The 6 Stages of the Employee Life Cycle (And How to Master Them)

May 15, 2023 | HR Trends


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Few things are more important to an organization’s success than having a well-functioning employee life cycle. 

But most organizations aren’t firing on all cylinders.

They’re really strong in three or four areas, but not in all six stages of the cycle. And their weak spots are sabotaging their efforts to attract and retain top talent.

That’s why it’s critical to have a comprehensive strategy for optimizing each stage of your organization’s employee life cycle. To get the best results, you have to account for the entire thing.

And that’s exactly what we’ll help you do in this post.

What Is the Employee Lifecycle?

The employee life cycle captures the full journey of an individual within an organization, from the moment they’re attracted to the company to the moment they eventually leave. 

It helps you visualize the journey each employee goes through within your organization from a big-picture perspective.

The employee lifecycle has six main stages:

  1. Attraction
  2. Recruiting
  3. Onboarding
  4. Development
  5. Retention
  6. Offboarding 

And if you master each of these stages within your organization, you’ll attract and retain better talent. People who left for another job will even refer their talented friends to you. 

Why the Employee Life Cycle Is Important

If you think of all your HR efforts through the lens of the employee life cycle, it’ll help you identify your strengths and weaknesses at each stage.

And this is critical — because each stage builds upon itself.

If you’re struggling with recruiting, for instance, then you’ll struggle to get top talent. That will hurt your retention and general performance.

Or if you’re struggling with development, you could get everything else right and still struggle with your team’s performance.

Missing the mark in one stage can have negative impacts on the whole cycle–it’s more of a cohesive system rather than 6 separate stages.

Mapping out what the employee life cycle looks like in your organization helps you think strategically about your HR efforts.

The 6 Stages of the Employee Lifecycle (And How to Optimize Each)

6 Stages of the Employee Life Cycle

1. Attraction

The attraction stage starts way before a potential hire fills out an application–it all begins the moment they hear about your company.

Employees hear about you, see what you’re about, and research what it’s like to work with you long before they eventually have their first day.

And what they discover about your company (and more specifically its culture) has one of three effects on potential hires:

  1. Attracts them to you
  2. Repels them from you
  3. Has no impact

It’s extremely easy to do #3. It’s fairly easy to do #2. But it takes intentional design to do #1.

The attraction stage is all about marketing your organization to your ideal employees.

You want to communicate your company’s values, culture, and benefits in such a way that attracts the best people to you like a magnet.

And, more importantly, you want current and former employees to validate your message.

Mastering employer branding is a whole blog post on its own, but one of the most effective tactics you implement today to optimize for the attraction stage is getting your employees to give you endorsements. 

Places like Glassdoor are great for this and allow your employees to communicate your company’s approach to everything from benefits to values. 

Your potential employees are already using sites like Glassdoor to look you up before they consider applying to work with you. And you can strategically build your reputation on those sites by getting employees to confirm what it’s like to work in your organization.

You want your company’s reputation on Glassdoor and similar sites to represent your true values and mission. And if you live that out throughout every stage of the employee lifecycle, your employees will happily help you with this endeavor.

2. Recruitment

Recruitment is similar to your organization’s marketing efforts–but for talent. It’s the stage where you’re making concentrated efforts to reach and engage with your target employees.

And that means your success is directly tied to how well you know your ideal employees. 

Their values.

Their professional and personal goals.

And why they work where they work.

All of your messaging must find the balance between appealing directly to your target employees and communicating your company’s values, mission, and benefits.

And on top of that, you must be consistent in your communications across multiple channels:

  • Direct outreach
  • Job postings
  • The application process
  • And more

How can you achieve this? 

Start by thinking about who you’re trying to attract and what they want.

In his book Drive, Daniel Pink identified the three true motivations every employee has beyond money:

  1. Autonomy – they want a certain degree of ownership over their work
  2. Mastery – they want to see growth, both personally and professionally
  3. Purpose – they want to work on something that matters

Salary and benefits, of course, are also motivators, but employees truly desire these three things the most.

And you can supercharge your recruiting results by finding what autonomy, mastery, and purpose look like for your specific target employees.

Include these things in all of your messaging. Teach them to everyone in HR–even to all your employees if they don’t know them already. 

That way, every one a potential hire comes into contact with tells a consistent message.

