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I have been invited to participate in a "stay interview" by an HR rep. I have read up on what these typically involve and there are a lot of fluffy questions like:

"What part of your job makes you happy to hop out of bed in the morning?"

"Do you feel you are an invaluable part of the company's mission?"

However, there are other questions that appear to be a little more devious and try to label the interviewee as a 'Flight Risk'. Questions include:

"In the past year, have you considered quitting or resigning from your current position?"

"What event or situation has triggered you in the past year to consider resigning?"

"What did you enjoy about a previous position that you do not experience in your current role?"

I understand the primary purpose of these interviews is employee retention and to identify outstanding issues before an employee decides to leave and its too late. However, parts of this "stay interview" appear to have an alternative purpose of perhaps identifying and labeling people as unhappy, disengaged, or willing to leave depending on responses.

If I am open about several legitimate critiques, I could appear to be overly critical of the company. If I am very reserved and do not contribute much, I could appear to be not interested or not considered an engaged employee. Am I being paranoid or should I carefully navigate how I respond to questions in this interview?

EDIT: As I mentioned in a comment, this interview is one year to the day after I started and is (from what I have been told) being conducted with a sample of others that are one year in. Interview will be in person, not with my manager, and not as a group.

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    It has been my experience that any time a company solicits honest opinions, it is actually providing a way to rid itself of people foolish enough to do so. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Oct 10 '16 at 19:13
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    How the job market in your industry atm? I would make sure my CV was up to date, and be looking for other opportunities - working somewhere that does this sort of thing doesn't sound fun. Get your timing right and you might be able to answer the questions honestly, and take the resulting redundancy payment before starting your new job – Steve Oct 10 '16 at 20:43
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    @TonyK Invite through outlook, but I would imagine turning down an invitation from a director-level HR person would probably look pretty bad. – dfundako Oct 10 '16 at 21:06
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    "What event or situation has triggered you in the past year to consider resigning?" - A "Stay" interview. – Zikato Oct 11 '16 at 13:14
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I have been invited to participate in a "stay interview" by an HR rep

You should probably just politely decline. Personally, I doubt that declining would be held against you.

I believe most of these things are honest attempts by HR to do its job in finding ways to retain talent, provide benefits that matter, and build an effective workforce.

Good HR groups make it safe for individuals to say anything - the bad as well as the good - and thereby elicit honest feedback. Good anonymization, aggregation of answers, and making sure management is out of the picture while opinions are sought can go a long way to conveying a sense of mutual trust.

Clearly, there are some underhanded HR departments and individuals, but I think the majority are at least trying, even if some of their approaches are rather foolish, ham-handed or even downright creepy.

You can certainly ask about how this "Interview" information will be gathered, and how it will be used. You can ask if it will be anonymized, and who will see the results. You can even ask if you will see the results for yourself.

My company performs an annual "Great Place to Work" assessment which isn't quite the same as this sort of interview, but is related. The online results are anonymized, grouped by department and summarized up several levels. Since some of the departments/teams are quite small, several employees regularly choose not to participate, as they feel that the process isn't as anonymous as it could be. I always participated. But when I saw the results, I could often tell who wrote some of the "free form" answers. They clearly weren't trying to hide anything and used the same wording as they do in conversations and emails.

Since you are already skeptical, you very well might be better served by avoiding a situation that could make you feel uncomfortable. When we are uncomfortable, we often say the wrong thing and make a situation worse.

Find a reason to be busy at that time if you must, or even be out of the office. If this is something you simply can't duck, then simply decline to actually answer any question that you aren't comfortable with (the answer "Oh, I can't think of anything" seems to work well). If you spill your guts, you probably won't feel good afterwards and will worry - it's not worth it.

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Stay Interview? That is just creepy. Can you turn it down as being too busy? I would be very careful what I said in such a thing. Indeed they will take what you say and interpret whether you are a flight risk or are unhappy. I guarantee that if you complain about anything, it will not change, but it could harm your career at that place.

