Employee life cycle: The key to an outstanding experience at work

Employee life cycle The key to an outstanding experience at work
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Employee experience has never been more useful. Employees who report a positive experience at work are 16 times more engaged than other workers and eight times more likely to want to stay in their job.[1]

And since high employee engagement leads to higher performance and productivity, that’s great news for employers. 

To deliver the experience your workers deserve, you need to understand the employee life cycle.

So, how can you create a great experience for your staff at each stage of the employee life cycle model? And what is the employee life cycle?

This approach to employee experience breaks down each stage in your employees’ time with your business, from pre-employment screening to their last day on the job. It enables you to keep them satisfied, engaged, and committed to your firm for longer.

In this guide to the employee life cycle, we’ll show you how to deliver an outstanding experience from attraction to separation – so you can build a happier, more effective workforce.

What is the employee life cycle?

The life cycle of an employee is a way to define the different stages of a worker’s relationship with your company. 

There are 7 stages of the employee life cycle

There are 7 stages of the employee life cycle:

  1. Attraction – making a great first impression when seeking potential workers

  2. Recruitment – the hiring process

  3. Onboarding – the process of introducing a worker to your business

  4. Retention – keeping an employee committed to your business

  5. Development – the ongoing process of employee training and career growth

  6. Offboarding – the process of parting ways with an employee

  7. Separation and advocacy – your continuous relationship with an employee after they leave

Employees move through each stage in chronological order.

Why do you need to worry about the employee life cycle?

HR professionals can’t afford to ignore the employee life cycle model. 

It’s a holistic approach to the worker’s experience that leads to cascading benefits for your company over time.

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario.

Jiyoung has been considering a career change for a while. She’s checked out your business and found your website easy to use. She can tell that your firm’s values align with her goals.

But when she looks at your competitor’s website, she instantly dislikes it. Their branding is unclear, their website is outdated, and she can’t find any business policies online.

Your company already holds some appeal for Jiyoung because you’ve laid the groundwork at the attraction stage for success in the recruitment stage. She’s much more likely to apply for a job with your business for her employee journey.

That principle applies to every step in the employee life cycle. Your work to create a better experience at each stage pays off in employee engagement, morale, and goodwill. All of that pays dividends in subsequent stages.

Even at the end of the cycle, your former employees’ lasting good impressions of your business may lead them to advocate for you, boosting your ability to attract new staff.

You prepare your business for long-term, self-perpetuating success when you pay attention to the employee life cycle.

The 7 stages of the employee life cycle

Now you know why it matters – but how can your firm leverage the employee life cycle to deliver a better experience for its people?

To effectively use the employee life cycle model, you must understand each step. 

Read on for an in-depth guide to every stage of the worker life cycle and ways to ensure and monitor its success.

The employee life cycle at a glance

Stage

Why it matters

Attraction

Improves your company’s access to top talent

Recruitment

Ensures that outstanding applicants aren’t alienated from your business by a bad recruitment experience

Onboarding

Lays the groundwork for a lasting relationship by supporting your worker as they adjust to a new role

Retention

Avoids the expense of high employee turnover by keeping staff present and engaged within your firm

Development

Empowers staff to build lasting careers within your business instead of looking elsewhere

Offboarding

Enables a smooth, painless transition out of your business for departing workers

Separation and advocacy

Turns alumni into advocates for your business, improving your ability to attract talent

1. Attraction

Are you attracting the best human resources when you post job listings? If not, it’s time to evaluate whether you’re doing enough to support the attraction stage.

This stage is the precursor to your first direct contact with an employee. It begins when a potential staff member becomes aware of your company and its brand. That could be well before they consider you as a prospective employer.

That’s why it’s vital to maintain an employer brand that reflects your company’s culture, values, and mission and appeals to the candidate you want to attract.

Once a prospective applicant has decided to consider your business, you must ensure the initial application process is straightforward and accessible. 

Otherwise, you risk losing them, no matter how much they love your brand.

