Employers are frantically searching for ways to keep their superstars. As a result, stay interviews have become common. But what’s the point of running a stay interview at work?

And what does a stay interview achieve? It could be that sitting down for a chat might stop someone walking out the door. But if your people are planning exit strategies, then these interviews are likely to be too little too late.

A stay interview is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a conversation with an employee to see what motivates their loyalty, or to try and persuade them to stay with the business. It’s sort of the opposite of an exit interview, where employees are asked about the factors that pushed them to quit.

But there’s a bit of overlap in terms of the questions you might ask. For example, you’ll probably want to know why they want to leave, as well as what they liked about working for the business. Generally, though, stay interviews tend to focus more on the positives rather than the negatives.

The Great Resignation is one reason why these interviews have surged in popularity. But that’s not the only factor.

A CIPD survey from back in September revealed that fewer employers prioritized retention initiatives in the last 12 months compared to previous years. So, it’s easy to see why stay interviews have become such an attractive prospect.

Another major reason for this is the lack of trust that’s prevalent in so many businesses. According to the Centre for Generational Kinetics, 80% of managers believe they’re transparent with their teams. However, only 55% of employees agree.

Even less reported believing that their manager actually cared about their wellbeing, and 80% of employees believe they could do their job without their boss even being involved.

Questions to ask during a stay interview at work

A stay interview at work is ultimately a problem-solving exercise. Their aim is to understand the problems at hand, then work together to find practical solutions.

Active listening helps you to engage with what your people are saying. It also helps to drive the discussion. If you’re the one doing the talking, you’re doing it wrong.

Here are three questions to kick off your stay at work conversation:

How would you describe your experience of our work culture?

This question helps you figure out which category an employee falls into: Hyper-loyal people will tell you what you’re doing right. Or fed-up employees you’re trying to convince to stay. If you really want an honest answer, avoid leading questions.

What does a good day look like in your current role?

This question gives you some insight into employee priorities. They might start talking about the joys of getting to play to their strengths, or when they got to try something totally new. Or, if they hate their job, they might describe being slightly less miserable than usual.

Is there anything more that we could be doing to support employees?

These sorts of questions are arguably your main reason for running a stay interview in the first place. Improving workplace culture should be the core of any good retention strategy. Even your most loyal employees might still have changes they’d like to see.

Why stay interviews are a sign things have gone wrong

Despite their popularity, we’re not totally sold on stay interviews. While some businesses have seen improvements, these are arguably just the benefits of performance management. And those benefits would be more pronounced if feedback was continuous, rather than a last-ditch effort to stop someone walking out the door.

75% of voluntary turnover cases are influenced by managers. So people are more likely to quit a bad boss than the company itself. But good or bad, managerial relationships don’t form overnight.

If you’ve truly alienated a staff member, sitting down for a chat where you big up the business isn’t going to change their minds.

How to avoid needing a stay interview at work

That just leaves the big question: How do you prevent stay interviews from becoming necessary in the first place? We’ve boiled it down to three key elements.

Switch to continuous performance management

Generally speaking, people want to excel at their work. When employees struggle, it’s not just their productivity that suffers. They’re also likely to burn out more quickly as they scramble to compensate. Continuous performance means your people make small, incremental improvements rather than step-change transformation. And document it regularly so they can see their progress in real time. As you manage people over time, you’ll also get a clearer idea of their strengths, and where you should focus their efforts and growth potential in the future.

Two-way feedback

Managing performance isn’t the only purpose feedback has. If your feedback isn’t two-way, you’re seriously missing a trick. Regular types of feedback, like employee check-ins, provide a safe space and process to raise frustrations and concerns. It also means your employees know that their voice is being heard – and acted upon.

By comparison, performing a stay interview when things get bad is more like letting a flooded river burst its banks. You only have yourself to blame for the inevitable collateral damage.

Wellbeing warning signs

The last year has seen record-breaking levels of job stress in employees. If we’ve learned anything from 2021, it’s that protecting the wellbeing of your existing staff should be your number one priority.

That might mean guaranteeing more paid time off for all employees, providing access to mental health resources, or giving people the flexibility to balance work with their personal lives. Listen to your employees. You’ll soon get a sense of the wellbeing issues they care about.

Like anything else, stay interviews are just another tool in a manager’s belt. They certainly have their uses, and some people absolutely swear by them. But they’re not your only option for maintaining retention. So, remember to consider your full range of options when managing your people.

Watch the on-demand webinar to learn how to build a great workplace culture