Are Stay Interviews Here to Stay?

March 4, 2015

stay interviews here to stay

Something is very wrong with employee engagement and retention. Consider these facts:

  • Voluntary quits have increased during each of the past six years and are racing to their all-time high
  • Gallup tells us employee engagement has hardly budged since 2000
  • Another study says we spend $1.53 billion each year to fix these things

If our government was spending one billion-plus each year to fix something with no results, republicans would blame democrats and vice versa and CNN would produce a special report. These outcomes are critical for organizations of all sizes, yet we march along to the same beat as though our current solutions are working. They are not.

What are those current solutions? Surveys. We gather results from exit surveys and engagement surveys and assume the data bridges easily to solutions. If all employees want more recognition, the thinking goes, give them employee appreciation week and employee of the month. Or if they want better communications, have town hall meetings and shape up the newsletter.

The missing piece is this: employees stay or leave and engage or disengage mostly based on whether they trust their boss. It’s not that complicated. Yet we continue to build “solutions” that work around the boss as though they are invisible…or too busy to participate. Busy doing…well…what? Isn’t their job to lead, engage, and retain their teams?

Stay interviews, then, are the ultimate solutions…and the anti-survey, because they treat all employees as individuals, as people, rather than a line item on survey results that assume if the average score is this then all employees feel that way. They don’t. And if high-performers put out four times more work than the rest, as studies tell us, don’t we especially want to know their opinions separately from everyone else’s?

The point is, solutions to employee engagement and retention must be individualized because people are people, people work for people, and people are imperfect and inconsistent compared to each other. And we want to feel as though there is individualized, special treatment for us. Stay interviews, then, provide the platform for managers to ask each employee, one-on-one, five questions to learn precisely what that manager must do to engage and retain that employee. The five questions are:

  1. What do you look forward to when you come to work each day? To get off on a positive start and shape the employee’s thoughts to day-to-day issues
  1. What are you learning here? To bring attention to job and career growth if this is important to the employee, as well as to learn what critical gaps exist that block productivity
  1. Why do you stay here? This is a stumper as few employees have considered this questions…but unlocking the answer gives incredible clues to leverage
  1. Why might you leave? Let’s get this on the table so we can address it
  1. What can I do as your manager to make working here better for you? This is the broom at the end to capture any leftover, critical thoughts

Doubters might say, “They’ll all want a raise, and I can’t give it to them. Then what?” When writing The Stay Interview, I interviewed many managers and asked what things employees wanted to talk about the most. The answer? Obstacles to personal productivity, as in change this process, fix this equipment, ask this department to meet their deadlines. They mostly gave suggestions so they could produce more work. How’s that for improving engagement?

Stay interviews ARE here to stay. Whether you run an organization or just a chunk of one, get off that survey addiction and connect with your employees one-on-one. Your own productivity and even your career will benefit as a result, I promise.

Check out Richard Finnegan’s book The Stay Interview: A Manager’s Guide to Keeping the Best and Brightest.

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About The Author

Dick Finnegan is the author of The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement and Retention which is the top-selling SHRM-published book in history. He is also the author of Rethinking Retention in Good Times and Bad, and his new books for 2015 include The Stay Interview: A Manager’s Guide to Keeping the Best and Brightest, to be published in over 20 languages and audio book, and HR’s Greatest Challenge: Driving the C-Suite to Improve Employee Engagement and Retention. Dick is CEO of C-Suite Analytics which helps organizations improve engagement and retention including STAYview that guarantees turnover will decrease 20% in the first year or funds are returned. His experience includes solving turnover and engagement in Siberian banks, African gold mines, multi-national corporations in China, and for the CIA…as well as for healthcare, call centers, manufacturing, and other industries in the U.S.


  1. avatar

    The problem you have is that you want this to be done by my manager. If my manager is any good, he(she) is paying attention and already knows this. If he(she) is not paying attention, and I tell the truth, I run a real risk of being fired, because, if he(she) wanted to know, he(she) would be paying attention.

    I am 63. I have been working since i was 15. I have had two bosses I could have had this conversation with, and neither of them needed it. They both knew what their people wanted and needed.

    Bad bosses are bad bosses because they choose to be. They don’t know how to be better, and choose not to learn. This is hardly the first book that addresses these issues. Bad bosses don’t bother to read the books.

  2. avatar

    This happened at my place:
    0% – 2009
    0% – 2010
    0% – 2011
    0% – 2012
    0% – 2003
    2% – 2014
    2% – 2015

    Is it any wonder people are leaving!

  3. avatar

    […] How can companies combat employee retention problems? Richard Finnegan explains how stay interviews can help your team feel more involved and engaged.  […]

  4. avatar

    There’s a disconnect: the department director from the HR team, neither of whom work with anyone in employee relations. Then all three get shocked when stats show a dreadful turnover rate that scarily, has been going unchecked for years; made even worse when no party is empowered to make genuine change. ie. STAY.

    The ‘stay’ interview – internal recruiting, employee retention, effective communications – all parts of employee relations, signs of HR + PR integration. Alas few businesses adopt this kind of thinking; they ask employees to ‘justify’ why the should get a raise, b/c managers don’t take the time to learn, to know. Love the responses to the doubters, spot-on to the upsides of true ER and benefits of rewarding feedback. FWIW.

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