Use these strategies to ensure your firm is well-positioned to attract and engage top talent:

  • Make sure your web presence reflects your company’s culture and values

  • Create clear, transparent job descriptions so applicants can make informed decisions about their suitability for a role

  • Make your business policies available and easy to find on your website so candidates can learn more about your values and culture

Successful attraction: A case study

Lloyd’s of London, a British banking and insurance company, faced challenges in attracting new talent. It had a reputation for being a traditional firm and struggled to attract diverse candidates.

In 2019, the business implemented a new early careers website to engage with a student audience. It aimed to modernize the firm’s brand and encourage younger, more diverse applicants to consider applying for a job.

This rebranding initiative led to an 8% year-on-year increase in female applicants and a 14.6% yearly increase in Black and minority ethnic (BAME) applicants.

KPIs to track

To monitor the success of your company’s efforts to attract candidates, monitor these key metrics:

  • Candidate demographics – what type of candidate is your employer brand attracting?

  • Website analytics – how long are people spending on each area of your website?

  • Career site analytics – how are candidates engaging with your business’s job application site?

2. Recruitment

The recruitment stage covers everything about bringing on a candidate as a new worker. 

That means pre-employment tests and screening, interviews, salary negotiations, and signing an employment contract.

Even if you’ve done the work of attracting top candidates to your firm, it’s still easy to undermine yourself at the recruitment stage.

 A 2021 survey found that 49% of job seekers declined an offer due to poor candidate experience during recruitment.

On the other hand, the same survey found that 57% of candidates left a positive review online after a good recruitment experience. 

Delivering a good experience to candidates during recruitment helps bolster a company’s employer brand and draw in excellent applicants.

Creating a positive candidate experience enhances an employers brand

All of these strategies help businesses create a better experience at the recruiting stage:

Skills-based hiring is a way to empower candidates to give their best during recruitment. It’s the centerpiece of a more holistic hiring process that shows a clearer picture of each candidate.

It enables candidates to show what they can do, instead of just telling you about it – and to reach the end of the recruitment process confident that they’ve represented their abilities. 

Our State of Skills-Based Hiring 2022 report shows that 54.3% of candidates prefer a hiring process that includes skills testing. 

It’s an easy, effective way to offer a better candidate experience.

Successful recruitment: A case study

Revolut, a world leader in financial services, recruits candidates based on their proficiency in languages. Manually screening for language ability was slowing down the firm’s hiring process, increasing ramp time, and frustrating candidates.

The fix? The business implemented skills-based hiring to test for language proficiency. Using TestGorilla’s suite of language tests, the business cut its time to hire by 30 to 40%.

Today, the firm doesn’t just hire stronger, more qualified candidates – it offers a better, more efficient experience for every applicant it considers.

KPIs to track

Companies aiming to monitor the success of their recruitment strategies need to pay attention to these KPIs:

  • Application completion rate – are candidates dropping out or ghosting you because of an overly-long recruitment process?

  • Time to hire – is your recruitment process as efficient as possible?

  • Job offer acceptance rate – do the best candidates want to work with you?

3. Onboarding

A good onboarding process lays the foundations for a long-lasting relationship between employee and employer.

It should introduce your new employee to your company’s policies, practices, and culture.

Believe it or not, just 29% of companies provide this kind of support to new workers. And since 20% of turnover happens in a worker’s first 45 days on the job, that’s a problem.

Take these steps to ensure that your staff members experience a smooth, supportive onboarding process:

  • Liaise with workers before their arrival and provide them with access to business policies and opportunities to request accommodations

  • Make staff feel welcome, taking the time to introduce them to colleagues and orient them on their first day

  • Offer workers a mentor or buddy to provide support and answer questions

  • Organize regular 1:1 meetings with employees to check in and gauge the need for additional support

Ideally, you should standardize your onboarding process so every worker gets the same experience. 

You must, however, be mindful that some employees need reasonable adjustments during the onboarding stage.

Neurodiverse employees, for example, may need you to spread out induction sessions or meetings so they don’t get overwhelmed.

Hiring for culture add is an easy way to get a head start when onboarding. If you hire potential candidates who add to your company’s culture and values, they’ll adjust more quickly in this crucial early stage.

