12 Stay Interview Questions to Ask Your Employees

Ask these questions to understand what your employees like and what can be improved.

Does this sound familiar?

A great employee submits a resignation letter and gives their two weeks’ notice. You sit down to chat with them and understand why they’re leaving.

After they politely beat around the bush for a few minutes, they finally admit, “I just didn’t think there was room for me to grow here.”

Or maybe they say something like:

  • “I wanted to find a more positive team culture.”
  • “I kept waiting for a promotion, and it never came.”
  • “I want to work 7 to 3 instead of 9 to 5, so I can pick up my daughter from school.”

As you politely wish them the best and think about how you’re going to replace them, you start feeling a bit of despair.

They were such a great employee! You would have happily given them flexible hours if you knew that was their biggest frustration. They work way more than 8 hours anyway.

Or maybe you had no idea that they wanted a raise and you’re frustrated because it’s now going to cost you way more to replace them than it would’ve cost you to increase their pay.

In the world of employee retention, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

So what does this ounce of prevention look like?

Stay interviews.

What exactly is a stay interview?

A stay interview (also known as a "stay survey") is a short interview to understand why employees are staying a your organization and what you can do better - this you catch any small issues before they become big problems.

Stay interviews are different from exit interviews. Exit interviews try to find out why an employee is unhappy after they’ve already secured another role.

While they can be helpful for learning more about an employee’s experience, they aren’t especially useful when it comes to convincing an employee to give up their shiny new job offer.

The trouble with stay interviews is getting people to be honest.

For a stay interview to be effective, people need to say what’s really bothering them. You don’t want people to grin and bear it, because bearing it means they’re just biding their time until they find another role.

One way that companies avoid this is by reserving stay interviews for employees that they’ve identified as highly valuable. The exclusivity of a stay interview demonstrates an employees’ worth and encourages them to be honest.

But today, if your company has more than a handful of employees, conduction stay interviews at scale is not an easy task.

An effective solution for this problem is distribution employee surveys.

These surveys would be anonymous, giving employees the freedom to indicate what their biggest issues are at your organization.

This approach also helps you achieve some scale. If your employees all indicate that there are limited advancement opportunities within your organization, you can quickly redirect some of your HR team’s time and resources towards creating more clear career progression plans.

Here are a few questions you can use for your stay surveys.

Top stay interview questions:

I would recommend this organization to friends or peers as a great place to work.

Are your employees likely to recommend your place of work to their friends? This is a great sign that they’re happy with your organization. High performing employees tend to have networks with equally high performing professionals.

If they’re planning to quit their company or don’t feel like they have a future there, they are unlikely to tell their friends to apply.

This question is a quick way to gauge how employees feel about your company.

This question also takes advantage of something marketers have known about for a long time: the loyalty effect as described by Frederick F. Reichheld.

A brand’s best customers don’t just buy a lot from the business, they talk about it to their friends and family.

Think about the last time a friend bragged about an item they bought or a subscription they’ve been using or a customer service experience that was flawless.

The next time you need something in that category, you probably remembered their experience and purchased from the same spot.

The loyalty effect also exists for employers. When employees are happy about their jobs, they talk about it to their friends, family, and network.

They talk about the projects they’re working on and the opportunities they have access to. Similarly, when they’re having a poor experience, they vent about their micromanaging boss or the boring work to their network.

If you rank poorly on this question, it’s time to find out why so you can address it.

If I were offered the same job at another organization, I would likely stay at this organization.

When most people are unhappy at a company, they look for a comparable role at another organization.

They’re not looking for a career change. They’re looking for a culture change by finding a company where the culture is more positive, there are more opportunities, or they’re simply paid more.

This question is especially important for companies who employ a high number of knowledge workers, particularly in the tech space.

If you have developers or project managers leaving for the exact same role at a different company, it’s a sign that there is something about their work experience within your organization that no longer works.

Now, you might be thinking: why would someone not take the same role at another organization, especially if the pay is higher?

Nine out of ten people say they’d be willing to take a pay cut if for a role where they feel happy and fulfilled. If your employees feel respected and encouraged in their job, they aren’t likely to go looking elsewhere.

On the other hand, if they feel micromanaged, overlooked, and overworked, they’ll go through the hassle of searching for jobs, refreshing their resume, and heading out on interviews to get a new job.

It only makes sense. Employees spend most of their waking hours working. They want those hours to be both positive and productive. Ensure that your organization provides that environment.

I’m proud to say what organization I work for.

If you’re ashamed to work for an organization, it’s only a matter of time before you start looking for another job.

Our work plays a huge role in our identity and how others perceive us.

It’s where we spend most of our time and the first thing people ask about when they meet you for the first time.

