Understanding the employee life cycle and knowing how to engage with people in each stage of the cycle enables you to attract the right candidates and optimize your employee experience. In this article, we’ll zoom in on the employee life cycle. We’ll give a definition and describe its seven stages. We’ll also share a couple of tips to keep in mind for the different phases of the cycle.
What is the employee life cycle? A definition
The employee life cycle covers the entire relationship between an employee and the organization they work for. This includes the attraction phase, when people are still getting to know the company, and continues until after they leave the organization and become alumni, or happy leavers as we call them.
We distinguish 7 stages in this ongoing relationship between employees and employer: attraction, recruitment, onboarding, retention, development, offboarding and happy leavers.
How employees feel about what they encounter and observe during each stage of the employee life cycle is the employee experience.
The seven stages of the employee life cycle
For organizations, this is where things get interesting. After all, once you know how to engage with people in every phase of the employee life cycle, you’ll be able to attract the right candidates and, ultimately, improve your employee – and by extension your customer – experience.
Below, we’ll take a look at the seven stages of the employee life cycle and how you can optimize them.
The attraction phase can take different shapes and sizes depending on whether or not people are already familiar with your organization. If so, they’ll probably have a certain image of your company in mind and they’ll look for more information to confirm what they think.
This is where your Employer Brand comes in. What you communicate about your organization as an employer can hugely contribute to how candidates perceive you.
We can write an entire article about Employer Branding, but if there’s one thing to keep in mind it’s to not oversell and to keep it real. If you pride yourself on being an inclusive employer, for instance, and this is the image you communicate via various (social) channels, then it will look weird to new hires if they find themselves facing a management team that consists of all white, male members.
The same thing goes for flextime. Don’t sell your company as an employer that offers flexible work schedules and the opportunity to work from home if that isn’t the case.
In other words, when it comes to your Employer Branding activities you should walk the talk.
Another element that’s important in the attraction phase involves your (former) employees. Of course, there are the reviews people leave on platforms like Glassdoor and Indeed. Just like we check a restaurant on, for example, Tripadvisor before we go there, we increasingly also check a potential future employer to read what (former) employees have to say about them.
But what’s perhaps even more important, and something that can have an even bigger impact than an anonymous review on Glassdoor, is whether or not your (ex) employees are happy working for you. Because if they are, they will for sure spread the word.
It’s like when you watch a great movie or new Netflix series; you’ll tell your friends and colleagues they should go and watch it. The same thing goes for your employer, if it’s a great place to work, you’ll spread the word.
We’ll look at how you can turn leaving employees into happy leavers later in this article. For current employees, it’s mostly your employee experience that determines how they feel about working for your company.
So, to recapitulate the most important points of attention from the attraction phase:
- Be aware of your Employer Branding activities
- ‘Walk the talk’
- Be mindful of your (former) employees and their experience with you as an employer
The second phase of the employee life cycle is recruitment. Again, there is a lot we can say about this but we’ll try to be concise and give some pointers on how to create a smooth candidate experience. For more details, check out our detailed explanation of the Talent Acquisition process.
The application process
Make your application process as short as possible. Don’t make people fill in lengthy forms, for instance, especially when people apply with their smartphone. Speaking of which, the ‘mobile recruitment option’ to apply is a must-have and should be fully optimized.
Depending on your target candidate group, you can think of alternative ways for people to apply. If let’s say, your main focus is on Generation Z, you might want to consider asking them to send in a short video resume rather than a classic, ‘paper’ resume for example.
A word on the job advert is in order too. Here, again, it’s important to know who you target. Depending on the audience, the format and style of your job ads may differ. If you aim to attract younger candidates via social media your ad won’t look the same as when your focus is on a more senior-level candidate.
An ad targeting Gen Z on social media, for example, is likely to contain less text and more video-like images than an advert posted on a job board for senior management jobs; I don’t think you’ll see any fun emojis pop up in the latter…
Keep in mind that the wording you use has a big impact on the types of candidates you attract (certain words appeal more to men and might turn off female candidates, etc.). An example of so-called masculine-coded language – which is proven to be less appealing to female candidates – is the following sentence:
- You are result-driven.
If you’d rewrite this sentence as ‘You are able to achieve results’, it will evenly appeal to both female and male candidates, hence potentially leading to more gender diversity on the work floor. You can minimize this kind of bias creeping into your job ads with the use of an augmented writing tool.
One of the biggest frustrations candidates have is to be left in the dark about where they stand. Therefore, if you communicate clearly about your candidates’ current status and the next steps (if any), you’re already winning.
After each step of the recruitment process, give them feedback and let them know by when they’ll hear whether or not they go to the next round.
Perhaps stating the obvious, but stick to these deadlines. People are (impatiently) waiting to hear from you and not keeping your word doesn’t do much good for people’s impression of you as their future employer.
