stay interviews

‘Nearly every organisation is unique in the reasons employees stay.’ Work Institute

Will your employees stay, or will they go? And can you really influence their decisions? Actually, you might be able to if you regularly understand how they are feeling. According to research, asking your people “why?”(we’ll give you some example questions later) increases your ability to predict your employees’ intent to stay with the company by 20%! Stay interviews are the opposite of exit interviews; you ask each engineer what would keep them at the company and discuss what’s working and what might not be. They are a way for you as a tech leader to gain a sense of your team’s pulse, and they don’t need to be a massive amount of extra work.

Here’s our guide to why you should consider carrying out stay interviews, how to manage them, and how they can form part of your overall employee engagement strategy.

What are stay interviews?

It’s probably a given that you don’t want to increase your workload. However, stay interviews might help you in the long run if they increase engagement and prevent or reduce engineer turnover. Stay interviews allow employees to talk to their manager about any issues they may be facing and potentially prevent small problems from developing into something more problematic.

The benefits of stay interviews

By gaining feedback from each person about how they are finding their current role, you’re helping to create a culture of communication and feedback, and you’re highlighting that you’re interested in listening to each employee’s voice. This can be powerful and impactful in driving employee engagement and understanding intent.

Stay interviews can address (among other factors):

  • Employees’ intent to stay (or leave!)
  • Development or skill needs/gaps
  • Career opportunities
  • Team or management concerns
  • Internal barriers to productivity or engagement
  • Workload or reward concerns
Do we really need them?

It depends on factors including your current employee turnover rates and whether turnover is an issue, where your organisation is in it’s development, what your business priorities are and how you could potentially incorporate them into your culture.

And don’t ignore the snowball effect or social proof as persuasion expert Dr Robert Cialdini believed, “The actions of those around us will be important guides in defining the answer.” So, if one or two employees leave or are vocal about their workplace concerns, the snowball effect could start rolling, and others may follow.

One of our CTO Craft Community said, Brendan Mulholland, Technical Co-Founder @ Recital Software, said, “I’d never heard of them until I googled it just now. I’d expect the topics in a stay interview to be covered — on an ongoing basis — in 1-1s. If the manager doesn’t already know the answers to the topics you’d cover in a stay interview, they aren’t being effective and wouldn’t be meeting my standards for a manager.”

And that’s another option, to include questions about engagement and satisfaction in employee 1-to-1s rather than carving out specific stay interviews. 

The point is to ensure you are gaining regular feedback from each person, not about what you call the meeting where you gain the feedback.

When to conduct stay interviews

The good thing is there’s no set rule; it’s about ensuring they fit in with your workplace and culture and don’t coincide with hectic work periods. You may carry them out annually or more regularly if you detect disengagement or concerns with an individual.

If your organisation carries out annual employee satisfaction surveys, then it might be that stay interviews are carried out between the surveys to keep feedback momentum and encourage your people to speak up. The key is flexibility.

The interview itself

Interview sounds incredibly formal, so you could play with words and create a better name to suit your company culture. However, the essence of the meeting remains; it should be a two-way conversation where managers listen, follow through on actions if they say they will and don’t overpromise!

In addition, employees should be given adequate time to prepare, be told the purpose of the meeting and meetings should be somewhere private and neutral. Finally, you need to build trust to gain effective and honest feedback, so ensure you or the manager holding the meeting tells them how their feedback will be used and reiterate the purpose of the meeting.

If you don’t have standard questions created by your organisation, then be prepared, so you know what you want to ask and what you want to gain feedback about.

What questions to ask

No, we can’t write these for you and guarantee that by asking them, all team members will stay forever! But we can give you some guidance and example questions to drive your meetings. 

For example, open-ended questions will give you more detailed information than closed questions. All questions should focus on areas that impact engagement and retention, including the organisation, team, manager and work. You may just want to ask four or five general questions that will give you an overview:

  • Are you happy in your job and why?
  • Do you feel valued by your peers/ manager, and why?
  • How could your job be improved?
  • What’s the one thing you would change about working here?
  • How can I better support you as a manager?

Or you could go into much more detail about specific areas for example:

  • Career progression
  • Team or company morale
  • Work-life balance
  • What motivates or demotivates them in their role?
  • Is anything missing in their role?
  • Are there other skills or experience they are not using in their role that they would like to?
  • How do they find team and company communication etc?
Who is responsible for conducting stay interviews?

It’s debatable, and the answer depends on your organisation, size, maturity etc. Are stay interviews HR’s responsibility? Perhaps, but then in a larger company, will they have time to conduct these with every employee regularly, and in smaller organisations, will there be a dedicated HR department?

And then there’s the question of authenticity. If an HR representative does a stay interview with someone they’ve never met or have no relationship with, will the employee be sufficiently motivated to talk to them openly and honestly? And there’s a risk that the HR individual may not understand the technical side of an engineer’s concerns.

Therefore, ideally, a manager or team lead within the team would be best suited to carrying out stay interviews because they will understand the individual, the team dynamics, career opportunities and current or potential challenges.

Stay interviews must be realistic

Both leaders and employees must understand not only the purpose of stay interviews but the practicalities of managers being able to act on feedback. For example, if an engineer lists numerous issues within their role or with the organisation, a manager cannot promise to rectify all issues and create a perfect team or work culture.

A caveat is that if you decide to introduce stay interviews, you must commit to them. Don’t do one or two and forget to do the rest. Don’t gain feedback but then not act on it. To make them more manageable, you could select high-performing or potential individuals who are vital to the business and speak to them. Or include key feedback questions in one-to-ones.

Exit interviews are a great way to gain feedback on why someone is leaving, but if mistakes have occurred, it’s often too late to rectify them. However, stay interviews can be an effective way for tech leaders to gain feedback from team members about what improvements they would like to see and are a brilliant way to gain a temperature check on how each engineer feels and their engagement levels. However, they are not opportunities to try and fix every issue or every engineer’s demand!


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