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12 questions to help you conduct effective stay interviews

Stay interviews help you engage employees before it's too late. Here are some tips for doing stay interviews well.

4 min read


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When was the last time you let somebody know that you valued their work? Perhaps it was longer ago than you might think.

According to a TINYPulse research report on employee engagement and organizational culture, only 21% of employees surveyed indicated that they felt “highly valued” at their workplace. One way to help employees feel appreciated is to have a specific conversation geared towards career development. These discussions, called “stay interviews,” are gaining traction in the workplace and are credited as a way to counteract employee disenfranchisement.

Even though the thought of formalizing this type of conversation might seem time-consuming, in the long run, it saves managers times. For example, in one study cited by the Society for Human Resource Management’s “HR Magazine,” when a retirement community implemented stay interviews for their long-term nursing staff, turnover dropped by 72 percent.

If you’d like to implement your own version of stay interviews with your team, but are unsure of how to proceed, here’s a framework to help you get started. Think of each of the categories below as “conversational domains”—sections of the stay interview that will help you organize your thoughts. It’s not necessary to ask every question listed below. Instead, pick those questions that you think best suits your employees’ current situation.

Aspects of the job the employee enjoys

Start with the positives to uncover the areas that the employee most enjoys in his or her current role. Look for skill sets that could transfer to other projects or roles.

  • What are the favorite parts of your job?
  • What is it about your job that brings you energy?
  • Which projects this year have you been most proud of? Why?

Aspects of the job that are challenging for the employee

This topic may be a bit more difficult, as employees are sometimes concerned about appearing in some way deficient in their job. Encourage the conversation by saying, “You know, every job has aspects that are challenging …”

  • What elements of your job do you find draining (or less interesting)?
  • If you could change one part of your current role, what would it be?
  • I’ve noticed that you tend to get stuck or frustrated when ____ happens. Have you noticed the same thing? What’s causing the frustration?

Employee’s career aspirations

This may also be an area where employees might hesitate to fully disclose their goals, if they think that stating ambitions beyond your department will adversely affect their current job situation.

  • Let’s blue-sky for a few minutes — if you could do anything for a living, what would it be? How can we bring a few of those “dream job” elements into your current role?
  • What do you envision as the next step for you career-wise?
  • I know that you might choose to eventually move on from our department and I’m completely OK with that …”

As a leader, how can you help?

The most important element of stay interviews is to assure employees that their contributions are valued. You also want to emphasize your support for their professional development.

  • How can we reconfigure your current role to help you grow your skills?
  • How can I help you on your professional development path? What should I start/stop/continue doing?
  • What feedback do you have for me in the way that I interact with you?

Leadership comprises many elements. Foremost among them is creating a work environment in which people feel valued. To keep your best and brightest “on board,” leaders must communicate the ways in which they value their team members. One of the most effective ways to demonstrate faith in your team’s abilities is to give them a chance to describe their satisfaction — or lack thereof — with you personally in a face-to-face meeting. Use these conversation starters to help you keep your top talent and increase employee engagement in the process.

Jennifer V. Miller is a writer and leadership development consultant. Her writing and digital training materials help business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Follow her on LinkedIn and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”

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