Employee life cycle: Strategies to attract, engage, and retain top talent

The employee life cycle isn’t just HR jargon – it’s the roadmap to building a high-performing, happy team. To recruit top talent, boost productivity, and reduce employee turnover, you must prioritize an exceptional employee experience.

What’s that?

In its simplest form, your employee experience refers to how your employees perceive your organization while working for you. This includes how they think and feel about your company and their work, which encompasses things like:

  • Their well-being
  • Work-life balance
  • Company culture
  • Their professional development
  • How they view your employer brand (both before and after working for you)

Employee life cycle stages are how HR teams break down the employee experience since it’s so broad.

For instance, the employee experience begins before a candidate fills out a job application for a new position at your company. Instead, it starts the very second they become aware of your employer’s brand.

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Similarly, the experience doesn’t end after an employee parts ways with you, as they’ll remain aware of your organization and their time with you.

If you nail your employee experience, they’ll have nothing but good things to say, which is what you want. If the employee had a miserable time working for you, don’t expect them to remain silent.

A positive employee experience yields many benefits for organizations, including higher engagement, retention, and productivity.

Evidence shows that employees with a positive experience at work are 16 times more engaged than employees with negative experiences.

There are seven distinct stages of the employee life cycle, and they encompass a lot.

In this article, I’ll take an in-depth look at each stage, including best practices and key metrics to measure, so stick around to learn more.

The 7 stages of the employee life cycle model

Each phase of the employee life cycle will directly affect your company’s success, whether you realize it or not.

For example, suppose you need to pay more attention to the attraction stage (i.e., actively promoting the benefits of working for you). In that case, you’ll need help attracting top talent to your organization.

If you don’t focus on career development for your existing employees, your retention and productivity rates will falter.

To ensure you provide a well-rounded employee experience, here’s a comprehensive look at each stage of the employee life cycle.

Stage #1: The attraction stage

While some lifecycle models exclude this stage and go straight to recruitment, they must include one of the most crucial aspects of developing a successful employer brand.

This stage is the ‘marketing’ phase because your goal is to make working for your organization appear as attractive and desirable as possible.

This stage assumes the employee journey begins when prospects discover your organization exists.

This can happen in several different ways, including the following:

  • Referrals from current employees (who have a favorable view of your company).
  • Reading a blog or guest post about what it’s like to work for you.
  • Finding one of your job postings on job board sites like Monster or Indeed.com.
  • Viewing a promotional video for your organization on social media (like a YouTube ad).
  • Review former employee and candidate reviews on Glassdoor and Better Business Bureau sites.

As you can see, there are many ways that talent can find out about your employer brand, and the idea behind the attraction stage is to capitalize on as many as possible.

A whopping 86% of new employees and job seekers look at company reviews and ratings before applying for a job. You have every incentive to make your organization appear as desirable as possible.

Try to think more like a promoter than a human resources professional and brainstorm ways to improve your reputation as an employer.

Here are a few ways you can do just that.

Create promotional content

Content marketing is where businesses create informative, educational content for their audiences to generate traffic and drive leads and conversions.

It’s a form of inbound marketing, meaning you draw your audience to you instead of disrupting one of their experiences (like a pop-up ad).

What does this have to do with your employee life cycle model?

You can use the fundamentals of content marketing to improve the reputation of your employer brand.

Here are a few ways to do so:

  • Release articles on your website and social media highlighting your excellent work for your employees and community.
  • Shoot short promotional videos showing off your work environment and company culture (include shots of employees having fun, conversing, and working together).
  • Encourage and respond to company reviews on third-party websites.
  • Write stand-out job descriptions highlighting your organization’s perks (i.e., hybrid schedules, free coffee, etc.).

Encourage and act on feedback from current team members

You won’t have control over what former employees say about you on websites like Glassdoor, so your best defense is to provide a stellar employee experience.

Yet, you’ll never know your team’s main challenges if you never ask for their honest feedback.

