by Bill, Leadership, Management

Make Employee “Stay Interviews” a Part of Your Engagement Strategy

2 Comments 17 February 2011

From time to time we are asked by the editors of Workforce Online to respond to reader questions. Recently, we were asked to respond to a question about using “stay interviews” as part of an employee engagement strategy. I thought the answer might be of interest to you.

Dear Workforce:
I’d like to start implementing “Stay Interviews”.  What kinds of questions should we be asking and how do I convince managers that this is important?

As opposed to exit interviews which are triggered by a staff member’s departure and yield nominal benefit, or “no interviews” which is akin to playing Russian roulette, “stay interviews” are conducted for the express purpose of strengthening the bond with your best people, and discovering what causes them to remain with the organization.

They can be one of the lowest cost, highest yielding activities by a management that is striving for greater levels of engagement and productivity. That’s exactly how it should be presented to your management team. (i.e., If we won’t make time to have a 40 minute chat with our best people, how and when will we make time to replace them?)

Our research, and others’ has consistently demonstrated that the top things which create stickiness between the individual and the organization, and the attendant discretionary effort include:

  • Having meaningful work and the freedom to pursue it
  • Working in a positive, challenging, high performance (read, elite) culture
  • Getting lots of opportunities to learn and grow (preparing to leave, if necessary)

Aside from not getting enough of one of the above, the chief cause of hitting the exit ramp is working for an unskilled, immature, or self-absorbed leader.

Conducted by a trained interviewer with position authority, stay interviews should focus on the above factors. Though some organizations find it convenient to conduct them coincident with the regular performance review cycle, we don’t recommend it, as performance reviews often carry too much baggage. Often times stay interviews are conducted on a skip-level basis as a means of adding credibility and objectivity to the process.

It is as important to realize what a stay interview is not as what it is. They are not a negotiating session, or a platform from which to rationalize or defend the status quo. Be plain about this from the start. Rather, the interview is an opportunity to listen (really listen) to the very people your annual report likely credits as being your most valuable asset. The interview should deal with questions like:

  • Why do you stay (with this organization, team, leader)?
  • What do you like best/least about you job?
  • If something has caused you to consider leaving in the last 6 months, what was it? Has it been resolved?
  • What would you like more/less of? What one thing would you like to see changed?
  • What’s your dream job, and are you making satisfactory progress to achieve it?
  • What can I/we do to support that effort?
  • Do you have any similarly talented friends or acquaintances who should be working here alongside you?
  • Is there one person in the organization who has really been helpful to you of late (so we can thank them appropriately)?

Not unlike the financial audits that every company does periodically, a combination of stay interviews with your best people, and engagement surveys of the entire workforce will inexpensively provide the organizational equivalent of color Doppler radar, with measures of actionable intelligence and goodwill. Good luck!


A thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette is a seminar leader, keynote speaker, and executive coach. He helps individuals and organizations improve business outcomes by having a focused, engaged, capably led workforce. He is co-author of the newly released book, Rebooting Leadership. For more information about Bill, his partner Richard Hadden, and their work, please visit their  website, or follow him on Twitter at


- who has written 238 posts on Contented Cows.

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2 Comments so far

  1. Interesting concept, Bill. I presume the organizations who conduct stay interviews are the ones that already care about engaging their people. Any advice for the toxic workplace where employees are afraid to speak up or only tell management what it wants to hear? (Maybe it’s a moot point as this type of org is unlikely to consider a stay interview … ) Your thoughts, please.

  2. Bill Catlette says:

    Hi Sybil. Thanks for your interest and the question. There is more than a grain of truth to your observation that managements which stand guard over a dispirited workforce are often late to the game when it comes to efforts to improve engagement. Sadly, many don’t wake up until they are getting trampled by employees and customers alike who have opted to vote with their feet. Or, as we’ve been known to put it in speeches, “it’s your people, stupid!”

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Considered thought leaders in the arena of leadership and employee engagement, Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden speak to, train, and coach managers on leadership practices for better business outcomes.

OUR PREMISE: Having a focused, engaged, and capably led workforce is one of the best things any organization can do for its bottom line.


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