Just like you shouldn’t oversell in your employer branding activities, you shouldn’t oversell your company and the job you offer either. Be honest about the role and about what it’s like to work in your organization,
If the position involves quite a few repetitive tasks, for instance, then don’t make it seem like this isn’t the case. People will only be disappointed when they find out reality isn’t what they thought it would be and often end up leaving prematurely. A total waste of time, money, and energy for both parties.
In a nutshell, things to keep in mind during the recruitment phase:
- Ensure a smooth application process – mobile is a must
- Be transparent and stick to your own deadlines
- Don’t oversell your vacancies
If the attraction and recruitment phase of the employee life cycle are like two people dating, then the onboarding phase is like the workplace honeymoon period.
The onboarding period is where the foundation of the employer-employee relationship is being laid. Again, employee onboarding justifies an article in itself, but here are the essentials:
The period between the moment a person signs the employment contract and their first day of employment is called the pre-boarding phase. It’s not uncommon for this period to last several weeks or sometimes even several months.
Going back to our romantic relationship analogy here, how would you feel if after a couple of fantastic dates you wouldn’t hear from the other person for weeks in a row? Exactly.
Stay in touch and engage with your new hires from the moment they’ve signed. Think of already including them in team (whatsapp) groups and events, sending them relevant reading and practical info, inviting them to industry or company events, etc.
First impressions last. On people’s first day – whether this is remotely or in the workplace – make sure their equipment is in order (think laptops, phones, but also software applications and login credentials). Sounds obvious, but often goes wrong.
Also have the new hire’s manager be there (virtually if in real life isn’t possible) to officially welcome them to the team and company.
Check-in and adjust
Remember to regularly check in with your new hires. A structured onboarding process can help with this. Plan a feedback session after people’s first week, month and quarter, for instance.
Ask them how they’re doing, what they think of their job and the organization so far, and of course about their onboarding, is there anything they feel is missing?
If there is any issue, you’ll be able to address this straight away and prevent people from turning into early leavers.
Structuring your onboarding process
You can use various types of tools to structure your onboarding process. Options go from a simple Trello board to fully automated software that sends all of the involved timely push notifications and guides new hires from the moment they sign their contact all the way to the moment they set foot in the company’s door hence taking care of the entire (mobile) onboarding experience.
To recapitulate the key points of the onboarding phase of the employee life cycle:
- Pay attention to pre-boarding
- Have everything in order on people’s first day (including their direct manager)
- Regularly check-in and adjust where necessary
It’s becoming a tad repetitive, but there really is so much to say about retention. One could write a book about this part of the employee life cycle, there are so many factors that play a role.
In this article, we’ll focus on three elements that relate to the employee experience identified by Jacob Morgan:
- Physical space
Below, we’ll give a brief description of each element and a few examples of how to improve them.
Technology is, especially in this day and age, an important enabler for a great employee experience. As an organization, you need to use high-quality tools to create trust and engagement.
The technology element consists of both a software and a hardware component:
- The employee experience and company software. Two central questions when it comes to buying, implementing, and improving (HR) software are: 1) How intuitive is the software for the user and 2) Does the software create value for the user?
- The employee experience and company hardware. The user, i.e. your employees, should again be leading here. This starts with understanding your employee and their subjective experience so you can provide them with hardware that enables them to get the best out of themselves and each other.
In Morgan’s approach, culture is about creating an environment where people want to work. That sounds easier than it actually is. A company’s culture is the sum of its reflection, values, symbols, and visible behaviors.
Not everybody will flourish in every culture. This is why it’s good to look at the so-called person-organization fit in your recruitment process. Do candidates share the same values? Do their personal goals align with your company’s goals? Etc.
It’s impossible to get the technology part right without having the right culture. It will, for example, be hard to implement a new and intuitive system without involving and engaging the users of that system – they’re likely to resist this change if they feel like it’s something that’s forced upon them.
Before COVID-19, this used to be the workplace for most companies. Now, however, the physical space often has become people’s home. Once things return to a new, post-pandemic normal, the physical space will likely be a mix of office/workplace and home.
Key here, no matter what the physical space will look like, is that people’s physical environment needs to enable employees to perform optimally. What this means depends on people’s personal preferences, but aspects to think of are the physical and mental wellbeing of employees.
Wrapping up the retention phase of the employee life cycle, remembering that:
- The employee experience is key in retaining people
- Three things enable a great employee experience: technology, culture, and physical space
Something that’s linked to retention is the opportunities employees get for their learning and development (L&D). Because plenty of people will leave if they feel like they’re stuck in a role with no chances for future growth.
Besides being a way to keep your employees – and improve your employee life cycle – learning and development can also be a great method to increase your business capabilities. Since this article is about the former, however, we’ll focus on the employee side of L&D here.
