How to Conduct a Stay Interview to Retain Your Top Employees

A manager conducting a stay interview with an employee

Think of a time when you have felt “stuck” in a role. What was it? On the flip side, think of a time when you loved your position and were excited to go to work each day. What made these two experiences different? 

In my experience, leadership impacts those feelings more than anything else. And the worst thing a leader can do is pretend to know what every employee is thinking. That is why stay interviews are so critical to building the culture you want and need. 

Luckily, fellow U Krewer Lindsay Fields, recently conducted stay interviews with her team to great success. Here, Lindsay explains the power of a stay interview, how to conduct one, the questions to ask, and how to act on the feedback you receive. 

View Now: Culture is Table Stakes [Free Guide]

Chas: Set the scene for us. Why did you decide to conduct stay interviews with your team? 

Lindsay: Over the course of the past two years, I was responsible for leading a Pre-Sales team that was growing faster than anyone ever anticipated. During that time, we tripled in size, adding four additional teams into my reporting structure. Obviously, hiring top talent was top of mind, but I realized very quickly that it was most important to build a culture where people wanted to work. This made recruiting easier, made development easier, and made the growth energizing. This does not mean that we did everything perfectly. In fact, we most certainly did not. But we knew that creating a place where feedback was welcome would give us the ability to change and improve upon any situation. That is where stay interviews became vital to our success.

Chas: Simply put, what is a “stay interview”? 

Lindsay: A stay interview is a set of structured questions that help your managers and leadership understand why employees want to continue working at your organization. 

Stay interviews are a simple yet effective way to collect information from employees to hear what the organization, people leaders, and teams are doing right for the individual to be successful. It’s also a time to discuss areas of improvement.

This conversational method allows managers and people leaders to understand the organizational culture, the behaviors they want their employees to exemplify, and the brand and reputation their people are portraying. 

A stay interview is a set of structured questions that help your managers and leadership understand why employees want to continue working at your organization. 

–Lindsay Fields

Chas: Did you personally conduct the stay interviews?

Lindsay: There isn’t a right or wrong answer for who should perform the stay interview. The direct manager, a person the employee trusts, or even a “skip-level” interview conducted by the manager above could be effective.

UKG’s HR team was strongly encouraging stay interviews and provided a basic framework for us to follow. My leadership team made stay interviews part of their annual (and in some cases semi-annual) process. In one of those interviews, it was suggested that I meet with each individual contributor and do skip-level stay interviews. I jumped at this feedback! 

Chas: Give us your playbook. What questions did you ask in the stay interviews? 

Lindsay: I scheduled a skip-level stay interview with each team member in my organization—40 in total. It took some time to meet with everyone, but it was well worth the commitment. I asked every person the same five questions:

  1. What do you look forward to each day when you start your workday? 
  2. What are you learning here, and what do you want to learn?
    • Which other jobs here look attractive to you? 
    • What skills do you think are required for those jobs? 
    • What skills should we work on building to get you to where you want to be? 
  3. Why do you stay here?
  4. When is the last time you thought about leaving us, and what prompted it?
  5. What can I do to make your job better for you? 

I made sure to send these questions ahead of time so that they were able to prepare for the conversation. This was especially important for my more introverted team members as I know from my own experience how much better I can communicate when I have time to think ahead. I had others warn me that I was “asking for the team to complain,” but at UKG, we believe in transparency no matter what. It’s one of the many reasons why we continue to thrive as a great place to work

Chas: How did your employees respond?  

Lindsay: In my situation, the conversations were overwhelmingly positive. In fact, I heard from multiple team members that they had never worked in an environment where they felt both safe and challenged to grow. I heard about how the rapid growth had helped them get out of their comfort zones and tackle new opportunities. One employee even said that earlier in the year, when I had challenged her with a stretch project, she thought I was crazy. But she did it, and she sees that opportunity as the defining moment that launched her success over the past year. And the most prominent sentiment overall? “It means so much that you would take the time to ask me these questions.” The act of simply asking played more of a part in creating the culture than I realized. 

The act of simply asking played more of a part in creating the culture than I realized.

–Lindsay Fields

Chas: How did you act on the feedback you received? What next steps did you take? 

Lindsay: I took notes in each session. If there were any specific opportunities that arose that I could tackle immediately, I would communicate what the action plan was, follow through, and then communicate back to the employee when things had been addressed. I also focused on any trends that were common throughout the organization. Were people frustrated by the same things or loving the same things? I took those items to my leadership team, and we worked collaboratively to review what we would stop, start, and continue as a leadership team. 

Chas: What advice would you give a people leader or HR manager interested in implementing a stay interview? 

Lindsay: A team willing to learn from everyone is a better functioning team. It doesn’t mean I executed perfectly. Also, I reached out to everyone after and asked, “How would you want me to do this differently?”

  1. Be prepared to push boundaries and ask for constructive feedback. 
  2. Understand your employee’s schedule before you commit their time. 
  3. Reflect the behavior you want your employees to carry out.
  4. Listen, listen more, ask clarifying questions, and listen.
Putting stay interviews into practice 

If you have a team member, or find yourself wondering, “Why would I/they stay?”, this may be your opportunity to schedule time and have that stay interview discussion. As Lindsay said, timing is important. Ensure your employees feel heard so that when it’s time to create an action plan, your employees fully understand what is expected of them.

The value of your employees goes beyond the work they do—it’s also what they contribute to the company culture. Finding out your employee’s “why” is critical to your organization’s long-term success—and stay interviews could be the key to unlocking the “why.”

View Now: Culture is Table Stakes [Free Guide]