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What’s a stay interview?

Professor Matthias Spitzmuller on the power of asking employees why they want to stay with you
Jordan Whitehouse
What’s a stay interview?

We’re all familiar with exit interviews. When an employee leaves a company, HR asks why they quit and what they liked (and didn’t) about the company.

Stay interviews are the opposite. Employees are asked about their motivation to remain, what could be improved and how they see themselves growing. In today’s never-ending war for talent, stay interviews can be a powerful retention tool, says Matthias Spitzmuller, associate professor of organizational behaviour at Smith.

How do stay interviews work? First, to elicit honest answers and for confidentiality, they should be done by HR rather than a direct boss. As for who to target, Spitzmuller suggests positions that are difficult to replace with high turnover. Stay interviews should be taken seriously. If they’re used to just check boxes, then they can be very frustrating for employees, says Spitzmuller. “You have to have open ears and really listen.”

What should be discussed? First, the employee should be told that they are valued, that the interview is about learning what they need from the firm to stay. Then get into specifics. Pay may be an issue. But often money isn’t what pushes people to quit. Relationships with peers and supervisors are usually important, so ask about those. So are growth opportunities. Does the person feel they can develop skills? Ask how the firm can help.

The final step? Follow up. Many organizations solicit input, but then nothing happens with the input they get, Spitzmuller says.

In that case, your next meeting with up-and-coming talent may just be an exit interview.