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Employee life cycle

How many stages are in the employee life cycle? Some people say 6 stages, others say up to 11. In this guide, we’ll look at all of the stages of an employee life cycle, why it’s important, and how you can make a better employee experience at every stage. 

What does employee life cycle mean?

The employee life cycle is an HR model that's used to look at how employees interact and engage with your company at 1) various stages of their career or 2) different stages based on how long they have been with your company. 

The first stage starts when they first hear about your company and the life cycle continues all the way through their time at the company and after they have left, as they still engage with it despite not working there. 

What is employee life cycle management?

Employee life cycle management is the process that HR or People Ops teams undertake. It covers the interactions and engagement that happen between people working in HR and the employee who is going through the life cycle. 

At every stage of the employee life cycle, there is a chance to have a positive impact – and good People Ops teams capitalize on every chance they get. 

Employee life cycle phases

Now that we know what it is, let’s take a look at the different stages of the employee life cycle in more detail. 

HR teams typically consider there to be 6 stages of the employee life cycle:

  1. Attraction
  2. Recruitment 
  3. Onboarding 
  4. Development & retention
  5. Performance 
  6. Offboarding 

Stage 1: Attraction

This is the first time that a potential employee comes into contact with your brand or organization. The stage begins before the employee even knows about an open position that might interest them. 

Stage one is where good employer branding will pay off. At this moment, you want potential employees to be thinking “Wow, this would be a great place for me to work.”

By doing well in the other stages, you increase the likelihood of this first encounter being a positive one. In other words, you’re creating a good experience at every part of the employee journey, which should be having a positive impact on your culture, which means that employees should be happy to share information about where they work. 

It’s a good idea to put yourself in the shoes of the potential employee. Let’s imagine that you hear something positive about your company, and you want to check out the website to find out more information and see open roles. Make sure this experience isn’t going to disappoint them. Can they easily find what they need? Do you show off the benefits of working at your organization? Do they have all the info they need to take the next step?

Stage 2: Recruitment

Stage two is all about the quality of your recruiting – from ads to communication and more. It’s important to set clear goals for both your recruiting process and your interview process, for example: 

  • Are you doing too many interviews? Not enough?
  • Should there be a case study?
  • Are you giving enough opportunity for the employee to get to know you as well?

Use all the channels you have available to recruit candidates: internal promotion, referrals, posting the job ad in multiple places, etc.

Finally, make sure you have a good, competitive offer. Without it, you’ll have a hard time attracting quality talent.

Stage 3: Onboarding

So, you’ve successfully recruited a new candidate and they’ve signed their job offer. Now you have to follow it up with a good onboarding experience to help them get acquainted with the company and their new role.

During this stage, new employees need to learn about the knowledge, attitudes, and skills that will help them succeed in their new position. To ensure the onboarding process runs smoothly for all involved, be sure to check these boxes:

  • Cover the company’s mission and values
  • Set clear expectations and be sure they understand their job description
  • Follow up regularly to check in

Stage 4: Development & retention

During stage four, you get to support the professional development of your employees and also provide a positive working environment that helps the company retain them.

There are a variety of ways to help employees develop: provide a L&D budget, encourage external learning (e.g. conferences, seminars, etc.), give managers the resources they need to help employees assess their knowledge and skill set, and more.

During this stage, you’ll also be supporting initiatives that aid in (hopefully) retaining the employee for longer. Retention actually starts from stage one – by hiring the right people – but in this stage it really comes down to understanding and supporting employees. This can come in a variety of forms:

  • Build solid relationships among teams
  • Communicate transparently throughout the organization
  • Collect (and act upon) employee feedback
  • Work to understand your employees’ motivations and drivers

Stage 5: Performance

Stage five is about helping your employees reach their full potential and manage their performance; it’s also when the organization drives their expectations. While some companies still choose to perform only annual performance reviews, other organizations are moving toward more consistent performance review conversations. This is typically a better option, as it gives employees and managers more chances to correct issues (and offer praise) throughout the year.

