Why you should be doing stay interviews.
HR Business Partner

Written by Marnie Brokenshire

May 28, 2023

We are noisy about the use of culture surveys – we think they rarely tell you what you really need to know and should be used sparingly – read here. We think there are much better ways. One strategic initiative you should be using is the ‘stay’ interview.


As more and more companies are finally ditching traditional performance reviews (and if not, what are you waiting for – read here), and swapping them out for better alternatives, we recommend that retention strategies also include a regular, semi formal stay interview that allows leaders and HR to understand what they are doing well, and what needs to be done differently. Start asking people why they stay. 


HR strategy development can often fall victim to the “assuming to know” or worse, the latest fad or trend. We think that if we include all the stock standard stuff, like flexible work, well-being programs, corporate responsibility programs and social gatherings, we are ticking all the boxes on retention – mostly, this couldn’t be more wrong. 
Rather than assuming to know, or jumping on the latest bandwagon, finding out why people stay, and what would prompt them to consider leaving, is the intel you need for any retention strategy.

Approach and methodology

Face to Face
Amongst our many criticisms of culture surveys, one is the faceless anonymity and the many nuances that come from having a face to face discussion whereby you can just chat, think outside the square, talk about anything rather than responding to carefully constructed questions.
Planned but Employee Led
You need to ask questions connected to high level common themes – what makes someone stay, and what would make someone leave – what you do well, what could be done better, but you also need to be prepared to go way off script. This is sometimes where the best insights are gained. You need to let this be employee led, not a scripted face to face version of a culture survey.
It goes without saying but in the words of Stephen Covey; “don’t listen to respond, listen to understand“. This must be the mandate of any stay interview. It cannot be a ‘check the box’ exercise, a grilling, or just another one of those HR things everyone must do. You are not there to set the record straight or debate the merits, you are there to truly understand why people stay so that you can proactively and strategically manage retention.
There is a definite art to this type of conversation – it needs to be thought of as a research exercise but conducted in a way that doesn’t feel like that. Structured but unstructured, semi-formal but relaxed.
Data Collection
We get asked this a lot – how do we collect the data? It seems the downside of HR tech is that no one wants to collect data that isn’t in an electronic form. Do it the old way – before we had systems – it doesn’t make it any less valid.
Share what you learn, with everyone, and not with boring powerpoint presentations, get creative and innovative. Make commitments about what you are going to do and report on progress, transparently and frequently.

“Implementing stay interviews to understand what you are doing well or could do better is significantly more insightful than a culture survey.”

Stay Interviews Culture Surveys

3 Critical Components of Stay Interviews

  1. Don’t approach it like a recruitment or exit interview – although similar, in the sense of a Q&A and a deep-dive exploratory conversation, this has a different purpose and warrants a different approach that can be as wide or as narrow as necessary. Remember, this is an employee experience exercise – it must be nothing other than positive and mutually beneficial.
  2. Do not make this tech based – whilst we are all about HR tech these days, this is a face to face, person to person, human contact and connection situation. There is no other way for it to be deep-dive and meaningful, using research skills.
  3. Ensure those who are conducting the interviews are well trained and are known to be people of high trust and follow through – otherwise, no one will believe it will be any different than a typical culture survey.
The obvious themes we see all the time will come through – career progression and growth, learning and development, remuneration and recognition, but if your technique includes a deep dive/root cause analysis approach, you will be able to peel back the layers there to the undercurrent at an individual, team and company level. Proper technique can uncover a lot. Be creative and innovative with your questions – remember you are going beyond what you would ask in a culture survey.

These types of conversations are also invaluable for making connections to current initiatives and results.

For example, if you have recently invested in a leadership training program, and your leaders are telling you they still need more development, you get to deep dive into the disconnect – what is missing and why? The same is true for recognition and reward.

Stay interviews are a proactive initiative. Waiting until you are conducting an exit interview is reactive. High impact HR practice is proactive, not reactive.

If you would like to learn more about our approach, obtain copies of our interview facilitator guides and questions, or obtain our training in conducting these types of interviews, reach out to discuss.


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