Successful onboarding: A case study

Google is known for its comprehensive onboarding policy. On each worker’s first day, their manager receives the following onboarding checklist:

  1. Meet them to discuss their responsibilities

  2. Assign them a buddy

  3. Help them integrate socially

  4. Attend monthly onboarding check-ins with the new hire for the first six months

  5. Encourage them to maintain an open dialogue

Some new hires also attend up to two weeks of lectures, immersing them in the firm’s language and culture.

The business takes onboarding and team morale seriously and focuses most of its efforts on integrating new hires socially and culturally. 

KPIs to track

Track how well your onboarding process works by following these KPIs:

  • Time to productivity – how long does it take your new staff members to become productive in their new roles?

  • Retention threshold – how long are your current employees staying with your company?

  • New hire satisfaction – use pulse surveys and 1:1 meetings to gauge how happy your new hires are

4. Retention

Once you’ve hired and onboarded the best, it’s time to consider how to retain them long-term.

Otherwise, not only do you risk wasting money on high turnover costs but also losing out on skilled, talented workers.

You should tailor your firm’s employee retention strategies to suit your workers, industry, and business needs. 

Here are some of the most reliable approaches to boosting retention to get you started:

  • Offer competitive compensation packages, including a good mix of traditional and non-traditional benefits

  • Build a company culture that values diversity and offers all its employees psychological safety

  • Recognize your workers’ strong performance and hard work

  • Be flexible and give your employees some control over when, where, and how they work

  • Listen to employee voice and ask your workers what they need to feel supported at work and do what you can to deliver it

You and your business should aim to keep employees in the retention stage for as long as possible. If you don’t, they will move on to the offboarding stage – taking all their experience away.

To bolster retention, consider using a career portfolio approach to encourage internal mobility. If your employees want to retrain, refocus, or find work in a new field, the career portfolio model empowers them to do so within your firm.

That means you stand a better chance of retaining your best people.

Successful retention: A case study

Salesforce ranks in the top 15% of similarly-sized companies for worker retention. So what are its leaders doing right?

The business offers several non-traditional benefits, including tuition reimbursements, family planning assistance, and pet-friendly workspaces. These perks show workers that the business values them for more than their productivity.

According to Comparably, employees at the company also feel supported in other ways:

  • 74% feel pay is fair

  • 77% feel challenged at work

  • 84% approve of the job the executive team is doing

  • 81% are proud to be a part of the company

KPIs to track

Employee retention is easy to monitor, provided you have data on how long your workers stay with your firm. Here are the specific KPIs you should track:

  • Employee retention rate – are your workers staying with your business for at least a year?

  • Voluntary turnover rate – are your staff choosing to leave, and (if you conduct exit interviews) why?

  • Employee net promoter score (eNPS) – how many of your workers would recommend your business as an excellent workplace?

5. Development

According to a Pew Research study, 63% of employees who left jobs in 2021 did so because they lacked opportunities for employee development. 

If employees can’t develop professionally within their current company, they will look elsewhere.

Fortunately, offering workers access to training, upskilling, reskilling, and development opportunities is great for employers too. 

Companies that invest in training and development are more agile and better equipped to fill skill gaps when they arise.

As with the retention stage, you should keep employees on this step for as long as possible before they move on to offboarding. 

Follow these steps to design a thorough, wide-ranging worker development program that keeps your staff engaged:

  1. Perform a skill gap analysis to find areas that need improvement and fill those gaps with targeted upskilling opportunities

  2. Survey your employees to learn what they feel they need to know to thrive at work and offer training in those areas

  3. Institute peer mentoring and peer coaching schemes so employees can learn from each other

  4. Give workers (or teams) a training and development budget, so they can choose courses and classes to pursue

Of course, you should also use traditional performance management review approaches to help employees bolster their day-to-day performance. 

Train managers to devise professional development plans with workers, track their progress, and offer support.

Development doesn’t have to stop there, either. Encourage your employees to establish personal development goals above and beyond their professional development plans, and do what you can to help them succeed.

Successful development: A case study

Amazon launched its Technical Academy in 2017. The Technical Academy offers a full-time, nine-month program to help workers retrain as software development engineers. 

Since then, it has placed 95% of graduates into software development engineer roles – all within the business. On average, their salary and compensation packages increased by 93%.