Note: It’s extremely important in this stage to document how employees are applying their talent and skills to the goals of the business, and also to make these evaluations transparent to employees.  

Stage 6: Offboarding

Finally, stage six is the offboarding or separation stage. Most employees will at some point move on from the organization – whether for retirement, a new job, or personal reasons – and it’s crucial to create a positive exit experience. 

This is key for two reasons: 1) you want to avoid an exit creating any major disruptions in the organization, and 2) you want the employee to be an ambassador rather than a detractor in the future.

If an employee leaves the company and it’s unexpected, here are some ways to minimize the disruption for the rest of the team:

  • Understand the reason for the resignation and ask for honest feedback
  • Remain positive and remember you’ll find a replacement (back to stage one!)
  • Remind the team to keep their eyes on the future and do what you can to boost morale

Why is the employee life cycle important?

The employee experience is, in many ways, just as important as the customer experience. Without knowledgeable, engaged employees, your business can’t run – and no business means no customers.

Properly managing the employee life cycle shows you all the windows of time where you can create a positive impact for your employees. And those positive moments lead to happier, more productive employees – which is a big win for you and your company. 

Employee life cycle in HR / HRM

Because HR is involved with recruiting new talent and even managing relationships with alumni after they leave, they are one of the only teams to take part in every stage of the employee life cycle. HR will also have ownership over many of the processes and OKRs that are tracked.

With that in mind, we’ve pulled together resources to support HR teams in managing the employee life cycle at their company.

Employee life cycle template

To help your company visualize and map the journey of your employees, we put together this employee life cycle template:

Employee life cycle images

We know you’re busy trying to create a positive employee experience to extend the life cycle of team members at your company. That’s why we pulled employee life cycle images from across the web. As you can imagine, there are a million different ways to map this journey; the six stages we chose to highlight were some of the most common. Here are some other takes on the employee life cycle:


a diagram showing the 6 stages of the employee lifecycle by personio


a diagram showing the employee lifecycle by qualtrics

Ferrero Sustainability:

a diagram showing the employee lifecycle by ferrero sustainabiliity


a diagram showing the employee lifeycle by techtarget

Employee life cycle surveys

Your HR team will no doubt want to collect feedback and data throughout the employee life cycle. Here are a few of the common surveys used for these purposes:

  • Candidate reaction surveys – Used during Stage 2: Recruitment to gauge candidates’ thoughts on the recruiting/interview process
  • Onboarding surveys – Used during Stage 3: Onboarding to find out what your new hires think of the experience
  • Development & training feedback surveys – Used during Stage 4: Development & Retention to understand the impact of a training event or initiative
  • Engagement surveys – Used during Stage 4: Development & Retention (but can also be used at any stage) to uncover how engaged and involved employees feel in their job
  • Performance & 360 reviews – Used during Stage 5: Performance to appraise an employee’s performance from top-down or, in the case of 360 reviews, also from peers and juniors
  • Exit surveys – Used during Stage 6: Offboarding to obtain feedback from departing employees

Qualtrics has great downloadable templates for a variety of employee life cycle surveys. Find them here.

Employee life cycle engagement

The terms “employee life cycle” and “employee engagement cycle” are often used interchangeably, and for good reason. While we can separate these two ideas, in reality, engagement is a key piece of every single stage in the employee life cycle. If employees in one stage have low engagement, they have a greater chance of dropping off more quickly than if they had felt engaged. 

Here are just a few examples of how engagement helps at different stages:

  • Retention – ”Businesses with a formal [engagement] strategy in place are 8% more likely than All Others (81% vs. 75%) to retain their first-year employees. Not only does an engagement strategy have an impact on performance, but it also pays off for retention. In today’s digital workplace, small returns like that can’t be overlooked.”
  • Performance/productivity – “Companies with a formal engagement strategy in place are 67% more likely (emphasis added) to improve their revenue per FTE on a year-over-year basis.”

Engagement is, unsurprisingly, boosted by creating a great experience for team members. Our Employee Experience Canvas can help you clarify which moments matter the most to employees and develop solutions to create a frictionless experience.

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