your job and in your time here?

This question is simple and allows you to pinpoint the projects they’ve worked on that have given them joy or a sense of pride. That way, you can keep this information in mind when assigning future projects and responsibilities.

At the end of the day, happy employees are usually more productive, loyal employees.

6. If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?

Here is the employee’s chance to speak up regarding concerns they have about spending the rest of their career with you. It may highlight bigger problems you didn’t know you had. For example, maybe one team is requesting work from another team at the last minute every month, and you had no idea.

Based on the number of people reporting this information to you in their stay interviews, you may decide to act on it.

At the very least, it gives the employee in the stay interview a forum to voice any problems they’re having to someone in power. These are things you probably won’t talk about in individual performance review meetings.

What not to ask in a stay interview

Stay interviews may not feel worthwhile if you ask yes-or-no and closed-ended questions. Avoid asking your employees:

  • Are you happy working here?
  • Do you make enough money?

And don’t feel obligated to interview all of your employees about why they stay. Start with the members of your staff who have been with you longest and who consistently do well on performance reviews.

The best stay interview questions

The best stay interview questions help your most valuable employees understand:

  • You recognize and appreciate their loyalty.
  • You care about more than just their performance.
  • You’re open to making changes that would bring them more satisfaction.

And they help you discover:

  • Warning signs that indicate your key players need more support or direction
  • Ways to keep the employees in which you’ve invested the most time and resources
  • Low-cost changes that could reaffirm your employees’ commitment and engagement

Replacing your leading employees can be time-consuming and costly. Stay interviews are a solid strategy to help you retain your business’s top performers.

Want more insight on building an effective HR strategy that helps retain employees for the long term? Download our free e-book, How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.

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