Rethinking Team Member Retention and Engagement

The “stay” interview

A “stay interview” is a structured, informal discussion that a supervisor conducts with each individual team member in their department to learn the specific actions necessary to strengthen that team member’s engagement and retention with the organization.

Stay interviews are solution-oriented and focused on each member of your team in a way that makes each person feel valued and heard.

Think about what your team member might say if asked, “What do you look forward to each day when you wake up and come to work?” or “When was the last time you thought about leaving your position?” The answer may be hard to hear (so don’t engage in this concept if you aren’t ready), but how meaningful would it be to truly work with your team member from a solution-oriented place in order to assist them in finding their purpose at work or having a healthier work-life balance? This is not a conversation about performance – that is for another time – this is a conversation where you are putting your needs as a supervisor on the sideline and focusing solely on the needs of your team member in an effort to increase their level of engagement in the workplace.

That is the best part about stay interviews … it is not HR work … it is not about the supervisor; it is all about the team member. The frontline supervisor, the mid-level manager or the upper level executive conducts interviews with their team members. Just 30-minute meetings are all that is needed to find out why the team member stays, and where they see themselves going in the organization.

A plan is developed and conversation is started.

Retention and engagement are all about the conversation. Allow everyone to be heard and make each person’s day the best it can be. Sometimes stay interviews help a person who is not engaged understand where the next door will lead, and the supervisor can help them through that door. It puts the supervisor in the driver’s seat to become empowered in the moment. To be solution-oriented. To make changes at the team member level and build trust while doing so.

Your plan should include three to five questions. Once you have decided on the questions that you would like to include, plan your opening statements to get the conversation started.

Here are some example questions to select from according to the Society of Human Resource Management and the book, The Stay Interview by Richard P. Finnegan:

  • What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?
  • What do you like most or least about working here?
  • What keeps you working here?
  • If you could change something about your job, what would that be?
  • What would make your job more satisfying?
  • How do you like to be recognized?
  • What talents are not being used in your current role?
  • What would you like to learn here?
  • What motivates (or demotivates) you?
  • What can I do to best support you?
  • What can I do more of or less of as your manager?
  • What might tempt you to leave?

(SHRM, 2019;

The next step is to invite your team member to have the conversation.

Remember that this is not about performance; this is an informal meeting to improve retention and engagement of team members. You might be thinking to yourself; how do I invite my team member to have this conversation without them feeling like it is a disciplinary meeting? Here are some suggestions to help out; first of all, it should be in-person, not via email or phone. If you make a regular habit of checking in with your team members in-person, use that opportunity to make the invitation. Begin with an informal opening, such as:

“I would like to schedule some time to meet so that we can talk about how the job is going and I can find out what I can do to better support you.”

Now it’s time for you to learn what makes your team members want to stay or perhaps leave your team.

Take notes and practice active listening. Be sure to have several open-ended questions on hand to keep the conversation flowing. If at any time the conversation stalls or turns to an uncomfortable situation, gently end the meeting and share that the conversation has been helpful and you would like to continue discussing the sentiments discussed. Give your team member a question that they can ponder and bring back for a follow-up meeting.

When you have explored all that you can with the questions you have chosen, it’s time to end the conversation. Don’t forget that closing the conversation is just as important as opening it. Summarize the key points made by your team member and work together to prioritize what was learned during your time together. Share your commitment to the work produced during the meeting. Set a follow-up meeting to discuss progress that has been made. Be sure to end on a positive note.

Stay interviews are not about you or me, they are about the team member.

What is motivating them, what challenges might you be able to help them with to make their day better? Collecting this information and making even small changes, or even just listening to what they wish to share and building trust will go a long way. And there could even be a bonus result for the manager who is not feeling very engaged at the moment … you might begin to be more engaged … you might feel a bit more empowered … you can make a difference.

We all know that engaged team members have a significantly positive impact on the guest experience. So why not, I say … why not engage in stay interviews.

Short bio:

Rachele Lyon, Raving Partner, Human Resources, is an experienced executive with over 18 years of experience in human resources, safety administration, budget development, project management and organizational and strategic planning for organizations small and large.