Hiring interviews and exit interviews are standard HR practices. "Stay interviews" are not as well-known and seldom used.

However, they could be the most important interviews your organization could ever conduct. In case you are not familiar with the term, a "stay interview" is simply asking employees: "What makes you stay?"

What It Means To Ask What Makes You Stay

A stay interview is simply a conversation with an employee which explores those things that foster the employee’s decision to stay with an employer. A stay interview can also cover more discrete issues like why an employee stays within a particular department, on a project, or with a particular manager or supervisor.

Unlike a hiring interview where the goal is to figure out whether a candidate is a good fit for your company, or an exit interview where the goal is to learn the cause for an employee’s decision to leave, a stay interview is intended to explore what it takes to keep an employee. The stay interview focuses on current employees that, as far that the employer knows, have not yet decided to leave the employer.

Many employers rely solely on exit interviews to address employee turnover issues, but the information gained is learned too late to make a difference when it comes to the particular employee that has chosen to leave. In truth, it is very seldom that an employee who has made the decision to leave will give their employer a chance to change their mind.

The stay interview occurs before an employee can get to this point and, if done properly, reduces the probability that the employee will get to the point of wanting to leave.

Stay interviews are intended to promote open and honest dialogue with the employee to identify what the employer is currently doing right and uncover issues that could cause an employee to decide to leave. Properly implemented, stay interviews can help improve an employer’s organizational structure, develop more effective policies and procedures, and promote increased employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention.

Why Ask "Why"?

Recruiting and hiring new employees cost employers real dollars and other resources. Once a company makes this investment in a new hire and cannot retain that employee, all of those resources are essentially wasted. If this cycle happens more than a couple of times a year, the costs on an employer can be very high.

A stay interview is an important tool in staving off this kind of turnover because it provides employers with specific, relevant, and forward-facing information that enables them to decide which practices need to be retained and which ones need to be overhauled. By identifying this information, employers are able to increase employee job satisfaction, reduce turnover, and improve employee retention.

Another benefit of the stay interview is increasing employee productivity. As the saying goes: "A happy employee is a productive employee."

Unlike typical employee satisfaction surveys and questionnaires, stay interviews are more intentional, focused, intimate, and interactive. For these reasons, they are usually more effective.

Employees are more fulfilled when they work for an employer that cares about their needs and makes an effort to engage them in the improvement of company culture. With stay interviews, employers can assess the degree of employee satisfaction and engagement that exists in their company, and can take immediate and relevant steps to address concerns to promote employee happiness and, in turn, productivity.

Before You Ask Why

Even knowing all the benefits of a stay interview, it is important not to just jump into the process. Before conducting stay interviews, you need to ensure that you are implementing the best process for your organization. A few considerations to keep in mind:

Who To Ask?

The scope of employees with whom you should conduct stay interviews will generally depend on your organizational structure and business needs. While the focus is mostly on key, valued employees, you can choose to broaden the target group according to your needs.

A typical target group for stay interviews are those highly skilled, high-performing, and high-potential employees whose loss and replacement costs your business financially and otherwise. You can also focus on employee groups with the highest rates of turnover, as there may be unknown issues impacting that group.

When To Ask

The nature of the business will dictate the frequency with which stay interviews can and should be conducted. A good rule of thumb is at least every couple of years, but it can be more frequent if your business model or turnover history calls for it. It is helpful to conduct these interviews around the same time for fairness and efficiency.

Who Does The Asking?

Stay interviews may be conducted by a direct supervisor or manager because an employee’s manager is usually the one that can most readily have an impact on the employee’s everyday working conditions. It is also usually a more familiar relationship, so the employee can be candid and provide your organization with honest and useful information.

However, the existing nature of the relationship between a manager and employee should be taken into consideration. If there is or could be a negative or distrustful relationship between a manager and direct reports, you should strongly consider the alternative of using a Human Resources manager or outsourcing to an external agency.

You’ve Asked…Now What?

Don’t just talk the talk. Your organization must have the intention of following through before you decide to implement stay interviews.

Once you start asking employees about what makes them stay and what it would take to continue to keep them, they expect to see evidence that there is an intent to do the things that they have suggested. Failing to follow through only leaves disenchanted employees, which may leave you worse off than when you started.


Stay interviews have the potential to positively impact employee retention, happiness, and productivity and you should consider adding them to your portfolio of HR processes. However, you should not proceed without carefully tailoring the process to your organization.