Use the Stay Interview to Retain Top Talent

December 1, 2021

Welcome to the age of the great resignation. If you're not yet familiar, Kathryn Dill's recently published article titled "America's Workers Are Leaving Jobs in Record Numbers" can shed some insight:

"This year's bold career move is walking out the door. U.S. workers left their jobs nearly 20 million times between April and August this year, according to the latest federal data, a number more than 60% higher than the resignations handed in during the same period last year, and 12% above the spring and summer of 2019 when the job market was the hottest it had been in almost 50 years. A March analysis by Gallup found that 48% of the U.S. working population surveyed was actively job searching or watching for opportunities. The survey included workers in every job category, from hourly consumer-facing roles to high-paid professional positions, who were hunting at roughly the same rates. Gallup found that it took a pay raise of more than 20% to hire most employees away from a leader who engaged them.”

This tells us that one of the big challenges companies need to be creative in solving is not simply finding talent but retaining top talent once they're on board. So how do you do that? Well, a lot of ways — ways that are complementary. And one of them is a powerful tool called the stay interview. 

The Stay Interview Prevents the Exit Interview

Have you ever been absolutely slammed with projects only for your most valuable player to turn in a resignation? It's a worst-case scenario for nearly every manager, but the stay interview can help you avoid it.

Along with co-author Sharon Jordan-Evans, Beverly Kay wrote a book titled "Hello Stay Interviews, Goodbye Talent Loss" that describes how the stay interview is a make-sense leadership tool all managers should deploy.


Kaye and Jordan-Evans developed the idea of stay interviews in 1997, before publishing "Love' Em or Lose' Em." It originated from working with an organization worried about losing a key group of talent. They suggested that they ask those people what would make them stay and using the responses to craft retention strategies. It is such a basic and simple question! Are you using it? Probably in an exit interview, right? And, as we all know, that's too late.

The Stay Interview Builds Great Teams

How do you keep your employees pumped up and excited about coming to work every day? Find out by asking them in a stay interview. It isn't just a preventive measure to keep people around. Managers who fully utilize stay interviews also develop more engaged, committed, and productive teams. Have you mandated stay interviews in your organization and held managers accountable for reporting what's learned? If so, congratulations! If not, why not?

What to do if Stay Interviews Turn Uncomfortable

Most managers will admit they are not conducting stay interviews. Why? Often it's because they're afraid of the answers. They ask, "What if I ask my talent what will keep them, and they all say money or a promotion?"

Then, you need to have that conversation. 

Don't let the fear of being unable to fulfill a request get in the way of crucial dialogue. If there's a path toward those outcomes, discuss it. If not, tell the truth about the barriers. Then work on finding solutions that work for everyone. The bottom line is that if you are afraid to conduct a stay interview, you are setting yourself up to be the next casualty of the Great Resignation.  


Questions to Ask in a Stay Interview

Great stay interviews require genuine care and curiosity. They also involve creating just the right questions, given your style and the employee's style. They require anticipating what your talented employees might ask of you and carefully preparing for any hard-to-deliver-on requests. And they include listening as people tell you what matters most to them.

According to the authors, when you ask a question like "What will keep you here?" the answer might prompt a discussion about career, performance, or learning opportunities. But the dialogue often goes well beyond those topics. It could include discussions of work/life balance concerns, or how to manage conflict with a teammate, or whatever else your employees truly want and need.

The book lists dozens of other terrific questions you can use, depending on variables such as your relationship with this person, the organization's culture, the situation at hand, your goals for the conversation, your comfort level, and your experience with stay interviews. Some examples are:

  • What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
  • What makes you hit the snooze button?
  • If you were to win the lottery and resign, what would you miss the most about your job?
  • What do you want to learn this year?
  • Does work give you back as much as it takes out of you?
  • If you had a magic wand, what would be the one thing you would change about this department/team/ organization?
  • As your manager, what could I do a little more of or a little less of?
  • What can we do to support your career goals?
  • How important is your work to you? Why?
  • What makes for a great day?
  • Do you get enough recognition?
  • How do you like to be recognized?
  • When was the last time you said you loved your job? This morning? Last week? You can't remember when?
  • What do you wish you had known before you took this job?
  • What has been a pleasant surprise?
  • If you had a friend coming to work here, what would you tell him?

Have internal discussions with your leadership teams and brainstorm the most helpful stay interview questions for your organization. Until you try them, you won't believe the positive impact they can have on the talented people you hope to keep on your team. And you'll be amazed at the new information you'll receive.

Start the Stay Interview to Avoid the Great Resignation


Great stay interviews are a combination of art and science, questioning and listening. They're not difficult, especially if you're interested in others. Take your genuine caring and curiosity to the stay interview. Wonder about and then ask your talented employees what will keep them engaged and on your team. Listen carefully, follow the blinking words, and dive in. You'll be amazed at what you learn about the people you can least afford to lose. 

PS — If you want to explore the art of retaining top talent more in-depth, I highly recommend reading "Love' Em or Lose' Em."