If your company has a reputation for exploiting workers, polluting the environment, or having less than ethical supply chain practices, your employees are going to be embarrassed to say they work for you, whether it’s at a party or on their LinkedIn profile.

If you rank poorly on this question, it’s a sign that your employees likely view their time at your company as a brief stopover to pay their bills until they reach their final, more respectable, destination.

Here are a few steps you can take to make your employees proud to represent your brand.

Communicate how your business has an impact on real people

Most people want to feel proud of whether they work, so give them some proof.

Brand reputation is one of the main reasons banks, for example, highlight their work within their communities whether it’s ensuring a local sports team has uniforms for its young players or families going through difficult times have food to eat.

If your organization doesn’t have the budget to make large donations, communicate the ways in which your company’s work makes a difference.

Does your financial technology app help deliver microloans to women in developing countries?

Does your video conferencing platform help deliver telemedicine to people living in remote areas with limited access to primary care?

Look for these stories and incorporate them into your internal communications strategy.

Communicate how your employees make your business possible

Highlight the unique contributions of your employees.

Whether it’s your call centre employees, your developers, or your finance team, make it clear why your employees are relevant and valued.

Where possible, connect these employee stories to specific customer stories.

How did a tech support agent’s outstanding service ensure that a family could successfully surprise their grandmother with a virtual birthday including guests from around the world?

How did a project team’s hard work and dedication produce a release that made your app more accessible?

Mentor and develop your employees

Show your employees all the different ways your company makes a difference, and give them opportunities to make career changes from within your organization.

For instance, employees in your finance team may feel unfulfilled and unimpressed with the work that they’re doing only to learn that they’d be happier on the customer success team where they can work with people and solve problems.

Most days I feel a sense of accomplishment from what I do.

Some employees, particularly high performing employees, are motivated by achievement.

They love the feeling of successfully completing a project, but they also look at constructive criticism as an opportunity to get better.

These employees seek out organizations where there are opportunities to do well, be rewarded, and progressively get better.

If you score poorly on this question, it may be a sign that you aren’t providing these employees with enough motivation.

The first step to helping your employees feel a sense of accomplishment is to give them tasks that are slightly outside of their comfort zone while also ensuring they aren’t set up for failure.

For instance, it’s great to ask them to oversee a project, but if there’s no project sponsor or buy-in from other stakeholders, you’re probably setting them up for failure and frustration around things that are outside their control.

Once you’ve found an appropriate task or project, set goals that clearly articulate what you expect them to accomplish.

When do you want the final product?

What are the success criteria for the final product?

Once you’ve provided a clear goal, ideally a S.M.A.R.T. goal, consider what incentives you’ll provide.

It won’t always be appropriate or feasible to provide a reward, but it may be worth setting a larger incentive for your employees to work towards.

For example, if you articulate three main goals you expect them to accomplish by the end of the year – in addition to their usual work duties – they may be entitled to a raise or a promotion.

My role is an excellent fit with my strengths.

Employees who get to use their strengths every day are 15% less likely to quit, six times more likely to be engaged, and 8% more productive.

Plus, they’re three times more likely to say that they have an excellent quality of life.

Sure, work is work and sometimes you have to do tasks that are boring or not enjoyable.

But generally speaking, organizations get the best work out of employees when those employees feel like they’re doing something they’re good at.

Great managers know how to delegate work fairly to ensure there’s an even workload while also lining tasks up to employee’s strengths.

It’s a win-win scenario. Moreover, giving your employees work that aligns to their strengths gradually builds up their confidence and encourages them to look at how they can build on these strengths through additional training, benefiting both their career and their company’s productivity.

I am fairly rewarded (e.g. pay, promotion, training) for my contributions to this organization.

Do your employees feel fairly compensated? If not, they’ll be on the hunt for a better paying job faster than you can say “turnover.”

With fierce competition for talent, employers cannot afford unfair penny pinching.

It’s important to keep tabs on what the market’s offering for specific roles and years of experience. Otherwise, another company – in many cases your competition – will swoop in and pay your employees what they deserve.

That said, many employees may feel uncomfortable asking for a raise. They might assume that if they do the hard work, their superiors will notice, and reward them accordingly. But in many organizations, and maybe even yours, the philosophy is to wait until employees ask for a raise or wait until they are promoted before giving money out.

If there are automatic raises, they are given to everyone and tied to inflation. This is why many young professionals believe the fastest way to get a raise is to switch jobs.

Instead, conduct salary surveys and benchmarking exercises to understand what your employees could reasonably expect to earn if they went elsewhere then make sure what you’re paying them lines up.

At the same time, don’t get stuck on what the research tells you. This research should inform what your standard salaries are, but it shouldn’t be a blocker to rewarding outstanding employees.