And when constructed this way, that message will be a powerful tool that can convince top-tier talent to work with your company.

3. Onboarding

64% of employees are likely to leave a new job within 12 months if they have a bad onboarding experience.

That means no matter how good you are at attracting and recruiting incredible talent, you won’t be able to enable them to perform to their potential OR even keep them if your onboarding process isn’t well thought out.

What does a great onboarding process look like?

The specifics are often different from business to business, but generally, all great onboarding processes accomplish these key objectives:

1. Get the employee accustomed to their day-to-day life in the company.

Employees should become well acquainted with the employee handbook, how meetings work, expectations on how and when tasks should be completed, and more. 

2. Introduction to colleagues.

New employees should be introduced to their coworkers and managers. More specifically, relationships should start being developed.

3. Receive first tasks.

Employees should get their first few projects along with specific instructions (since they are new and have little context) and the resources they need.

4. Consistent feedback and check-ins.

Multiple touchpoints should be established so that new team members feel both connected and supported. This is arguably the most important part of onboarding.

Unfortunately, onboarding is one of the stages that most often gets neglected. Whether it’s because everyone in your organization is too busy or there just isn’t a consistent process, onboarding either happens sporadically or not at all.

But you can’t afford to let this happen.

Onboarding plays a major role in employee retention and activation. 

4. Development

Once their official onboarding process is complete, employees move directly into development.

This means they are put on a path of sorts and are continually supported and coached so they can reach their full potential.

This won’t look the same for everyone–or even for every department within your company–but every role should have a loose progression to follow.

Remember, mastery is one of the key drivers of true motivation. So, people will always want a “next step” they’re working toward in your company–whether that’s a position, salary, or something else.

And your job is to strategically think through how everyone in your organization can be put on some sort of development path.

This means both a progression through roles in your company AND professional development. Your people will only develop to the degree to which you give them opportunities to develop. 

That’s why it’s important to have leadership training programs, courses, coaches, workshops, and access to other training material.

This paired with well-thought-out paths for each of the major roles in your business can help employees scratch their “mastery itch”.

5. Retention

Ultimately, onboarding and development play a HUGE role in employee retention.

But this stage is more about creating systems and plans to keep top talent as they develop. 

Because the truth is, talented people tend to change jobs every 3-5 years.

And that leads to substantial losses in the time and money you invest in your people if you can’t convince them to stay with your organization longer. 

There are hundreds of reasons out of your control that someone might leave your company to work somewhere else, but one of the biggest ones is your culture.

The quality of your culture dictates the quality of your employees’:

  • Performance
  • Engagement
  • Happiness 
  • And more

To keep your finger on the pulse of your culture, you must always be listening. Executive leadership and managers should stay in constant communication with employees–asking them for feedback both in conversations and via employee satisfaction surveys.

Your turnover rate is the main KPI to pay attention to here.

6. Offboarding

Offboarding is all about sending employees off in the right way. 

Why even worry about this stage of the employee life cycle?

There are two main reasons:

1. It’s a great learning opportunity.

Employees who are leaving tend to be more transparent about your company’s strengths and weaknesses. A great exit interview can provide valuable insights you can use to improve your culture.

2. Word of mouth.

When you treat employees well throughout their entire lifecycle, they’re likely to speak highly of you to their network. This is the same phenomenon as word-of-mouth marketing. This can be a powerful way to continue building your brand and solidifying your organization as a great place to work.

But neither of these powerful benefits happens when your employees leave unhappy. 

That’s why this stage in the life cycle is so critical and worth optimizing for. 

How do you optimize for it?

A large part of this comes from the other stages of the employee lifecycle. If you do all the other stages well, your employees likely won’t be leaving out of anger. 

The other critical component is the exit interview — more specifically — how you support your former employee as they transition into a new organization.

Look for ways to go above and beyond in showing them appreciation for their contributions and excitement and support for their new role.

A great exit interview coupled with appreciation and support leaves a great lasting impression on employees. 

Optimize Your Employee Life Cycle and Great Results Will Follow

Strategically improving every stage of the HR cycle in your organization will lead to more engagement, better retention, and higher performance.

And that means your company will be in a great position to achieve incredible growth.

That’s the power of thinking through and optimizing your entire employee life cycle.

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