How to skip the exit interview and conduct stay interviews


Whether rebounding from layoffs or responding to growth, retaining employees should be a top priority. As Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell’s Soup Company, says, “To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.”

In a classic case of too little, too late, companies often wait until employees leave to ask them about how they felt in their role, or what would have made them stay in it. But this valuable input could be put to work much earlier—and keep great employees from walking out the door in the first place.

Instead of exit interviews, leaders should make it a frequent routine to ask employees about how they’re feeling on the job. They’re called stay interviews—and they can help improve both how work is assigned and the results the employees produce.

As a former head of people, I’ve seen it work best when a direct manager asks the questions, as opposed to someone from the HR team or through an asynchronous survey. I also suggest that the manager ask one of these questions monthly in a one-on-one instead of doing it once a year. This way, you avoid hitting the employee on an exceptionally good—or bad—day that could skew their input, and the leader is able to demonstrate their consistent concern versus a conversation that comes only once or twice a year.

To help you show your interest to your employees, here are four questions you can ask to get employees not only to stay with your team—but also perform better on it.

What can I do better or differently for you?

This question works so well that I typically ask it in every one-on-one with an employee. Yes, even weekly. It demonstrates that a manager is taking their role seriously and values the input of that employee. It also puts the leader in a servant position—right where we want a manager to be.

It’s a great way to get input without using a phrase that strikes fear into many: Do you have any feedback for me? The word “feedback” often comes with baggage from previous bosses who butchered the conversation after offering input on some aspect of their performance. It also directly acknowledges that a manager’s behavior impacts their employees’ performance.

What should our company do to get better results?

If the first question gets to the heart of the manager and employee relationship, this question addresses how the team and company are doing in the eyes of the employee. Senior leadership is often disconnected from the inner workings of its departments and teams, so this question helps bubble up great ideas from the people closest to the work—and customers.

It’d be tempting to think this question is best posed to workers with longer tenure at the company. But new employees have their own novel insights—and they’re often hesitant to mention them, for fear of being the naive new person on the team. This question prompts perspectives from everyone, and it sets the tone that the input of a single worker goes further than they may think.

What would it take for a recruiter to get your attention?

While the last two questions speak directly to performance, asking what a recruiter can do to get a worker’s attention helps address their personal fulfillment factors. Yes, compensation plays a significant role in whether a worker accepts and stays at a job, but there are more motivators out there that a leader can leverage.

For a worker, this question requires a solid self-awareness of what really matters to them. Some may initially struggle with this question, but repetition is key here. What could make one interested in a new job in the summer may look all together different by the winter holidays.

What do you love most about your role?

You’ve likely heard the advice to focus on strengths over weaknesses. Similarly, this question helps an employee look at what they enjoy most about their work, which can help them, and the manager, align more of this work their way.

While the question is phrased in the positive, it’s likely that, by contrast, the employee can also identify work they don’t like. Both nuggets of information can help a manager better route work to and away from the employee. Even slight adjustments in the way work is assigned will help a leader gain favor with their reports.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here