Stay interviews: How, why, when, worth it?

Deciding if you want to conduct stay interviews with employees might boil down to how often you’re already checking in.
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· 4 min read

“Should I stay or should I go?”

At first blush, punk rock and HR may seem diametrically opposed—one is a gritty musical genre fueled by countercultural angst, and the other is an industry tasked with refining organizational culture while recruiting and managing workers—but that iconic tune by The Clash gets to the heart of at least one HR tactic: The stay interview.

Conceptually, a stay interview is simple: The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) says they “are conducted to help managers understand why employees stay and what might cause them to leave.” During a stay interview, an HR rep or team manager might sit down with an employee and ask questions related to potential problems with an employee’s job, in addition to questions about what’s going well. It’s much like an exit interview, only before a potential exit occurs.

The goal is to understand how to keep workers happy and ultimately retain them. But according to Vadim Liberman, editor of the HR trade publication and a former talent engagement manager at Prudential Financial, stay interviews are no substitute for a continuous dialogue between employees and managers about what’s working and what needs to improve.

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If you’re conducting stay interviews, you might already be scrambling to address problems that have been festering for a long time, explained Liberman. “Employees should always be having conversations with their managers” about what’s going well on the job and what isn’t, he said. “If you wait until there’s a potential problem to start conducting these kinds of interviews…You’re already too late.”

As record resignations squeezed the job market throughout 2020 and 2021, some industry leaders recommended stay interviews as one tool to help combat attrition. CNBC called them “the next big trend in the Great Resignation” last year. Brian Kropp, chief of HR research at Gartner, told Fortune the use of stay interviews “as a stand-alone retention tool ballooned” in 2021. Scott Bonneau, VP of global talent attraction and HR analytics at, told NBC News last December: “I think stay interviews can be quite effective...It promotes and fosters trust and open communication.”

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Steffen Buch, VP of people and culture at the talent lifecycle management platform Beamery, explained to HR Brew how stay interviews have helped managers at his company become better at their jobs. The stay interview is “a really easy way to teach leaders what is important in order to maintain a good relationship with their employees,” he said.

Buch believes it’s vital that stay interviews unfold without fear of interruptions. “This should be a conversation where you have no phone calls in between, where you have no Slack messages in between,” he said. Ultimately, Buch stressed, the employee should feel that they are “the most important person during this time frame.”

Ok, but what if retention isn’t always a good thing? Liberman argues that stay interviews might be ineffective at weeding out low-performing workers. “You can have an employee that’s very comfortable in their role doing very little,” he said. “By the way, a lot of people would actually love that if they could do that.”

In Liberman’s view, conducting a formalized stay interview can be a waste of resources if it’s conducted with the wrong employee. “You shouldn’t care if your low performers leave, you should probably be encouraging that,” Liberman said. “Saying that kind of stuff is sort of antithetical to what allegedly progressive HR looks like–which is all about coaching the employee…Not everyone wants your stupid coaching.”

Bottom line. Whether you’re calling it a stay interview or something else, both Buch and Liberman agree: Regularly checking in with employees is inarguably beneficial. Buch believes conducting more formalized stay interviews at a regular cadence, whether it’s “every week, every month, or every six weeks,” can help workers feel valued, while Liberman said that HR leaders should strive to “reframe these kinds of conversations” as a casual part of worker-manager relationships.—SB

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @SammBlum on Twitter. For confidential conversations, ask Sam for his number on Signal.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.