What is a Stay Interview? 8 Questions to Ask Your Key Employees

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Between the Great Resignation and the Great Reshuffle, the United States workforce saw over 38 million people quit their jobs in 2021. Some simply switched to a new company or industry, some decided to work for themselves or start a business, and still others decided to leave the workforce altogether. Right now, there are approximately 11 million job openings in the US. Perhaps your company is one of the many that are currently looking for talent to join their organizations. I know we are!

Sure, hiring new staff is critical to keeping your company thriving and growing. But it is just as important, perhaps more so, to retain the high-performing individuals that are already working at your company. Enter the stay interview.

What is a Stay Interview and Why Do You Need Them?

Builtin.com says, “A stay interview is a conversation with a high-performing employee with the goal of discovering what they like about their role, and what they would like to change. Stay interviews are an opportunity to both uncover what motivates that employee and to also build trust with them as a manager.”

Stay interviews provide great intel about what is going well with your employee and what isn’t. This is not part of a performance review and should not be lumped into that conversation. This meeting is purely about the employee and how you can continue to help them grow and thrive on your team and at your company. These interviews are designed for the top employees that you want to retain, so you can find out why they stay and what will keep them at your organization in the future.

How to Prepare for a Stay Interview

  1. Schedule these meetings ahead of time (1 week – 1 month out) and prepare your employee for what to expect. Set aside 1 hour for these meetings. This meeting is about them. Let them know that you value them and the work that they do for the company. There are no right or wrong answers (sample questions below), so encourage them to answer as candidly and as thoroughly as possible.

  2. Get centered ahead of the meeting so that your mind is clear and you’re prepared to be present (mental, physically, emotionally) and no where else. Take 5-10 minutes before the meeting to meditate, walk around the office, or do some deep breathing, to make sure you are clear and that you created the mental space for the conversation. Again, this meeting is about your employee, not you. Turn off your computer. Put your phone away. Be present for the conversation.

    Don’t forget to leave your ego, preconceived notions, assumptions, and opinions at the door. You may hear some information about yourself or the company that you don’t want to hear. Do not get defensive. Managing your energy and making sure you stay neutral throughout the conversation is important so that your own feelings don’t get in the way of what could be really great information for the future of your team (and your own leadership!). Let go of the outcome. Your employee may use this conversation as an opportunity to exit the organization. Better to know now, then months down the road. You may hear some negative things about your leadership. Great. That means you now have an opportunity to work on those things. You are on a discovery mission here. Gather information, dig deep, analyze, and then take action.

  3. Listen way more than speak. Let silence do the heavy lifting (thanks for that nugget of wisdom, Susan Scott!). There is nothing wrong with allowing silence and space to exist. These conversations do not need to be rushed. You may just be surprised what you learn if you leave enough room for the question to be pondered and a well-formulated response to emerge. This will be especially important if your employee is an internal processer, or if you are still in the early stages of your leader/employee partnership.

  4. Ask open-ended questions that allow your employee to take the conversation in the direction they need it to go. This is their opportunity to share, so let them! However, there is nothing wrong with asking clarifying questions or asking the same question again if you are still looking for more information. It’s also important to ask for examples so that you truly understand what they mean.

  5. Take notes sparingly. If note-taking helps you stay focused and present, by all means go for it. But leave the note-taking for after the meeting if at all possible. Again, you want to be present and making eye contact, not staring at your reMarkable tablet. That being said, after the meeting is done, I would highly suggest you document your notes and thoughts from the meeting and any action that you will take or you know needs to be addressed in the near future. Do not forget to put those items in your calendar and follow-up accordingly. These meetings are about forward progress and change, for both you and the employee. Having the conversation is a great first-step, but taking action is what will really keep your employee with you long-term.

8 Questions to Ask During the Stay Interview

Alright, now you’re prepared and ready to get this stay interview going. Here are eight questions to ask during the stay interview. Note: You know your company and employees best. There could be some additional questions that will help you learn more about them, what motivates them, and how you can keep them with you for years to come. Do not hesitate to add your own questions to the mix (just remember to keep them open-ended, do not discuss salary or money, and don’t make the conversation about you).

  1. What do you think about on the way to work every day?
  2. What do you think about on your way home from work?
  3. What are you learning here and what do you want to learn next? Do you feel that you have opportunities for future growth here? Why or why not?
  4. When was the last time you thought about leaving the company? What prompted that?
  5. What is the most exciting part of your job?
  6. What would make your job even more fulfilling and meaningful to you?
  7. What are we currently not doing as a company that you feel that we should be doing?
  8. Why do you stay here?

Quick Tip: Listen to what isn’t being said. The pauses between the questions. The body language. Indirectly answering the question, or shifting to a different topic. These are all clues to how your employee is feeling, or perhaps more importantly, what they are avoiding saying.

End the Meeting on a Positive Note

Regardless of how the conversation goes, end the meeting on a positive note. To wrap up the conversation I would ask two final questions:

  1. Do you have anything else you would like to share with me that we haven’t discussed yet?
  2. Do you have any questions for me?

Let those questions guide the last few minutes of the meeting. Then make sure you recap any of the action items, suggestions, or questions that you need to look into and let your employee know when you will be getting back to them on each of those items. And, make sure you follow up (great time to download to your Force Multiplier so they can help you keep your commitment).

Stay interviews are a great tool to add to your talent retention plan for the year ahead. Get these scheduled with your key employees at least once per year. However, even twice a year might be a good idea if there is a lot of turnover, growth, or change in your company or industry. It’s better to have a couple of these conversations on the books, rather than be caught off-guard and only think about it when an employee’s resignation letter shows up in your inbox.

Remember, as a leader, it’s your job to attract and retain talented individuals that fit in your culture, and getting that right may require a few reality checks along the way. Make sure your culture is authentic, that you are just as dedicated to your top employees as they are to their jobs, and that you recognize their growth by pouring into them while they are a member of your team. If you always come from contribution and respect, you will end up with a team that will thrive during even the most challenging times.

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