These employees come from the business and don’t need any previous education or training in the field. It’s an upskilling opportunity for workers who may not have had previous access to software engineering training.

It’s only one of Amazon’s many training initiatives, but it’s an exemplary one that broadens staff access to development and education.

KPIs to track

Monitoring the success of a development program can be trickier, so it’s important to start measuring these metrics:

  • Training ROI – are your employees earning back the cost of their training programs through high performance?

  • Employee performance – is it increasing after workers attend training sessions and courses?

  • Employee satisfaction – are your staff members happy with the training opportunities you offer?

6. Offboarding

Unfortunately, no worker stays with the same firm forever. Eventually, you’ll have to say goodbye to your staff. 

The offboarding process is as important to maintaining a good relationship as onboarding or retention. 

Like first impressions, final impressions can stick.

Your employees won’t remember you well if you don’t deliver a great experience at the offboarding stage.

A good offboarding process should be consistent, clear, and structured. 

It should close the door on a worker’s time with your business by arranging for the return of any company assets, the closure of any IT accounts, and the handover of any ongoing work.

But it should also celebrate the employee’s time and achievements within your business. Workers want to feel acknowledged, so take the time to thank them for their service.

Here are some strategies to keep in mind when developing your offboarding process:

  • Communicate clearly with your departing employee, giving them a timeline of what to expect and when to expect it

  • Communicate clearly with your remaining workers to minimize workplace gossip and disruption

  • Assign offboarding responsibilities clearly, and implement ways to track the completion of each task

  • Treat departing workers kindly, respectfully, and carefully, especially if their departure is involuntary

  • Offer an exit interview to gather information about the employee’s experience and enable your departing staff member to give you employee feedback

  • Recommend outplacement services to terminated or laid-off workers – in 2021, only 44% of companies offered this service, making it a great way to put yourself ahead as an employer

Successful offboarding: A case study

Olo, a digital food ordering and delivery firm, uses HR technology to maintain an offboarding template duplicated and put into motion as a digital project for each departing worker.

The project includes the provision for an exit interview process needed to finalize separation agreements, pay the worker’s final paycheck, and revoke software access when the employee leaves.

The business assigns each task within the project to an employee for completion. The company’s People + Culture team has oversight of the project.

The business keeps the departure confidential until other employees need to know about it. It ensures a smooth, consistent offboarding experience for all departing workers.

KPIs to track

Use these metrics to learn whether your offboarding process is achieving what you need it to:

  • Exit interview completion rate – are your workers taking the opportunity to give you honest feedback about their experience?

  • Offboarding task completion rate – are your managers following through on their offboarding responsibilities?

  • Offboarding score – survey departing team members to find out how highly they rate your offboarding program

7. Separation and advocacy

Your relationship with your former employees doesn’t end when they leave your company. 

Maintaining a connection with your ex-staff members after separation increases the chance that they will continue to advocate for your business.

That means they’ll recommend your company to others, bolstering your employee brand.

It’s also important to remember that separation isn’t always final. Boomerang employees return to your company after some time away – bringing their experience and insider knowledge back with them.

Rehiring a worker who already knows and understands your business is cheaper and more efficient than hiring and training someone new. 

So, how can you encourage your former workers to stay in touch – and remain enthusiastic about your business?

  • Build an alumni network or newsletter to keep former workers updated on the company’s progress

  • Make it easy for former staff members to contact you – be responsive via email or social media

  • Reach out to ex-workers proactively with new job opportunities – you never know when a new role could be a fit for a former team member

These strategies don’t guarantee a good ongoing relationship with your ex-workers. If you haven’t delivered a good employee experience during the previous stages, you are much less likely to secure the advocacy and support of your former staff.

That’s why the best strategy for the separation and advocacy stage is to go above and beyond at every worker’s previous life cycle stage.

It’s the surest way to guarantee that your staff members remember your business favorably.

Successful separation and advocacy: A case study

The Microsoft Alumni Network is a community of former Microsoft workers from all over the world.[2

The company doesn’t run the network – but it partners with it to deliver perks for alumni and the Road to Rehire scheme.

This initiative offers alumni a route back into the business. Although it has historically focused on recruiting for engineering roles, it now provides access to sales roles within the US.

