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How to Conduct Stay Interviews: 5 Key Questions

Part 2

A man and a woman talking in an office.

This article is the second in a series of three excerpts from The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement and Retention, Second Edition (SHRM, 2018) by Richard P. Finnegan. The first excerpt discussed core features and advantages of stay interviews. 

We've determined after much practice and research that we need just five questions to make stay interviews effective. When you follow up by asking strong probing questions, you will get all the information needed to develop individualized engagement and retention plans that really work. 

As you read the questions, imagine yourself asking them and then apply a few essential skills:

  • Listen 80 percent of the time. Enter the meeting with a commitment to ask, listen and only ask again once you've digested all you've heard. Listening without the distraction of thinking about your next question requires a high level of discipline, but you should strive for it.
  • Probe to learn more. Probing not only develops more information but also shows you care (examples below).
  • Take notes. Notes must capture key points, emotional words and important quotes, especially if you eventually take all you've learned to your manager to gain the OK for a new solution.

Now let's explore what each question is and why they work.

Question 1: What do you look forward to each day when you commute to work?

First, we ask a question that brings employees into the here and now, and asks them to focus on their daily duties and challenges rather than expand on broader issues like pay and benefits. Employees stay and engage based on their relationships with supervisors and colleagues and how much they like what they do—and these categories are far more important than pay and benefits. Effective probes include:

  • Give me an example
  • Tell me more about…
  • Who do you look forward to working with the most?

Question 2: What are you learning here, and what do you want to learn?

Next, we are inviting employees to tell us their desires regarding development and careers. Some are ambitious to advance, some curious to learn more, and others just want to work and go home. We train managers in client companies to focus these discussions and subsequent stay plans on skills, so probes may include:

  • Which other jobs here look attractive to you?
  • What skills do you think are required for those jobs?
  • What skills would you have to build to attain those jobs or some responsibilities of those jobs?

Question 3: Why do you stay here?

While appearing simple at first, the question of why employees want to stay with your organization opens major doors for discovery. Most employees have never pondered their answers, so the manager's role is to stubbornly require one. A good next line is, "Take your time because I really want to know." Employees then must announce to you, and more importantly to themselves, what they value most about their jobs. Possible probes include:

  • Tell me more about why that is so important to you.
  • Is that the only reason you stay or are there others?
  • If you narrowed your reasons to stay to just one, what would it be?

Question 4: When is the last time you thought about leaving us, and what prompted it?

Everyone thinks about leaving sometimes, so a directly-worded question brings a much-needed conversation into the light. When an employee last thought about leaving tells us the urgency, and what prompted it tells us why. Possible probes are many. Here are a three:

  • Tell me more about how that happened. Who said what?
  • What's the single best thing I can do to make that better for you?
  • How important is that to you now on a 1-10 scale?

Question 5: What can I do to make your job better for you?

While this question sends out a net for all remaining topics, it must ultimately yield answers about the interviewer. Avoiding defensiveness is critical, lest word spreads that the manager cannot take feedback and remaining stay interviews become short and fruitless exercises. Here are a few probes for consideration:

  • Do I tell you when you do something well?
  • Do I say and do things to help you do your job better?
  • What are three ways I can be a better manager for you?


It's been proven over and over again: These five questions are the only ones your managers need to conduct effective stay interviews. Employees will not likely remember them when they speak to their peers or go in for another stay interview, so there is little reason to reword them. Asking them consistently also sharpens your managers' skills as their muscle memories develop to where questioning and probing then developing on-target stay plans becomes routine.

Dick Finnegan is CEO of C-Suite Analytics and the Finnegan Institute. Please visit the SHRMStore to order a copy of The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement and Retention, Second Edition.


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