Conducting exit interviews when an employee resigns is a great way to gain useful insight on how to improve your workplace; it can also be part of an effective retention strategy. An even smarter strategy, however, is to gauge employee satisfaction well before they even think of taking on another job.

Gauging your employee’s outlook on his or her position is the idea behind the “stay interview.” Stay interviews are quick, often informal conversations you hold with employees to discuss what they like and dislike about their jobs, the workplace and the state of the business. The stay interview offers you a simple way to evaluate employee satisfaction, pinpoint areas of pain for employees and resolve issues, ultimately preventing turnover.

If a stay interview sounds like something you might find useful, then follow these tips when conducting one to get the most from your conversation:

  • Know when to schedule one. Schedule stay interviews at least once a quarter, and keep it separate from the annual employee performance review. Schedule up to a one-hour meeting with each of your employees, and give your employees two weeks in advance before it happens.
  • Provide employees with a list of questions to answer before the conversation. Offering employees time to think about the questions ensures that you have productive and meaningful conversations. Include these instructions with the questions: "Please put some thought into answering these questions, and bring them to our scheduled meeting. Please be completely honest. The purpose of this exercise is to give us an opportunity to talk openly about what we can do to improve the workplace and increase your job satisfaction."
  • Let employees do most of the talking. Use your questions as a guide to keep the conversation moving, and spend the rest of the time casually chatting. Actively listen, and ask for employees to elaborate on points as needed. Resist the urge to offer excuses and justify policies or processes. Instead, use this opportunity to gain a new perspective on how employees feel about the job.
  • Stay calm. Prepare to hear negative feedback. You may learn that employees are unhappy. You may even discover some very real problems that will need to be addressed. Remember to not take it personally and to maintain your cool. If you react defensively or, worse, become angry, employees will feel threatened and won't offer honest feedback.
  • Create an action plan. In the course of your conversation, your employee could point out an issue that can be addressed by a solid plan. Together, establish a list of actions you both will take to address the issue. For example, you can begin an investigation while setting a few short-term goals for the employee to focus on.
  • Follow through on that plan. If you ask for feedback and then do nothing to indicate that you took it seriously, employees will see the stay interview as a worthless exercise. They may even resent opening themselves up to you only to have their concerns ignored. Do whatever you can to make improvements. Even minor changes can improve employee satisfaction. When you can't make changes, offer employees a reasonable explanation to help them understand why a specific situation, policy process or rule is necessary.

Now that you understand how to conduct a stay interview, here are 22 questions, arranged by category, that can be used during your sessions. After each set of questions, you'll find notes on how to use the information to improve your workplace:

Job Satisfaction

  1. What makes you excited to come to work every day?
  2. What is one thing about your job that you are you most passionate about?
  3. If you came across a ton of money and never had to work again, what would you miss about your job?
  4. What has to happen for you to have a truly wonderful day at work?
  5. Do you miss anything about your previous role/job?
  6. What is one thing you would change about your job? Keep the same?
  7. What is one task you love doing? Hate doing?
  8. If you were me, how would you revamp your roles and responsibilities?
  9. Do you have any concerns about your workload?
  10. Are you struggling to balance your work and life?
  11. What is your biggest source of stress?

These questions should offer you some insight into how happy the employee is with the job he or she does each day. If your employees aren’t being professionally fulfilled, find ways to adjust their roles and responsibilities in order to give them more of the work they’re passionate and excited about. If possible, eliminate tasks that demotivate them. For any employees who are overwhelmed and overworked, take steps to ease that pressure by making workloads more reasonable.

Workplace Satisfaction

  1. What concerns you most about the company?
  2. How efficient is our team? What could we do differently?
  3. What is the strength of our workplace? Weakness?
  4. What is one thing that you would change about the company?
  5. Are there any processes or policies that you feel hold us back?
  6. How can we work more efficiently and productively?
  7. How can we serve our customers better?

These questions should provide you with information on how to streamline and eliminate procedures that waste time and cause employee frustration. You may also unearth problems that cause customer dissatisfaction or conflict among staff. Put a plan in place to investigate any issues and to come up with solutions to improve workflow.

Growth and Advancement Satisfaction

  1. What development and growth opportunities do you want to see? Which ones could you see yourself pursuing?
  2. Do you feel properly utilized? If not, what skills and experiences do you possess that we could leverage to improve both our business and your experience?
  3. What training would you like to receive?
  4. How can I help you achieve your career goals?

A leading cause of turnover is a lack of career growth opportunities. Establish a career plan for each employee, setting short- and long-term goals. Also, create learning opportunities for employees to increase their skills and knowledge. You can do this through formal training programs or through less formal options, such as job sharing and cross-training. Ultimately, the stay interview has the potential to transform your business into a place where people want to come to work each day and give their best, as opposed to a place that they suffer through on a daily basis.