Although the Road to Rehire initiative is on pause, it’s still a great example of a company going above and beyond to keep in touch with its alumni. 

KPIs to track

There are only limited ways to monitor your performance at this stage:

  • Email open rate – are your former colleagues opening the emails you send them?

  • Alumni network or newsletter subscription rate – are your alumni enthusiastic about staying in touch?

  • Boomerang worker application rate – how many former workers are applying for new positions within your firm?

The HR tech tools that help you manage the employee life cycle

Most common types of HR tools

Employee life cycle management is a long-term project. 

Make it easier by using HR technologies to track and (where possible) automate every step.

Here are some of the most common types of HR tech tools and how they help smooth your employee life cycle strategy.

HR technology type

How it helps with employee life cycle management

Recruitment management

Tracks applicant progress and assists with preliminary assessment during recruitment; Frees up time for hiring managers to build relationships with clients

Automation of HR processes

Standardizes employee onboarding and offboarding processes; Manages performance review processes during career development; Schedules exit interviews during offboarding

HR analytics

Track KPIs across all employee life cycle stages; Monitor worker satisfaction (and its causes) during retention

Online skills assessments

Enable the implementation of skills-based hiring during recruitment; Identify skill gaps during development

How will the employee life cycle model change as we shift away from traditional jobs?

It’s no secret that the world of work is changing.

The concept of discrete “jobs” is becoming less relevant to the realities of modern work. 

Factors like the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the pandemic have driven that shift, changing the way we think about jobs.

Research from Deloitte points out two potential new approaches:

  1. Fractionalized work – the breakdown of jobs into skills and tasks so workers with the right skills can tackle relevant projects

  2. Broadened work – the expansion of jobs into strategic positions without clearly defined roles or responsibilities

So how can the employee life cycle model flex to accommodate this shift?

Broaden the definition of “retention”

If jobs end up fractionalized into skills and tasks, what will it mean to “retain” an employee? 

As we’ve seen, employers often reward workers for a long tenure with benefits, recognition, and other advantages. But in a fractionalized approach, it could be harder to define what tenure means. 

You could consider an employee “retained” if they continue to work for your company or on the same project. 

But there are no clear rules for this new approach, which leaves it up to businesses to decide what retention will mean in a fractionalized world.

They will have to decide or risk alienating and confusing their workers – and jeopardizing their ability to retain them in any capacity, as a result.

Broaden the definition of “employee”

In a post-job world, companies must determine who warrants consideration under the employee life cycle model – and who doesn’t.

With the fractionalized model in place, for example, businesses must decide whether freelancers or gig workers count as “workers.” 

Legally speaking, they don’t. But if the line between freelancers and full-time staff becomes blurrier, companies must choose where to draw it.

When taking a broadened approach to work, employers need to decide whether the worker life cycle applies to staff when they are between clear “roles.”

Ultimately, it’s a question of whose experience matters to your firm and at what point it stops mattering. Your business can adapt the worker life cycle to meet the needs of its chosen model.

Use the employee life cycle to deliver an exceptional employee experience

Even as the nature of work changes, the worker life cycle and each phase of the employee life cycle are valuable frameworks for recruiting, retaining, and developing talent.

It enables companies to bolster worker engagement, performance, and productivity at every step of a worker’s career. And when used effectively, it gives businesses the ability to attract top-tier workers.

It’s a smart, holistic approach to employee experience management – and your workplace can’t afford to ignore it.

To deliver an even better experience at the recruitment stage, check out our guide to building better relationships with your candidates.

Then use our popular Culture Add test to hire candidates who reflect and live out your company’s values and spend more time in the retention stage.

Sources

  1. Emmett, Jonathan, et al. (September 30, 2021). “This time it’s personal: Shaping the ‘new possible’ through employee experience”. McKinsey. Retrieved May 8, 2023.https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/this-time-its-personal-shaping-the-new-possible-through-employee-experience 

  2. “We changed the world together once… See how we’re changing it again!”. (n.d.) Microsoft Alumni Network. Retrieved May 8, 2023. https://www.microsoftalumni.com/s/1769/19/interior.aspx?sid=1769&gid=2&pgid=1942

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