During your regular check-ins with employees, ask them how they feel about A) your organization’s culture, B) their current responsibilities, and C) any pain points/challenges.

It’s not enough to collect employee feedback, either.

Instead, you should act on the feedback you receive, especially if several employees report the same issue (such as too heavy of a workload or toxic team members bringing everyone down).

Critical metrics for the attraction stage

Like anything else, you’ll need a way to measure your success with your promotional efforts.

Here are the most important metrics for the attraction phase:

  • Career page analytics. What are the metrics like for your Careers page on your website? Has the traffic increased or decreased since you started to promote your employer brand? Key metrics here are bounce rate (how many users left without venturing further into your site’s content) and dwell time (how long each user spent on the page).
  • Candidate demographics. What type of candidates are applying to your company? Do you see higher numbers from specific demographics? This will help you gauge the kind of employees your current promotional efforts attract.

Stage #2: The recruitment stage

Next, let’s take a look at your recruitment process. Ensuring your new hires are a good fit for your organization; otherwise, you may need to improve your employee experience immediately.

Improving your candidate experience plays a massive role in this stage, as you need to make it as easy and painless as possible for candidates to apply to your organization.

Your hiring process should be

According to research, 66% of employees report that a positive candidate experience boosts their chances of referring others. This will help you accrue a sizable talent pool for your open positions.

Job postings, applications, and the interview process

Where you post your jobs matters as much as the posting content itself.

In particular, you need to cater to your ideal candidate’s demographics. If you’re after a younger crowd, you’ll benefit from advertising open positions through social media platforms like Instagram.

If you’re looking for more seasoned professionals, use LinkedIn and job boards like Indeed.

Also, do your best to appeal to your ideal candidate in your job descriptions.

Rather than focusing strictly on the requirements for the position, don’t forget to mention things like competitive pay, hybrid schedules, and unique factors that appeal to your demographics – such as showing that you care about relevant political issues to appeal to younger audiences (64% of workers report feeling supported whenever their organization takes a political stance on an issue they care about).

Job applications should be short and to the point, as nobody enjoys a 45-minute to hour-long application process.

If your application is quick and easy, applicants won’t become frustrated and click away halfway through.

Lastly, you should streamline and standardize your interview process by:

  • Utilizing a diverse interview panel of managers and HR professionals to avoid the ‘halo’ effect.
  • Using scorecards to evaluate each candidate’s key strengths.
  • Ensure each candidate understands your company values.

Transparency also plays a significant role in recruiting, especially in communication.

Candidates do not appreciate being ghosted, so do your best to respond to all candidates who don’t make the cut.

Stage #3: The onboarding stage

Next, you must analyze your employee onboarding process to see if any kinks must be worked out.

A new hire’s first day is inherently stressful, so you should have a transparent process for A) welcoming them and B) introducing them to their team and their tasks/responsibilities.

Onboarding involves the following:

  • Filling out and storing all new hire paperwork (i.e., job application, offer letter, W2, etc.).
  • Providing continuous support for each employee (i.e., slowly introducing new tasks, programs, and teams as time passes).
  • New hire orientation (i.e., employee introductions, building tour, etc.).
  • Provide new employees with employee handbooks (and review your company policies with them).

Onboarding software is a lifesaver for this stage, as HR management systems like BambooHR will help you keep all your ducks in a row. These systems can also automate repetitive tasks like assigning onboarding action items to new staff.

Key onboarding metrics to track

The following metrics will let you know if your onboarding process is where it needs to be:

  • New hire satisfaction. This is the most crucial onboarding metric, as it lets you know how satisfied new hires are with your process. Providing new employees with feedback and engagement surveys will help you gather honest feedback about your onboarding process. From there, you’ll be able to identify your top areas for improvement.
  • Time to productivity. Another crucial onboarding metric is your employee’s time to productivity, which represents how long it takes for new hires to become contributing, productive workforce members. If it takes new employees too long to adjust, that’s a telltale sign that your onboarding process needs work.