How you structure your L&D activities will depend on the results of three analyses (and of course on the budget you have available):
- Organizational analysis. Based on your organization’s long and short-term goals, you will be able to define the training needs that will help the company reach these business goals.
- Function, tasks, or competency analysis. The goal here is to identify the most important knowledge, skills, and attitudes for employees to be successful in their jobs, and to identify which of these are easiest to learn.
- Personal analysis. Here, current competencies and knowledge, performance, and skill levels are identified. The most important source for this analysis often is the employee’s performance evaluation.
Combined, these three analyses serve as input for the definition of your employees’ training and development needs. The actual training can take place in various forms: on- or offline, with or without fellow students, in a bite-sized format, etc.
Besides the ‘formal’ training needs, people may also have more personal development goals they want to achieve. Perhaps they’d like to learn more about the job a colleague in a different team is doing. Or maybe they want to work on their leadership skills.
Another technique that can be useful to transfer specific skills, knowledge, and competencies is job rotation; the practice of moving employees (mostly laterally and temporary) between jobs in an organization.
A good moment to ask people about their expectations in terms of learning and development is during the recruitment process. That way, you’ll be able to assess right away whether you’ll be able to meet those L&D expectations or not.
Bring up the topic again during the onboarding phase, to make sure both the new hire and manager are aligned in terms of what they expect. Then, an ideal time to talk about employee development is during their performance reviews and frankly, anytime in-between.
Key takeaways from the development phase of the employe life cycle are:
- Check during the recruitment process what someone’s expectations in terms of L&D are
- Regularly check in with your employees for an update of their L&D wishes
- Consider peer coaching, peer mentoring and job rotation as good, cost-efficient ways to transfer skills, knowledge and competencies and boost camaraderie
Offboarding done well is like a divorce on good terms where the ex-lovers remain good friends. The purpose of an offboarding period is two-fold: one the one hand, it’s meant to help the organization grow wiser about it’s hiring efforts and employee experience.
On the other hand, it is used to shape the critical last impressions employees will have of the company – and the image they’ll portray to the outside world. The goal is for your departing employees to become Happy Leavers, as Mr. Employee Experience himself, Ben Whitter, put it beautifully.
So, how do you create an awesome offboarding process that (almost) makes people regret they ever wanted to leave? A few elements to think off here:
- Thank people. It really is that simple. Once an employee announces their departure, start by thanking them for their time and energy and congratulate them on their new venture.
- Hold an exit interview. Not just because this will generate vital information for you, but because it shows people you care – right until the very end of their journey with you. Ask them what they think could be improved from an employee experience point of view, whether they’d recommend the company to their job-seeking friends (and why, or why not), what they thought of their onboarding when they first joined, if there is anything you could have done to make them stay, etc.
- Stay in touch. Think of this as staying in touch with an old friend. From time to time you ask each other what’s the latest and what you’re up to. Perhaps you meet up for a coffee. More on staying in touch with former employees below.
Offboarding is a not to be underestimated part of the employee life cycle. How people feel when they leave will determine how they talk about you to (new) colleagues, friends and family. Not only does this have an impact on your Employer Brand, it also affects your consumer brand.
Pointers to take away from the offboarding phase are:
- Thank and congratulate employees who are leaving
- Ask them for their opinion in an exit interview
- Stay in touch with them
7. Happy leavers
All of this brings us to the final and in a way never-ending stage of the employee life cycle: the happy leavers (or alumni) phase.
Even though someone has physically left your organization, they can still engage with you via social media, for example, or via an alumni network or talent pool. Besides, people may ‘boomerang’ back into your organization at some point and if not, then they’ll likely be asked about your company by colleagues, friends, or family members.
In other words: don’t forget this part of the employee life cycle. Stay in touch with former employees, keep them posted on what’s happening in the company, and ask them for feedback when needed.
Wrapping up the happy leavers phase with the following:
- Don’t forget about former employees
- Keep them informed about the latest developments and ask them for their opinion
On a final note
Voilà! There you have it, 19 tips to help you optimize your employee life cycle and, by extension, your employee experience. Perhaps you’ve already fine-tuned one or more stages of the cycle in your organization (well done to you!), but probably there are still one or two stages that could do with some improvements. This list aims to inspire you to get those phases done too and to give both your candidates and employees an even better experience.
The employee life cycle covers the entire relationship between an employee and the organization they work for. This includes the attraction phase, when people are still getting to know the company, and continues until after they leave the organization and become alumni.
We distinguish 7 stages of the employee life cycle: attraction, recruitment, onboarding, retention, development, offboarding, and happy leavers.
Once you understand the employee life cycle, and each of the stages your (future) employees go through, you’re able to optimize every stage and hence create a better employee experience.
Subscribe and stay up-do-date.