The Stay Interview: Gain Insight, Reduce Turnover

Key Takeaways:  

  • Employee turnover is extraordinarily costly (in time, dollars, and institutional knowledge). 

  • A stay interview can provide insight to help reduce turnover. 

  • A stay interview can help a leader build a culture of engagement and alignment. 

Is your organization experiencing an increase in employee (or volunteer) turnover? Do the people who stay seem less satisfied or motivated to perform well? Have you tried engaging employees in conversation to hear their stories and better understand how you might support them or their team? 

Employee turnover rates have increased dramatically in recent years. Blame it on COVID, the gig economy, pay/benefit differentials, metal health stressors, or life balance, but turnover is real. It has direct costs in time (hiring process, onboarding, new person becoming effective) and dollars (customer/order loss, unemployment costs, etc.). There’s also an institutional knowledge or team contributor loss that can derail new or ongoing work. A logical response is to increase employee retention and motivation. The stay interview can help. 

Richard Finnegan did some of the seminal work on this idea. He defined the stay interview as a “structured discussion a leader conducts with each individual employee to learn the specific actions she must take to strengthen that employee’s engagement and retention with the organization.”  

That could involve a significant time investment. I contend you can gain insight, build relationships, encourage employees, and reduce turnover by modifying the idea and conducting brief, non-formal conversations throughout the year. In my 35+ years in manufacturing, local government, non-profit, and higher education, I have observed managers having informal conversations to boost morale and encourage employees. (Do you remember “management by walking around” in the 1980s?) Today, I suggest deploying a non-formal approach in which you use structured questions, listen for comprehension, and take a few notes to initiate a culture of engagement and alignment.  

This need not be a formal process that includes every single employee. Time is at a premium. A non-formal stay interview could be boiled down to just two or three questions:  

  1. We’ve seen increased turnover these past few years. What motivates you to stay? (Be sure to listen for understanding… without formulating a response in your head.)  

  2. Absolutely no names, but what have you heard folks say that they like about working here?  

  3. Again, no names, but what have you heard folks say that they do not like about working here? (Asking what folks have heard frees the employee to share openly, without worry of exposing a personal concern.)  

If your organization has the capacity to go a little more in-depth, I have excerpted some additional questions that might help. As Finnegan noted, “Stay interviews will not lead to perfect outcomes, but they will improve engagement and retention in your company… by helping your leaders build more productive one-on-one relationships with their employees.” 

Stay Interview Sample Questions:  

  • What do you look forward to when you come to work each day? 

  • What do you like most or least about working here? 

  • What keeps you working here? 

  • What might tempt you to leave? 

  • If you could change something about your job, what would that be? 

  • What motivates to do your best every day? 

  • What discourages you about your work?  

  • How do you like to be recognized? 

  • What talents are not being used in your current role? 

  • What can I do to best support you? 

  • Is there a question I should have asked, but didn’t? 

Don’t forget to close the interview. For example:   

Thank you for your input. If I heard you correctly, it sounds like your main motivators for staying are _________ and _________. And, it sounds like we might improve a little if we _________. Is that a good summary? Thank you again. We will use this input to try and better support our employees… existing and new hires!  

NOTE: Here are questions for employees with fewer than 6 months on the job:  

  • Does your work match what we told you in the interview? 

  • Is there anything that might help a new hire feel more welcome here? 

For additional reference / reading:  

Finnegan, Richard (2015). The Stay Interview. Finnegan Institute. AMACOM Books; 1st edition (March 1, 2015). Additional information:  

SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) (n.d.) Stay Interview Questions. Available at: 

>>> Coming soon: The Stay Interview: Keeping Volunteers Onboard and Motivated.  

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March 1, 2022 at 2:19 pm

These are great questions with more application than a stand-alone interview, although that's a good idea too. I'll use some of them in performance evals and team meetings. Thanks!

March 2, 2022 at 8:41 am
Brian Raison

Fantastic. Thanks for the positive feedback Jane.


Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.