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    +1 for pointing out that this "stay" interview can do the OP no good. and yes, "creepy" is the perfect description. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Oct 10 '16 at 20:37
  • The cynicism is strong with this one. – DJClayworth Oct 13 '16 at 13:34
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    @DJClayworth You mean experience and pragmatism, right? – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Oct 13 '16 at 13:40
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The existing answers all predate an essential comment: the interview is exactly one year after hiring. It is not some random HR whim, and calling it "creepy" would be misplaced. Such interviews are normal in shaping the career path within a company. "Where do you think you'll be in 5 years" is a bad question in a normal job interview, but a reasonable question after one year.

I often have such interviews, and if one of my employees would turn that down it would be an instant "Won't Stay" decision. And if they're showing no interest in the company, then we should discuss together whether staying is the right decision.

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    I see no problem having a discussion with my boss about my career path, but a Stay interview from HR is creepy. It is true it is less creepy knowing it is a one year anniversary thing, but only your boss can actually take steps to help your career path, HR doesn't do that. – HLGEM Oct 13 '16 at 13:49
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Since you obviously don't have much of a legitimate choice, I think the best strategy is to prepare yourself for the type of questions that you're going to encounter.

Obviously you want to keep your job. You don't want to be labeled as anything other than happy productive and someone willing to work at least another 2 to 5 years. You don't want to be considered a troublemaker, unhappy or disgruntled. So you need to craft your responses ahead of time toward that end.

Basically, you need to be sneaky. Like Richard said, just because they're asking for your honest opinion doesn't mean they want your honest opinion. Or rather they want your honest opinion, but they're fully prepared to hit you over the head with it if the opinion doesn't align with company goals our culture.

What you need are anecdotes. Anecdotes lend believability to nearly any response you can give. The key, is to come up with throwaway anecdotes. You want to give them responses that say something along the lines of what they're looking for but isn't negative enough that it could be held against you.

For instance, for anything that might be missing from your current job, come up with something that your current company can fulfill with a slightly different position. And Then followed up with something like " but to be honest, if I really wanted that there are plenty of opportunities here at XYZ that could fulfill that for me."

Remember, that it's an interview and not an interrogation. What that means, is it if you're savvy enough you can steer the conversation in a direction that benefits you. Every time they try to pigeonhole you into finding something you don't like about the company, turn it around by emphasizing what you do like about the company. Also, you can try to talk about the opportunities that the company gives you that you haven't been able to explore yet, such as how much you love that the company promotes from within and that you see it as an opportunity. Even if they don't actually promote from within, every company thinks that they do and eat that stuff up.

You also need to come across convincingly that you love the company and most things about it. You need to tell yourself that over and over before the interview.

Anything that you miss about a previous company has to be something minor that you dismiss as not a big deal and certainly nothing that you would ever leave a company for. For example, you could say that at the previous job you liked that they had really good coffee in k-cups and that was great, but here you make more so it's not a big deal really.

If you can, work in things that you genuinely like more, especially stability and advancement opportunity.

Don't complain. Remember, any negative they force out of you needs to be minor and "not a big deal, really".

Above all, try to be happy. Before the interview, do whatever you do that normally puts you in a good mood. If it's a good cup of coffee, do that. If it's a certain kind of music listen to that. But above all, be happy. People can pick up on them. Remember, you're happy, you love your job, and your really excited about what the future holds at XYZ company.

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Don't worry about coming across as uninterested. Say as little as possible and nothing detrimental. You have no idea what their agenda is, who will be reviewing your information or anything else.

Information is valuable, don't give it away.

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The missing piece here is the interview is being conducted by HR, likely by someone you hardly know who is seeking data....are you happy and might you leave?...versus building a trusting relationship with you. We coach companies on stay interviews but only if they are committed to asking their first-line leaders to do them versus HR. The primary purpose of stay interviews is to build trust...and data proves the primary reason employees leave or don't engage is they don't trust their boss. Who wants to work hard and stay for a jerk boss? HR means well, always, but this is a job for the immediate supervisor, and only for the immediate supervisor. Besides, they can fix what you don't like and HR can't.

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