Stay Interviews Vs. Exit Interviews — Why You Need Both

2 min read
Mar 18, 2015

iStock_000007088801_SmallUnless leadership has fostered a radically transparent and honest workplace, employees are often hesitant to speak up about their issues at work. Instead, they bury their frustrations inside, slap a smile on their face … and send out their resume at lunch. Eventually they get a new job and head for the door.

This is an unfortunate situation on both sides. You lose a valuable employee, and the employee moves away from a job they might’ve really liked and thrived in — if not for one or two sticking points. And what if those sticking points could’ve easily been resolved? If management had only known how the employee truly felt, the entire scenario could have been prevented.

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Hearing the Truth

Honest feedback from employees is how you improve culture and working conditions before it costs the company valuable talent. But you must bear in mind that employees won’t be forthcoming with negative comments unless asked. This is why implementing a system to garner feedback such as exit interviews or stay interviews is so critical.

What’s the difference between the two? Timing, and who conducts the interview.

The Right Questions

While exit interviews and stay interviews often pose similar questions to employees, exit interviews take place after the worker has officially resigned, and stay interviews are conducted periodically during the tenure of the person’s employment.  Here are some questions you can ask employees in these feedback-gathering sessions:

  • What is/was your favorite part of your job? Your least favorite?

  • If you could change/have changed one part of your job, what would it be?

  • What would cause/caused you to leave us? What would you like/have liked more of in your job?

  • If you ran the company, what would you do/have done to make working here better?

Note that just a simple change in tense is all it takes to tailor these questions for either a stay or exit interview. 

But while the questions are the same, the person asking them isn’t. Stay interviews are usually conducted by an employee’s direct manager, while exit interviews are led by an HR manager.

The Ultimate Debate

So which is better? HR experts and influencers are almost unanimous in their advocacy of stay interviews. Soliciting feedback from valuable employees about what could prompt them to leave before they actually submit their resignation letter gives management a chance to address the problems and reengage the employee. And even if the issue can’t be resolved, the mere gesture of proactively seeking an employee’s feedback could improve their morale.

However, critics of stay interviews point out that employees might not feel comfortable being completely honest — especially because they’re talking to their direct manager.

“Employees are much more free with their feedback on their way out,” says Rob Hankey, CEO of HRworx. “The problem with implementing a [stay interview] strategy is a good deal of time, the problem is the manager. There needs to be a system where employees can speak freely about issues [with] no incrimination.”

Stay and exit interviews each have pros and cons, but they can both impact employee retention if feedback is acted upon. Whether it’s a stay interview or an exit interview structure, companies need to have a feedback-gathering system in place, as well as a commitment to take action on comments and transparently report on progress to the workforce.



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