Stay interview questions to ask top-performing employees

If your company does not already conduct stay interviews, it might soon. As employers continue to struggle with the effects of The Great Resignation and a low unemployment rate, coming up with strategies to retain current employees remains a high priority. Stay interviews allow organizations to better understand their employees and take proactive measures to keep them satisfied and staying put.

While not a new concept, stay interviews are gaining popularity in an effort to improve employee retention rates. Basically, a stay interview (sometimes called a retention interview) is a one-on-one meeting between an employer and an individual employee. During it, the company gains insight into what makes the worker stay at his or her position and what might entice the person to seek employment elsewhere.

“Of course, I communicate regularly with employees, but there’s something about setting aside specific time for discussion that makes a big difference,” says Shawn Hill, owner of The Grilling Dad. “It’s my way of showing my employees that they matter and that I value their opinions. Stay interviews can help with identifying problems before they have a chance to escalate, and they give me a chance to assess how each employee is feeling.”

Small businesses may try to conduct stay interviews with all employees. Larger employers, however, usually do not schedule stay interviews with everyone on staff. Rather, they target top performers. Loss of these valuable employees would hurt the most.

Most frequently, a manager conducts the stay interview for his direct report. If, however, concerns exist about this relationship or about how honest the worker’s responses to this person will be, someone else can handle the interview. This substitute might be a skip-level manager, a human resources representative, a member of the organizational development department, or an outside consultant.


By conducting stay interviews, employers hope to avoid exit interviews. The two look quite alike, as they both provide information on the employee experience. The key difference comes in the timing. Someone involved in an exit interview is already headed out the door. Stay interviews occur while the high-performing employees work for your company. They may show little to no inclination of quitting, and you want to keep it that way!

“For me, the number one reason to conduct stay interviews is to address issues before they get out of hand,” says Aurelie Biehler, CEO of Memoria. “By addressing any potential concerns proactively, organizations can prevent turnover and improve employee satisfaction. Stay interviews help businesses retain top talent, address any potential issues that might have been cooking for some time, enhance employee engagement, and identify development opportunities.”

Stay interview questions

Companies vary on what questions they ask during stay interviews. Interviewers often use a template to guide the conversation. A template keeps dialogue flowing and ensures areas the employer wants covered get addressed.

The best stay interview questions are open-ended rather than of the yes-no variety. This setup encourages employee engagement by letting interviewees articulate feelings and discuss what’s on their mind.

Here, we look at some popular stay interview questions by category:

Job satisfaction

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

  • What keeps you working here?

  • What are your most and least favorite parts of your role?

  • What would make your job more satisfying?

  • What do you want to do more of at work? Less?

  • If you could, what part of your job would you remove?

  • What have you felt particularly good about accomplishing in your role here?

Reasoning behind job satisfaction questions: Content workers are less likely to leave. Learn about the things your targeted employee enjoys most in order to keep those things in her workday or even add them more often. Know what she is not fond of in order to find ways to make them better or to perhaps shift her responsibilities.

Work-life balance

  • What kinds of flexibility would be useful to you?

  • What measures can the company take to help prevent top talent from suffering burnout?

  • What is your biggest challenge to achieving work-life balance?

  • What initiatives might the company take to better support mental health?

Reasoning behind work-life balance questions: In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, people are more committed than ever to living a full life in and out of the office. Questions about work-life balance demonstrate employer concern for the whole person, not just the individual as a worker. Resolving obstacles to juggling personal and professional obligations promotes retention. Likewise, gauging how important things like remote work options might be can help with developing policies.

Company culture

  • What do you think sets our company apart from the competition?

  • What is one thing we could do to improve the work environment?

  • How would you describe our company culture to an acquaintance on LinkedIn?

  • What excites you most about our company mission, and what actions could we take to better achieve it?

  • What aspects of company culture do you appreciate the most?

  • How might the company give employees a greater voice in operations and decision-making?

  • Would you recommend our company to a friend? Why or why not?

Reasoning behind company culture questions: Workers thrive on connection, both to colleagues and to the organization. Positive relationships encourage communication and teamwork. Plus, a friendly atmosphere makes the workday more enjoyable. Similarly, knowing how one’s own work contributes to the greater organizational good assists with engagement. Employees want to feel that they belong and are heard.


