How to Conduct a Stay Interview

By Dennis McCafferty  |  Posted 01-02-2014 Email Print this article Print

When valued workers announce their departures, they're often asked, "Why are you leaving?" during an exit interview. But wouldn't you get better outcomes by asking, "What can I do to convince you to stay?" before these staffers have made a final decision to leave? You can have this very conversation during what's called a stay interview, according to John Sullivan, one of the foremost HR authorities in the country. Based out of Silicon Valley, Sullivan provides a detailed, step-by-step, how-to on stay interviews. It's a topic that merits more serious consideration, he contends, as the competition for talent, especially within IT, only intensifies. "We live in a world where the minute after a manager does something to anger or frustrate an employee, the employee can react negatively by instantly applying for a new job by simply pushing a single button on their smartphone," he writes. "This 'stay interview' approach is a combination of customer relationship management and market research approaches. Almost any manager can dramatically reduce their turnover rate and save hundreds of thousands of dollars by implementing this simple and inexpensive tool." Described as "the father of HR metrics" by, Sullivan has written more than 900 articles and 10 books on talent management, and has spoken about HR topics before more than 300 corporations/organizations in 30 countries. For more from Sullivan on this topic, click here.

  • Tune Your Radar

    Arrange for a stay interview at the earliest sign of a potential departure. If you delay too long, the decision to leave may already have been made.
    Tune Your Radar
  • Pick Your Performers, Part I

    Don't hold a stay interview for every single staffer. Determine which ones are the prime "keepers" and monitor their engagement closely.
    Pick Your Performers, Part I
  • Pick Your Performers, Part II

    A good formula for deciding whether a worker deserves a stay interview? Calculate the estimated negative dollar business impact if they departed, along with the probability of them doing so in the next 12 months.
    Pick Your Performers, Part II
  • Focus on Format

    The one-on-one interview remains an informal yet highly personalized way to go. But focus groups, questionnaires and sessions with HR managers can also help you get a good sense of the temperature of the room.
    Focus on Format
  • Anticipate Resistance

    Some employees may appear uncomfortable at first during a session. Assure them that they're encouraged to speak freely without their loyalty being called into question.
    Anticipate Resistance
  • Send Positive Karma

    While the worker will likely bring up some gripes, including some which might involve you, you must genuinely welcome such input while also sending the message that the employee is highly valued.
    Send Positive Karma
  • Identify the Pluses and Minuses

    Your conversation should clearly map out what job factors challenge, engage and otherwise keep the staffer happy—and which create discontent.
    Identify the Pluses and Minuses
  • Always Keep Resolvable Issues in Mind

    During the session, take note of which issues can be effectively addressed and which cannot. Steer the exchange toward the former, but don't convey a dismissive tone about the latter.
    Always Keep Resolvable Issues in Mind
  • Think Long-Term

    You should use this opportunity to fully understand the employee's passions and long-range goals.
    Think Long-Term
  • Conclude With Action Points

    No stay interview should end without clear action steps—requiring participation from you and the employee—to improve the present situation. The overarching goal, of course, is employee retention.
    Conclude With Action Points
Dennis McCafferty is a freelance writer for Baseline Magazine.


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