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Use ‘stay interviews’ to understand employees

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Use ‘stay interviews’ to understand employees

Evolving demographics, the changing nature of many industries and ‘the big quit’, where Covid has prompted many people to re-evaluate their lives and work/life balance, have all left employers in a double bind. They are struggling to recruit, but they need to prevent good employees leaving. 

Estimates vary, but jobs market specialist Glassdoor reckons it costs at least £3,000 to recruit an employee, while the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development’s Resourcing And Talent Planning Survey 2020 thinks that for some employers it can be as high as £5,000. It makes sense, then, for employers to retain good employees and one way to do this is to run what is termed a ‘stay interview’.


It’s often said that a question should never be asked if the answer is not wanted. But in today’s market, where employees are in short supply and the web has made salaries and job prospects very apparent, managers who don’t seek to understand how employees feel are destined to lose experienced staff and to have to pay to make good the losses.

The polar opposite of an exit interview, where employers ask why an employee is leaving, a stay interview seeks to understand what makes an employee want to stay put: what are their motivations, what could be made better for them, how do they envisage their careers developing and how can the employer facilitate this?

A stay interview is not, and should not, be a formal process which puts an employee on edge or causes them to worry. It should be an informal conversation that aims to relax and reassure employees that their employer wants to understand and help them with career progression. It should encourage an employee to speak freely, without fear of retribution, and give feedback on what may be wrong in an organisation and where they would like to see improvements.

what are their motivations, what could be made better for them?

Stay interviews are not a one-time deal where an employer goes through the motions, nor should they be tied to performance or pay reviews. However, they may uncover issues that are easily fixed, such as low or unequal remuneration (which could be discriminatory and therefore illegal), a general lack of employee development, or an inconsistent or unpleasant workplace culture. Action on any of these things is, of course, important.

Beyond that, an organisation that runs, and is known to run, stay interviews may find themselves becoming an employer of choice. They will suffer natural losses as employees move away or retire, but they will find it easier – and therefore faster and less expensive – to recruit replacements.


The whole of point of a stay interview is for the manager to be able to understand exactly what it is that the employee does, down to the nth degree, every day. It needs to uncover how employees visualise their work, how they feel their contribution is perceived, and where they see themselves within an organisation.

A stay interview should not seek information on work or project status, nor should it be a one-way conversation. It often helps if an interviewee is told beforehand what the meeting is about and sent a few ‘starter’ questions to help them formulate their thoughts.

An interviewer ought to open the process with words such as ‘I want to discuss with you the reasons why you want to stay with us and what we can do to make it better’ or ‘I want to talk informally about your work and how the management can support you.’

As for questions, they could include: What is it that makes you get out of bed to come to work? What are the best and worst things about working here? If you could make a change, what would it be? Do you feel recognised? What are your motivations when you’re here? What demotivates you? Why do you stay? What can we do to support you better? And importantly, what might cause you to want to leave? The key is to let the employee feel that they can talk freely and openly so that the manager can learn and then direct appropriate resources where possible.

Interviews need to be closed properly, with the interviewer summarising what the employee has said – both the reasons to stay and the reasons for a departure. It wouldn’t hurt if, for example, the manager ended by saying something akin to ‘thank you for sharing your thoughts with me; I’ll do whatever I can to make this a place where you want to stay and work.’

And it’s important that employees can see, post-interview, that their comments have been taken on board and change has been actioned where possible. 

A process that operates on the basis of lip service is a waste of time that will invariably do exactly the opposite of what was intended – it will cause employees to distrust management and seek to leave. Hopefully though, stay interviews will lift an organisation’s retention rates, help them hold onto star employees, and possibly even attract new ones.

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