How Stay Interviews Became the Hottest Workforce-Retention Tool

Want to hold on to top talent? Check in before they check out.


5 min read

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Every organization’s secret weapon is its employees. The 2019 Work Institute’s Retention Report highlighted that more than one in three workers would voluntarily quit their jobs each year by 2023. That’s why the stay interview, which seeks improvements in the employer-employee relationship through a kind of real-time fact-finding mission, is today’s optimal workforce-retention tool. Although without a culture of trust that nurtures honest and transparent feedback, stay interviews won’t be nearly as constructive.

Accenture managers, as one example, have been renowned for probing their staff’s professional goals and checking in with them about their quality of work-life balance. To make a powerful impact on retention rate, organizations must integrate stay interviews alongside more traditional tools like surveys that measure engagement. 

Take Whirlpool Corporation, which identified that it was losing talent at a faster rate than it was attracting new talent, and developed a retention risk-assessment toolkit in response. Leadership participated in stay interviews and collaborated on solutions with supporting managers. The initial conversations were awkward for many managers and employees, but through building stronger relationships, employees eventually reported that communication improved and doors opened for professional learning and growth. 

Related: Forget Exit Interviews; Here’s Why You Should Conduct a Stay Interview Instead

When organizations are committed to understanding what matters most to their team, they can gain clarity on how to spend time, energy and money on mprovements. So with that in mind, here are seven of the most valuable questions leaders can ask of their employees during stay interviews.

1. When it comes to your workplace, what excites you most every day?

Revealing what inspires an employee about their role provides valuable insight into their intrinsic motivators, their position within the office and how they contribute to workplace culture. By bringing people’s motivation to the forefront of the conversation, organizations uncover employees’s interests, their proudest achievements and how their passions can paint a picture for future opportunities. 

2. How does the organization recognize and celebrate its people?

It is isn’t rocket science; organizations that invest in employee recognition have 31 percent lower turnover rates. People want to be respected and feel valued by others for their contributions. Ask your employee how they like to be acknowledged for their efforts. Recognizing workers for their outstanding efforts sends a powerful message to the recipient, their peers and other employees throughout the organization. 

3. How well does the organization support work-life balance?

Work-life balance is a huge retention factor. FlexJobs 2019 study reported that 16 percent of workers currently looking for a new job experienced lack of flexibility in their current role, and 73 percent identified work-life balance as one of the most critical factors they consider when evaluating a job. By asking about their employees’s balance, organizations explore more family friendly policies such as remote work or sabbaticals. At the same time, organizations must be transparent in what they can offer so as not to over-promise and under-deliver. 

4. What professional development opportunities have you participated in?

The 2018 LinkedIn Learning Report highlighted that 94 percent of employees would remain in their current role longer if the organization had invested in their professional development. Lifelong learning provides a flexible and easy way for upskilling, encourages collaboration and brings awareness to the latest trends and developments in the marketplace. 

There are ample cost-effective development opportunities to support a team’s continuing education. Udemy hosts thousands of online courses on leadership, IT and software to personal development, while LinkedIn Learning delivers growth opportunities ranging from effective planning and building presentations to career-management courses.

5. How can the organization and I make your work more meaningful?

This is a powerful question that encourages employees to share what they enjoy and how they can make a difference, and it opens the door for feedback on management style. Some leaders may feel as if they need to lock themselves in for a bumpy ride, but it can also provide welcome opportunties for learning how to adapt and evolve.

Related: Knowing When to Leave a Job or Stay

6. What keeps you up at night? 

The purpose of this question is to gain insight into what holds employees back, unlocking any complaints, concerns or injustices they have about their role, workplace or culture that compels them to look for alternate employment. Also, the question identifies standout or critical challenges for your business. And these additional, related inquiries can allow you to delve even deeper:

  • In recent times, have you felt slightly frustrated, anxious or overwhelmed about your current position?
  • Have you experienced any frustrations about aspects of your role that you would reduce or eliminate?
  • What do you believe contributed to your feelings? 
  • Can you explain how you reduced your frustration levels?

7. What qualities do you have that the organization has not yet leveraged?

Sometimes organizations fail to tap into the full potential of their people. As the employee journey evolves, exploring their passion invites additional opportunities in which employees can assist their colleagues or close gaps within the business. This information is invaluable when matching future projects with the best employee, and underscores how important it is to check in with your team before they check out.