Keeping High Performers Engaged on Your Team with Stay Interviews

Leadership Insights

Published on March 31, 2021.

Key Insights

  • Stay interviews are an effective and proactive tool to retain your high-performing employees and keep them engaged.
  • A stay interview is not an add-on to a performance review. It is a separate conversation to identify specific improvements that would raise their engagement. 
  • A stay interview can inform you about why your high-performing employees stay in their role, and, should they plan to leave, how you may be able to keep them.
Feature Insight

Stay Interviews: Keeping High Performers Engaged

Losing a high-performing member of your team or department is a major stressor and can create big problems. With tight budgets and the time it takes to hire and onboard someone new, keeping high performers engaged is vital to retaining them and ensuring your team or department’s success.

The majority of reasons why people leave their jobs could be addressed by their manager. Taking a proactive approach with high-performing employees and checking in with them will help you be able to uncover issues, retain high performing employees, and increase overall engagement. 

The Value of Stay Interviews

Enter stay interviews. A stay interview is a structured conversation supervisors can use to find out how to increase engagement and retention of high-performing employees. By identifying pain points before they become full-blown problems, you can improve your work environment to retain great employees. 

A stay interview can inform you about why your high-performing employees stay in their role, and, should they plan to leave, how you may be able to keep them. As a supervisor, you have influence over work, assignments, employee engagement, and many other things. 
Stay interviews are not meant for everyone—don’t use them with employees who have performance issues or are disengaged. To identify your high performers, reflect on the conversations you have with employees during your one-on-one check-ins and your performance reviews. 

Remember, the stay interview is an opportunity for you to listen and understand the employee’s experience, not to problem-solve. Ask open-ended questions that will invite them to describe their experience in your team or department. While an employee bringing problems to the surface can be uncomfortable for all parties involved, neglecting to give them the space to talk honestly will create more problems in the long run. 

It’s important for supervisors to know what motivates high performers, how they like to be recognized, what emotionally and intellectually engages them, and how they would like to learn and grow in their career. 

Preparing a Stay Interview

Stay interviews should be short (no more than 30 minutes), and it should be clear that this interview is not addressing performance issues. Allow the employee to take the conversation where it needs to go. Focus on listening to understand, not listening to respond.

It’s important to show your employee that you’re open to their input at the beginning of the interview and close the interview by demonstrating that you’ve listened and plan to take action. 

  • Opening example “I’d like to hear from you about how the job is going. I want to understand how I can support you as your supervisor and how I can make this a great place to work for you.”
  • Closing example “I appreciate you sharing your experiences with me. Let me summarize what I heard you say about why you stay here and what might tempt you to leave…. I’ll develop a plan for how to make this a great place for you to work and follow-up with you.”

Choose questions that will give you information about what motivates your employee. Sample questions: 

  • What do you look forward to at work each day?
  • What do you like most about working here?
  • What keeps you here?
  • If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
  • What do you want to learn?
  • What can I do better to support you?
  • What might tempt you to leave?
  • How does your identity give you a sense of belonging/ not belonging?

Asking for input and not doing anything is worse than not asking in the first place. Provide updates to the employee about anything you are doing to resolve issues they revealed in the interview. If you can’t take action on the issue, let them know why.

Upcoming Events

Employee Engagement Survey Coming October 11–October 29, 2021

The employee engagement survey will take place this fall from October 11–October 29, 2021. Before the survey, talk with your team about how the pandemic has impacted employee engagement. Use these discussion questions and engagement tips to better understand your team’s engagement. You can find more resources at ee.ltd.umn.edu.

You can also get support from consultants in Leadership and Talent Development in the Office of Human Resources by requesting a 30-minute appointment using this form

Resources for Supervisors