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

Jan 11, 2024 | HR Trends

Ben McIntyre

Client Success Manager at Abenity. With more than seven years of experience in the industry, Ben has a unique understanding of how companies can offer the strongest benefits to their employees.

Almost nothing is more important to a company doing well than having a smooth-running worker life cycle.

But most companies aren’t at their best in every area.

They might do great in three or four parts, but not in all six stages of the cycle. And the areas where they struggle can mess up their chances to bring in and keep the best people.

That’s why it’s so important to have a full plan to make each stage of your company’s worker life cycle as good as it can be. To get the best outcome, you need to think about the whole thing.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to help you with 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 brand management is a whole blog post on its own, but, we’ll give you some tips that you can take today:

Implement Interactive Employer Branding Events

Think about events as a way to show what our company is really like. 

Instead of just talking about it on a website, we can have events where people can get involved. Webinars, workshops, or interactive sessions allow potential new teammates to talk to current employees. 

This helps them understand our company’s culture in a more real way. When people can see and interact with real faces, it goes beyond just reading words online. 

Encourage Your Employees To Give Endorsements

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 can also leverage social media platforms for this. Social media is like a big bulletin board where we can share things. You can ask your employees to share their work experiences, thoughts, and accomplishments on platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram. 

People like to see the real side of things, not just what’s written on a company website. 

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 (which may include sending cold email as part of your email outreach to a list of verified email addresses, for example)–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.

Here are some things you can do to provide them with the three major motivators:

  1. Autonomy
  • Flexible Work Arrangements: Provide options for flexible schedules or remote work when feasible. This empowers employees to manage their time effectively, enhancing their sense of control over work responsibilities.
  • Project Ownership: Encourage employees to take ownership of projects. Allow them to make decisions and be accountable for the outcomes. This autonomy fosters a sense of responsibility and pride in their work.
  • Goal Setting Collaboratively: Instead of imposing goals, collaborate with employees to set targets. This involves them in the decision-making process and ensures goals align with their individual strengths and aspirations.
  1. Mastery
  • Professional Development Programs: Invest in training programs, workshops, and courses that align with employees’ career goals. This not only enhances their skills but also communicates a commitment to their professional growth.
  • Skill-Based Challenges: Assign projects that challenge employees to apply and develop new skills. This not only keeps work interesting but also provides a platform for continuous improvement.
  • Feedback and Recognition: Regularly provide constructive feedback to help employees understand their strengths and areas for improvement. Recognize their achievements, fostering a culture that values individual growth and effort.
  1. Purpose 
  • Communication of Organizational Mission: Clearly communicate the organization’s mission and how each employee contributes to it. Understanding the bigger picture gives employees a sense of purpose beyond their daily tasks.
  • Impactful Projects: Involve employees in projects that align with the company’s values and societal impact. Knowing that their work contributes to a greater good enhances their sense of purpose.
  • Employee Involvement in Decision-Making: When possible, include employees in decision-making processes related to their roles. This involvement reinforces the idea that their contributions matter and are integral to the organization’s success.

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.

As Steve Jobs said:

“The secret of my success is that we have gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.”

So, work on your recruitment strategies to have higher chances of hiring the best people in the world—it can make or break 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, such as their weekly work schedule.

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.

5. Customized Training and Development Plans

Recognizing that every employee brings a unique skill set and learning style, a robust onboarding process incorporates customized training and development plans. 

Tailoring the onboarding experience to individual needs ensures that employees receive the right resources and support to excel in their roles. 

6. Integration of Company Values and Mission

Beyond the practicalities of day-to-day tasks, a great onboarding process emphasizes the integration of company values and mission. 

New employees should not only understand what the company does but also why it matters. Aligning new hires with the company’s broader vision instills a sense of purpose and belonging.

7. Technology Familiarization

In today’s digital landscape, integrating new employees into the technological ecosystem of the company is vital. 

An effective onboarding process ensures that employees are familiarized with relevant tools, software, and communication platforms. 

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”.

But to make sure that your employees are REALLY improving, you need to have tangible evidence.

So, to assess your employee’s growth, here are some things you can do:

1. Performance Metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs):

Set clear performance metrics and KPIs that match individual roles and the organization’s goals. Regularly check and evaluate how well employees are performing against these benchmarks.

Talk about performance metrics during meetings to provide helpful feedback and create new development goals.

2. Feedback and 360-Degree Assessments

Build a culture of continuous feedback through regular check-ins and 360-degree assessments. Ask for feedback from supervisors, peers, and subordinates. This helps get a complete view of an employee’s strengths and areas for improvement.

Make sure everyone understands that feedback is for growth, not just for evaluation.

3. Training Program Participation and Course Completion:

Keep an eye on how much employees engage with training programs, courses, workshops, and coaching sessions. Track their participation and check if they successfully finish relevant development activities.

Celebrate when employees achieve milestones like finishing a significant training program to show that continuous learning is valued.

4. Career Development Conversations

Start regular career development talks between employees and managers. 

Discuss long-term career goals, aspirations, and the steps needed to achieve them in the organization. Write down individual development plans that come from these talks to create a roadmap for both employees and the organization.

Schedule these talks at least once a year, allowing for changes based on shifting priorities or organization-wide shifts.

Using these methods to measure employee development not only helps you understand individual growth but also encourages a culture of continuous improvement in your organization. 

These metrics guide employees toward their next steps while aligning their mastery journey with the broader goals of the company.

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 and improve it, here are some things you can do:

1. Always Listen

Executive leadership and managers should stay in constant communication with employees–asking them for feedback both in conversations and via employee satisfaction surveys.

Keep surveys simple and easy to understand so that everyone can participate.

2. Turnover Rate Analysis

Pay attention to how many employees leave your company. 

This is an important number to track and analyze regularly. A sudden increase in people leaving might mean there are problems that need fixing. A stable or decreasing rate suggests a positive work environment.

Look at turnover rates for specific departments or teams to find areas that might need special attention.

3. Employee Focus Groups

Create groups of employees to talk in-depth about specific parts of your company culture. 

These groups can give more detailed insights into what employees think and suggest. Make sure to include a mix of people to get a broad understanding of different perspectives.

Rotate the people in focus groups to get insights from different teams and levels.

4. Culture Ambassadors

Choose employees to be culture ambassadors. 

They should actively support and follow the company’s values. These ambassadors help connect leadership and the workforce, share information, and address concerns. Regularly check in with them to get feedback from different parts of the organization.

Give culture ambassadors a platform to share success stories that reinforce positive cultural elements.

5. Recognition Programs

Start programs that recognize employees for their achievements and contributions that align with your company values. 

Recognition boosts morale and gives insights into what behaviors and outcomes are valued. Regularly check how successful these programs are in aligning with your culture.

Also, encourage employees to recognize each other for their efforts.

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.

According to HubSpot, 90% of people trust suggestions from family and friends.

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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