  • If you were a manager for a day, what would you do differently?

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

  • What aspect of your job would you change if given the opportunity?

  • How do you think we could make your job easier or more efficient?

  • What tools and resources do you feel we need to add to enable better employee performance?

  • What are some of the challenges you face in your current role, and how can we help you address them?

  • What could we change to improve communication and collaboration within our team?

Reasoning behind questions about change: Employees entertaining the notion of quitting often have specific reasons. Identifying potential problems at a stage where action can still be taken is a main reason for doing stay interviews. These questions display a willingness to improve.

Employee recognition

  • Do you feel valued by the company? Why or why not?

  • What are your favorite forms of recognition?

  • What kind of recognition would you like that you are not currently receiving?

  • Can you provide an example of a time when you received memorable recognition or feedback for your work?

Reasoning behind questions about employee recognition: Employees want employers to notice their efforts and talents. People do not like feeling taken for granted or underappreciated. If they feel what they do does not matter to you, they will find somewhere else that gives kudos more regularly.

“What motivates you to come to work every day?” is a question Gene Caballero, co-founder and CEO of GreenPal, likes to use in stay interviews. His reasoning: “This question can help you understand what drives your employees and what they value about their work. Knowing this can help you tailor rewards and recognition programs that resonate with your employees.”

Growth opportunities

  • What talents of yours are not being used in your current role?

  • What does your dream job look like?

  • What are you learning here?

  • Are you interested in any tasks or projects that aren’t part of your current role?

  • What self-improvement opportunities interest you?

  • How can we better support your professional development goals?

Reasoning behind questions about career growth: Employees want to know that they have a future with your company. They also desire challenge and stimulation. Use stay interviews to figure out their employee development needs. Then, look for ways to help them acquire or try out those skills.

“A benefit of stay interviews is that they make you an active part of the employees’ growth journeys,” says Casey Jones, founder and director at the digital marketing company CJ&CO. “This is relevant because employees are highly conscious of their growth and only want to work for companies that help them achieve their goals. By doing stay interviews, you’ll fill them with a sense that you want them to grow and contribute to their success. Because of that, they’ll stay with you for a long time.”


  • Where do you see yourself in three to five years?

  • What do you think the future holds for you at our company?

  • What factors might make you consider leaving the company?

  • Have you thought about finding a new job recently? Why or why not?

  • What might prompt you to switch to another company?

  • Has anything ever happened during your time here that made you think about seeking employment elsewhere?

Reasoning behind questions about movement: Stay interviews are a retention effort. These types of questions help employers gauge where the interviewee stands on the issue of looking for a new job.

“Stay interviews can help identify issues that may lead to turnover, such as a lack of growth opportunities, poor management, or a toxic work environment. This allows employers to take corrective action before employees become disengaged and start looking for a new job. Overall, by conducting regular stay interviews, employers can improve job satisfaction, retain key talent, and build a positive work culture,” says Chloe Anne, HR manager at iwoolfelt.

Follow-up after a stay interview

As important as the stay interview questions asked is what you do with the information afterward. As Biehler notes, “Overall, stay interviews can help organizations understand what they are doing well and what they can do better to retain their top talent. It is essential to act on the feedback received to demonstrate to employees that their input is valued and to create a culture of continuous improvement.”

Collecting employee feedback but not acting on it wastes time. It also can damage morale. You may have employees feel that the company only tries to appear interested in their thoughts and well-being without any genuine concern or intention to change.

Instead, take action based on the employee’s responses. This valuable worker who you would like to retain has given key insight on what you need to do to keep him around. Even if the person does not seem in any danger of leaving, provide more of what keeps him motivated and engaged to maintain employee satisfaction.

Stay aware, too, of answers overlapping. Amber Carmichael, director of advisory services at McLean & Company, noted “a crucial step that organizations sometimes miss when conducting stay interviews is finding patterns and acting upon them. Is a certain piece of feedback coming up again and again from different employees? This could indicate an organizational issue that needs to be addressed by leadership.”

Lastly, what you learn from stay interviews also helps with employer branding. Chances are high that what current top-performing team members like about their job and your company will also interest potential job candidates. Tout these things when recruiting!