Telling a superstar worker that they have to get the standard pay rise their colleagues get – even when they’re outperforming them – is a quick way to ensure they start interviewing for other roles during their lunch break.

I would recommend my direct manager to others.

Your employees spend most of their day with their manager.

So unless your organization has a big reputational problem, if people leave it probably isn’t the larger organization that’s the problem – it’s their manager.

The responses you get to this question are a quick peek into how your employees feel about their day-to-day work experience.

One of the top complaints among high performers is micromanaging superiors.

Nobody likes a micromanager, but micromanagement isn’t always ill-intentioned. It might just be a sign of an inexperienced manager or a manager that thinks a command-and-control method is the best approach.

If your stay survey results show that an overwhelming number of employees feel micromanaged, consider training your managers on how to stop micromanaging by teaching them to:

  • Practice delegation: This doesn’t mean dictating exactly how you want something done and hovering the entire time. Instead, explain the work, explain what the desired outcome is, and ensure the employee has the resources needed to get the work done.
  • Set clear goals: Be clear on what you need accomplished, when, and what the key milestones are so that your employee knows when they can work independently and when you expect updates.
  • Don’t let perfectionism stall progress: Something doesn’t have to be done exactly your way in order for it to be done. After delegating for a while, you’ll begin to see that trusting and empowering your team gives you the time and space to do more. Keep in mind that there will be times when employees struggle or fail. Focus on coaching, instead of criticizing, so that they’ll be able to do the work effortlessly next time. Coaching the people you delegate work to is an investment that pays dividends.

I enjoy the colleagues I work with.

We spend a lot of time at work, with some employees reporting that they spend more time with their “work family” than their actual family.

While we’re spending more time than ever at work, employees say that having a “work family” is a positive part of their job.

83% of people in one survey said that their work family makes them feel happier. Meanwhile, nearly 70% of workers say these close connections at work make them more successful.

Your employees don’t have to become family or even best friends with their colleagues, but it is important that they enjoy working with their team.

Otherwise, coming into work – in person or virtually – will start to feel more and more unbearable.

You can promote team connections in a few ways.

  • Organize activities for employees to get to know each other
  • Ensure that work is fairly distributed among employees
  • Give employees a forum to ask questions and seek help
  • Encourage employees to become subject matter experts in specific areas and help each other

The overall business goals and strategies set by senior leadership are taking this organization in the right direction.

Your top performing employees are thinking about their career trajectory. This means that each time your company decides what direction it wants to take, these employees re-calculate whether they want to stick around at your company.

In some cases, it’s unclear what a company’s direction is, causing concern among employees. When it looks like a company isn’t staying ahead of the market by innovating or failing to upgrade its systems and processes, great employees want to start looking for an organization with more staying power.

If your company undergoes major changes, such as a merger, make sure you keep them in the loop and communicate what this change will mean for them.

If you aren’t going through a major change, but you receive low scores on this question, evaluate whether your organization’s business goals – and how employees’ roles fit into these goals – are clear.

What do you look forward to when you come to work every day?

Do your employees feel a sense of excitement when they come into work?

This may seem like a frivolous question, but an employee’s level of excitement and interest in their work determines how much discretionary effort they’ll put into it.

It is very difficult to measure the amount of “effort” knowledge workers give. If an employee decides to hold back effort, a manager can’t detect it so long as they do their main job.

This could mean that an employee might not go the extra mile to solve a problem, volunteer for a special project, or share innovative ideas with their team.

What do you like the least about working here?

This sounds like an uncomfortable question, but it’s actually the most exciting one on the list.

If you can find out what the majority of employees dislike the most about working at your company, you can save yourself ample time and lots of turnover.

Do they dislike the lack of training opportunities?

You can find out what skills they want to learn and offer training or learning resources.

Do they dislike their benefits?

You can focus next year’s efforts on putting together a better healthcare offering.

Do they feel unappreciated?

Now you know you need to work on your employee recognition strategy.

View this question as an expedient way to boost your employees’ level of satisfaction with your company.

If you could change something about your job, what would it be?

It’s not enough to ask employees what they like the least about working somewhere. It’s also important to ask them what they’d like changed.

Often, companies make the mistake of assuming what improvements their employees want.

This can backfire. The last thing you want to do is put a lot of time and energy into pancake breakfasts only to learn employees just wanted better compensation.

Use this question as a way to deliver what employees actually care about, rather than what you think is best.

Using the right survey software

By leveraging the right survey software, you can distribute stay interviews and quickly act on data Sparkbay’s employee survey tool makes it easy for organizations to distribute surveys and track data while keeping all employees’ responses anonymous.

Interested in learning more about how to distribute stay interviews at scale? You can click here for a demo.