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What is the Employee Life Cycle?

4 min

The employee life cycle and employee experience are often uttered in the same breath.

Both concepts are closely intertwined, but differ in meaningful ways. As enterprise leaders acknowledge the importance of the burgeoning employee experience function, it is essential to understand how the employee life cycle stages influence it.

What are the employee life cycle stages?

The employee life cycle is the chronological career progression employees make with their employer. Generally speaking, the employee life cycle begins when the company attracts prospective hires and ends with the employees’ departure from the company. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to discuss the seven employee life cycle stages defined by Gallup:

  1. Attract — Recruiting and courting talent to join the company.
  2. Hire — Selecting the best candidates for open roles.
  3. Onboarding — Integrating your new employees into the company.
  4. Engage — Fostering purpose and building strengths in employees.
  5. Perform — Setting fair expectations designed to drive high performance.
  6. Develop — Building career paths and coaching growth for talented employees.
  7. Depart — Crafting a positive exit experience and mitigating losses to talent competitors.

The seven stages comprise both employees’ milestones and continual needs. The company’s strategic and cultural priorities will determine how much emphasis is placed on each of the employee life cycle stages.

At many organizations, for example, the first three stages would comprise a relatively short amount of an employee’s tenure. According to SHRM, the average time to fill a position is 36 days. HR industry standards say the process of onboarding employees should last 90 days. All told, that’s 126 days—just a hair longer than four months.

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But what if the organization wants to place a strong emphasis on “getting the right person in the right chair?” The amount of time those first three phases take up, then, starts to swell. More time will be spent soliciting candidates. More care will be spent interviewing potential hires and gauging the qualities that fit or add to the company’s culture. And certainly, more time will be devoted to onboarding the candidate to ensure expectations are appropriately aligned with the organization’s standards. These organizations will spend upwards of a full year onboarding new hires.

In this way, a well-designed employee life cycle will reflect at every stage the company’s priorities and the things it stands for, including its purpose, values, brand, and culture. How successful it is at accomplishing that, however, comes down to the experiences employees actually have at each stage of the employee life cycle.

How the employee life cycle and employee experience interact

Employee experience is an emerging function in the enterprise dedicated to understanding how employees holistically experience their work. The prevailing philosophy behind employee experience (supported by numerous studies) is that great employee experiences beget great customer experiences. Great customer experiences, in turn, lead to better business outcomes and happy shareholders.

In our employee experience framework, there are three domains that organizations need to get just right in order for employees to thrive.

  1. The Procedural Employee Experience, or the systems and processes employees use to get their jobs done.
  2. The Textural Employee Experience, or the different environments and “places of work” that facilitate exceptional employee performance.
  3. The Emotional Employee Experience, or the emotions that employees feel at work, both as individuals and as a collective workforce, that inform daily behaviors, job performance, and how they navigate their roles.

Read on: Learn more about each of the employee experience domains

So how are the employee life cycle and employee experience related?

Think of it this way. The employee life cycle is a roadmap, sketching out the journey employees will take with the company. The seven employee life cycle stages are the pre-planned destinations they’ll visit along the trip. Sometimes, an employee will spend more time at one pitstop than their peers, but broadly speaking, most will complete the full trip and reach the end of their journey.

Employee experience, then, is both the itinerary for the trip and the day-to-day moments that employees experience as they make their way to each destination. In other words, it’s what employees expect to happen at each stage, what actually happens at each stage, and the gulf between the two.

Expectations are important, and employees have expectations for each domain of the employee experience. Employees today expect their work to be made up of systems and processes that, well, actually work. Employees today expect to do their work in environments flexible enough to accommodate their shifting needs throughout the day. Employees today expect to be supported by an emotional culture that reflects the realities of their lived experiences.

Employees’ needs shift as they progress through the lifecycle

Gallup argues that the seven employee life cycle stages are where the “most significant employee-employer interactions” occur. Each stage is a seminal moment where employees’ expectations for their work experience can shift.

Consider your own work experiences. Think back to the time you were first hired in your current role, or a role you held in the past. What did it feel like as you went through the company’s onboarding process? What did you want it to feel like? Were you made to feel welcome by your team, colleagues, and managers? Were you primed with the appropriate training and information to perform your role successfully?

Now think about how you felt in that same role just a year or two later. Ideally, you should know what’s expected of your position and how to excel in it. You should know the systems and processes that define your work like the back of your hand. You should also have a pretty strong understanding of the company’s work environment, its culture, and the way different teams and departments work together. All together, you have an intimate understanding of “how we do things here.” So how have your professional and personal needs changed?

As employees progress through the life cycle, their wants and needs for their work experience will mature and only grow more complex. Put simply, an employee’s needs in the Onboarding stage are frankly different from the needs of a seasoned talent in the Develop stage.

It is essential that the company designs an employee experience that accommodates these diverse needs and expectations. Those are the experiences that create engaged employees, healthy cultures, and happy customers. As Gallup says, employee experiences designed around the employee life cycle signal the company is committed to a long-lasting relationship with its workforce:

“World-class employee experiences can also lead to employees who choose to spend their career with your organization—because your organization provides them the best opportunity to develop and continually improve their well-being.”

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