Stay Interviews: Action Plans for Employee Engagement and Retention

Two people in business attire sit at a cafe and smile at each other during a conversation. Work documents and a coffee cup rest on the table.

By Jeffrey Cookson, GPHR, SPHR | Executive Coach


When it comes to retaining highly valued employees—particularly from populations different from a dominant cultural group*—organizations often find during an exit interview that addressing a specific concern would have gone a long way in retaining that person.

Inclusive conversations are a proactive way to help maintain or enhance employee engagement on your culturally diverse teams. These conversations demonstrate the organization’s recognition of individual contributions as well as dedication toward each person’s success and well-being. In particular, the stay interview can help people managers identify reasons why someone might leave, potentially providing a wealth of information for what’s usually a minimal investment of time and energy.


Stay Interview Basics

While stay interviews can help build trust between a manager and an employee, they are most commonly used to develop structured actions that can be put into place to help engage and retain an employee. A robust stay interview toolkit supports managers and human resource business partners (HRBPs) by establishing criteria for selecting who receives an interview, specifying types of questions and behaviors to engage and avoid during interviews, offering guidance for how candidate responses might be interpreted across multiple perspectives, and recommending possible actions to take to increase retention.

Based on partnerships with organizations across the globe, LCW recommends including the following when crafting your stay interview toolkit:

Preparing for an Interview

      • Clearly establish evidence-­based, weighted criteria for selecting interview candidates (including warning signals and related considerations).
      • Offer support on handling employee resistance including information for interview candidates about what to expect during and after the interview.
      • Provide checklists and templates for managers to use when preparing for a specific candidate’s interview.

Conducting an Interview

      • Delineate the stages of a stay interview, including effective sequencing of questions and the pre­- and post­-interview process.
      • Suggest what managers should say, do, and avoid before, during, and after an interview.
      • Provide a list of potential questions, along with related considerations for how managers can interpret and understand responses from the interviewee’s perspective.

Following Up After an Interview:

      • Provide sample organization­-specific responses to employee needs and concerns, such as those that surface during exit interviews, engagement surveys, and previously conducted stay interviews.
      • Identify the scope of actions that managers can take without approval as well as circumstances requiring upstream approval or guidance from HRBPs.
      • Highlight internal and external resources available to assist managers in decision­-making processes.
      • Establish organizational guidelines for managerial response, action, and check-­in timelines.


Intentional Implementation

It does little good to support efforts that uncover an employee’s real needs and concerns if the organization is not prepared to recognize and take action on the collected data. It is equally important for managers to avoid over­promising and to get back to employees in a timely manner when desired adjustments cannot be put into place. Across similarities and differences, managers need to be willing to lean into their own discomfort and view circumstances from the employee’s perspective, which requires effective cultural competence training, development opportunities, and resources.

Stay interviews are just one tool to deploy during an organization’s DEI journey, and implementation will be less successful if stay interviews exist in isolation. An effective stay interview strategy includes connecting the process to leadership capacity and development, focused retention efforts, and organization­-wide structure regarding related processes and action plans. Cultural competence development should be provided for anyone conducting inclusive conversations, and a well-executed action plan can go a long way in supporting people managers as they create meaningful engagement and retention plans.


*The author is mindful that some people consider the phrase dominant cultural group to be problematic and, in this instance, uses the phrase purposefully to refer to the group of people who tend to have their preferred ways of thinking and behaving used in and rewarded by the organization, which often leaves people outside that group with the added burden of flexing to another group’s norms in order to be perceived as successful within the organization.


Contact us to learn how LCW can help your organization operationalize equitable stay interview practices that foster stronger employee engagement.


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