Stage #4: The retention stage

The next step in employee life cycle management is to work hard to retain your existing employees.

This is one of the lengthiest stages, as it can span several months to decades (depending on how long each employee stays at your organization).

Improving your employee engagement is the name of the game here.

Why is that?

According to a study by Gartner, engaged organizations experience 59% less turnover than disengaged businesses.

Employee recognition also plays a significant role here, as 79% of employees will quit if they don’t feel appreciated.

That means finding ways to engage your employees and recognize and reward their hard work.

Some ideas include:

  • Using bonuses, sales competitions, and other performance-based initiatives.
  • Giving hard-working employees shout-outs during company meetings.
  • Praising employees during their 1:1 check-ins.
  • Rewarding excellent performance with prizes like a free meal at a nice restaurant.

On the engagement side, submitting regular employee feedback surveys is a must. Also, ensure they’re 100% anonymous to encourage honesty.

Key retention metrics

The most important metrics related to employee retention include the following:

  • Employee retention rate. Your retention rate represents employees who stayed at your company for at least one year. If you have a high retention rate, it’s a sign that you’re handling this stage correctly.
  • Voluntary turnover. Whenever an employee leaves by decision (such as being stressed or unhappy), it counts as voluntary turnover. Ideally, your voluntary turnover should be as low as possible.

Stage #5: The development stage

Employee development is directly linked to your retention rates.

Why is that?

It’s because only a few employees will want to stay at a job they feel has no opportunities for development or moving up.

As a result, your employees will begin to leave your organization due to a lack of development opportunities.

Providing continued education (certifications, courses, etc.), performance reviews, and promoting employees from within will help develop your existing people.

Also, train your managers to keep promotions in mind when conducting check-ins with your staff. In particular, teach them to recognize key strengths that align with higher roles. That way, should an open position appear, your managers will already have potential candidates in mind – and your existing employees will gain the chance to move up.

Training programs are also excellent for this stage of the employee life cycle.

Besides basic training, see if you have the resources to provide advanced training modules for employees eager to expand their skills and learn new responsibilities.

Key development metrics

Here are some essential metrics related to employee development:

  • Training ROI. This metric lets you know if you’re getting your money’s worth out of your training modules. If your ROI is high, your training pays off, and your employees adequately develop their skills.
  • Employee performance. Monitoring your employee’s performance is crucial for development and retention. Faltering performances are a sign that something is wrong, and a lack of development opportunities may be the culprit.

Stage #6: The offboarding stage

This is the stage where employees inevitably choose to leave your organization. There are several reasons why, including:

  • Retirement
  • Pursuing other opportunities
  • Quitting due to a medical issue or family obligation
  • Relocating
  • Marriage
  • Voluntary turnover (stress, unhappiness, etc.)

The most important thing to remember for this stage is to conduct exit interviews wherever possible. That way, you’ll know why an employee chooses to leave you.

Stage #7: The advocacy stage

The final stage of the employee life cycle is advocacy, where you (hopefully) build loyal brand ambassadors.

Just because an employee leaves your organization doesn’t mean their mind is wiped clean, as they’ll have clear memories of what it was like to work for you.

If you nailed your employee experience, they’ll have nothing but good things to say and may even refer others to work for you.

The best way to build loyal brand ambassadors is to perfect the other stages of the employee life cycle.

Besides that, you should:

  • Make it easy for former employees to remain in touch with you.
  • Reach out to your alums regularly with email newsletters that include updates on your company and new developments.

Wrapping up: The employee life cycle stages

That was an in-depth look at each stage of your employee life cycle, and it’s crucial to pay equal attention to them all.

After all, they ensure a positive employee experience, which will benefit your organization via boosted productivity, engagement, and retention rates.

A healthy employee life cycle will lead to organizational success and a flawless employer brand reputation, so there’s no reason not to work on improving it.