12 Questions to Ask When Conducting a Stay Interview

As we all look for ways to get ahead of attrition and retain high performers amid the current upheaval, “stay interviews” have emerged as a valuable strategy. Some of us have known of these and used them with great success—long before the pandemic disrupted and destabilized our workforce.

Seriously, why did we ever consider it best practice to wait until the exit interview to document (and often learn for the first time!) what was defeating a valuable colleague that could have been avoided, solved or certainly improved?!

This stay interview should be an annual conversation and with someone other than “the boss,” such as the next-level manager or the division’s HR business partner. A newly installed leader could use many of these questions in their first one-to-one meeting with new direct reports. It should always be scheduled, with questions supplied in advance, and separated from both career development and formal performance review conversations.

The stay interview has the potential to be more impactful on employee satisfaction than any engagement surveys a small percentage of your workforce dutifully filled out over the last 20 years.

Please allow us to suggest some questions that you might use in your own stay interview:

  1. What is your favorite part of your job/role here? What tasks and responsibilities do you feel allow your strengths to shine?
  2. What has been most challenging in your role over the past 12 months? What one thing are you most proud of doing, creating or being that has helped you come this far?
  3. What continues to be a daily challenge or concern for you? If you could begin to solve it right now, what would you do or ask?
  4. What larger issue concerns you? What is a possible solution or even first step you would recommend to senior leaders?
  5. What are you most optimistic for in the next 6 months?
  6. What knowledge, experience and skills would you enjoy the opportunity to share with colleagues? Are there industry-wide conferences, training/certifications, publications or presentation opportunities you would like to explore in the next 12 months?
  7. Is there anything you would like to “come off your plate?” Who could we prepare to give it to, or how could it be replaced or eliminated with better strategies and solutions?
  8. What (who?) is your biggest frustration? What are you currently doing to constructively handle this and channel energy into positive solutions? If you’re not winning this battle, how do you think I could help?
  9. Have you ever had a coach or mentor? Is this an opportunity you would like to explore? What would you hope to learn and develop through such an experience? Do you have a certain person in mind?
  10. Who have you coached or mentored in some way in our organization in the past year? What are you most proud of helping them to accomplish through that relationship?
  11. In my role, what is one thing you believe would enable me to be more effective and empowering of people? What is something you think I do well that I could lean into even more?
  12. If there was one thing you could share with our CEO (SVP, Dept. Head, etc.), what would it be? Why did you select that? What would you hope could change if they heard what you want to say?

Of course, this is just a starter list, and some questions could be worded as, “On a scale of 1-5 …” to replace written responses, reduce the length of interviews, vary the format or enable less verbal employees to give succinct and accurate answers.

In addition, here are a couple of other retention ideas that could be implemented without cost:

  1. Invite mid-level and/or more junior people as observers to higher level meetings. This recognizes their capacity to see and connect with “the bigger picture,” that you want to develop them as leaders and future decision-makers, creates transparency in governance, builds trust and engagement, etc.
  2. As appropriate, recognize people for their specific ideas and suggestions or powerful observations that change business for the better. This is sort of like the old “suggestion box” on steroids where something that saves the company money, time, streamlines a process, eliminates waste and so on, gets company-wide recognition as “making us better.”
  3. Invite a C-suite member or senior leader (not necessarily the one at the top of “their chain”) to a team or department meeting, or a one-on-one lunch chat with a particular employee. This provides your people with the opportunity to not only learn more about senior leaders, their experiences and career stories so far and their perspectives on current issues and future directions, but also to ask questions, share ideas and perspectives, etc.

In the Situational Leadership® approach, we know that the research still declares it is important to understand the person’s strongest-felt need (e.g., their key motivators). An opportunity for people to express these without judgment and then build responsibilities around them will further engage and empower for success and engagement, which brings personal and professional satisfaction!

Application Questions:

  1. With whom do you need to share this list? How could they influence and advocate for the implementation of stay interviews?
  2. How might you position the stay interview, building upon Situational Leadership® language and concepts in your organization?