Stay interviews are an important part of any employee listening (voice of the employee) strategy. They can be challenging, however, because they cannot be conducted without primary participation from front-line operational leaders. These folks must be the driving force in making the process work effectively. In addition, it can be difficult to gather the themes and feedback that surface during the stay interview process.

Before diving into the nuts and bolts of stay interviews, we suggest that HR professionals overseeing stay interviews consider the following:

  • Help find ways to make stay interviews structured and consistent. This means HR needs to develop a process that reminds and prompts leaders to make stay interviews a priority.
  • Then, HR needs to conduct simple and brief pulse surveys to gather themes and hot-button items that arise during these interviews. What’s the point of gathering the feedback if we cannot analyze the information and then act to address any problems? Especially if the problems are such that they are systemic and cannot be addressed solely by the manager conducting the stay interview.

What are stay interviews?

Stay interviews are specific one-on-one conversations between managers and employees that aim to understand what motivates and engages employees to stay with the organization. Unlike exit interviews, which are conducted after an employee has decided to leave, stay interviews are proactive and preventive. Exit interview diagnose what happened. Stay interviews try to uncover issues before they cause regrettable attrition; they help managers identify and address any issues or concerns that might affect employee retention and satisfaction.

Simply scheduling a stay interview (and labeling the meeting as such) signals that the manager is open to hearing about what is important to the employee. The interview also indicates that instead of getting caught up in the normal minutia of the day-to-day, this meeting is meant to be focused strictly on an employee’s growth, potential, and fit inside the organization.

In many respects, most of the topics that come up during a stay interview should be addressed regularly during typical one-on-one meetings between a manager and a team member. That said, there is something important about conducting formal and consistent stay interviews. Stay interviews, however, do not need to happen frequently, and often once a year is enough to make meaningful progress. Held too frequently, a manager may not be able to make enough progress from prior meetings to avoid having the employee feel like “nothing is being done,” or the manager “isn’t listening.”

Why are stay interviews important?

Stay interviews offer many benefits for both managers and employees. Some of the advantages of stay interviews are:

  • They can improve employee engagement and loyalty by showing that the organization cares about their opinions and feedback.
  • They can reduce turnover and attrition by addressing the root causes of dissatisfaction and finding solutions to retain top talent.
  • They can enhance performance and productivity by aligning employee goals and expectations with organizational objectives and strategies.
  • They can foster trust and communication by creating a safe and open space for dialogue and feedback.
  • They can increase innovation and creativity by encouraging employees to share their ideas and suggestions for improvement.

How to conduct stay interviews?

Stay interviews are not one-size-fits-all. They should be tailored to the specific needs and preferences of each employee and manager. However, there are some general guidelines and best practices that can help managers conduct effective stay interviews. Here are some tips and suggestions:

  • Prepare in advance. Before the interview, review the employee’s performance, goals, and feedback. Think of some open-ended questions that can elicit meaningful responses. For example, you can ask: What do you enjoy most about your work? What are some of the challenges or frustrations you face? What are your career aspirations and development needs? How can I support you better as your manager?
  • Schedule the interview. Choose a convenient time and place for both parties. Avoid interruptions and distractions. Set aside at least 30 minutes for the conversation. Inform the employee of the purpose and agenda of the interview. Emphasize that the interview is confidential and voluntary. Make sure during the meeting to specifically acknowledge that you are conducting a stay interview. Consider making stay interviews something that happen once a year with your team and build a process to ensure they happen.
  • Listen actively. During the interview, focus on the employees and their responses. Use active listening skills, such as nodding, paraphrasing, and summarizing. Avoid interrupting, judging, or arguing. Show empathy and respect. Express appreciation and recognition for their contributions and achievements.
  • Act. After the interview, follow up with the employee and thank them for their time and input. Review the main points and action items that emerged from the conversation. Agree on a timeline and a plan for implementing the agreed solutions. Monitor the progress and outcomes of the action plan. Provide feedback and support as needed.
  • Job Crafting. Stay interviews can be an excellent time to talk about job crafting, which is an exercise that allows the employee to imagine what their ideal position might look like. No promises should be made, but this thought exercise can help drive the conversation and surface issues and concerns the employee might have.
  • Bring the MAGIC. Make sure to consider what we call the Engagement MAGIC® elements. The MAGIC elements are an acronym that stands for Meaning, Autonomy, Growth, Impact, and Connection. These elements are considered crucial for employee engagement and are often discussed during stay interviews to understand what motivates and engages employees to stay with the organization. For example, in discussing autonomy, you may learn that the employee would really prefer a later start time to accommodate childcare needs. It makes no difference to your team’s performance, and making this accommodation helps the employee and engenders goodwill, which drives individual employee engagement.

Example of a Successful Stay Interview

A manager at a software company conducted a stay interview with one of their top developers. During the interview, the developer shared that they were feeling overwhelmed with their workload and were considering leaving the company for a less stressful job. The manager listened attentively and empathized with the developer’s concerns. Together, they produced a plan to redistribute some of the developer’s tasks to other team members and to provide additional support and resources.

The developer felt heard and valued and decided to stay with the company. As a result, the company was able to retain a valuable employee and improve their overall job satisfaction and performance.

Sample Agenda

Here is a sample agenda for your next stay interview:

  • Introduction: Explain the purpose and agenda of the stay interview. Emphasize that the interview is confidential and voluntary.
  • Review of employee’s performance, goals, and feedback: Discuss the employee’s achievements, challenges, and aspirations.
  • Open-ended questions: Ask questions that elicit meaningful responses, such as what the employee enjoys most about their work, what challenges or frustrations they face, and what their career aspirations and development needs are. Use open-ended questions and avoid those questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” Do not forget to engage in the job crafting discussion referred to above.
  • Active listening: Listen attentively to the employee’s responses, using active listening skills such as nodding, paraphrasing, and summarizing. Avoid interrupting, judging, or arguing. Show empathy and respect.
  • Action plan: Agree on a timeline and a plan for implementing any agreed-upon solutions.
  • Conclusion: Thank employees for their time and input and schedule a follow-up meeting to monitor the progress and outcomes of the action plan.


Stay interviews are a valuable tool for managers to understand what motivates and engages employees to stay with the organization. They offer many benefits, including improved employee engagement and loyalty, reduced turnover and attrition, enhanced performance and productivity, and increased trust and communication. Conducting effective stay interviews involves preparation, active listening, and acting on the feedback received. By following the guidelines and best practices outlined in this document, managers can conduct successful stay interviews and retain top talent within their organization.