What Is the Employee Life Cycle?

Sam Cook


A woman and two men from diverse backgrounds problem solve at a table for DEIB discussion.

Social media sites like LinkedIn and even Reddit are great places to learn about the employee life cycle, both from an HR leader’s perspective and from the employee’s perspective. It’s clear from both sides that the pathway from application to interviewing to new hire to tenure is never a straight line. It’s also never the same for every employee — although HR and talent development leaders can (and should!) formalize the life ycle in a way that is measurable and impactful for both employees and employers.

Of course, it’s hard to really quantify and measure the impact of the employee life cycle if you don’t fully understand each part of that cycle. In this post, we’re going to help you do just that in the following ways:

  • Defining the employee life cycle
  • Exploring the different stages of the life cycle
  • Tips on how to retain employees at the most critical stages

What is the employee life cycle?

The employee life cycle model breaks down a worker’s journey at a company into various stages. It maps out the experiences they might face and the support they may need to overcome the obstacles ahead of them.

Here, we’ve laid out 7 clear stages on the employee life cycle. Depending on how your organization views this, there could be more or fewer stages. However, as a baseline, these seven steps should help you get started as you created a strategy development and retention strategy around each stage.

By choosing to develop a visible and structured approach to the employee life cycle, you can ensure employees get the attention and support they need for success (and ideally, for long-term retention and development!).

🧐 You probably already know this, but we’ll call it out anyway:

Even the most talented and valuable employee will likely not spend their entire career with one organization. Research from ADP shows that 29% of employees leave just one month after a promotion, and only 4.5% of workers see a promotion coming their way within two years of joining a company.

This is where the employee life cycle comes in and why it’s important to understand not only each stage but also how to add value to employees at each stage. Breaking down this journey allows us to see where and how employees need to be supported throughout their careers, whether this is through mentoring, development courses, or just a shake-up of their everyday working arrangements.

What are the stages of the employee life cycle?

It’s easy to assume that onboarding is when the employee life cycle begins. Nay, nay! The employee life cycle actually begins before you hire someone. In fact, it starts with the efforts you put into place to attract the right employees.

The cycle then proceeds through all of the major milestones in between those stages. In summary, the 7 stages of the employee life cycle include:

  1. Attraction and Recruitment
  2. Hiring Process
  3. Onboarding
  4. Employee Engagement and Development
  5. Promotions
  6. Offboarding
  7. Boomerang Employees

Let’s examine in more depth the employee life cycle stages and the factors that make up each one.

1. Attraction and recruitment

A man sitting at a computer typing at at the beginning of his employee life cycle.

The first stage of the employee life cycle is attraction. Every company wants to be the one that people want to work for! You want to get people interested in your values and what you have to offer – no matter the role that you need to fill.

Much of this will be tied up in an organization’s company culture and brand online. In fact, 86% of job seekers look at company reviews and ratings before submitting a job application. An organization needs to show that they are somewhere that people actually want to work at.

A business should have a clear idea of the types of job applicants that they wish to attract and hear from. From professional qualifications to personal attributes, managers should have a list of qualities that they wish to see from candidates long before a job posting ever goes live.

How to be actionable during the attraction and recruitment stage:

This is the stage where it’s good to think like a marketer. You want to put on a good but honest (read: truthful) display of who you are as a company and the benefits people will have if they choose you as their employer. Here are a few ways to do that:

  1. Leverage company culture and branding
  2. Develop a clear Clear Employee Value Proposition (EVP)
  3. Implement structured mentoring programs
  4. Emphasize DEI
  5. Highlight success stories (and make it engaging with videos)
  6. Utilize employee networks and referral programs

Many of these strategies are already available to potential employees but not properly visible. Make sure they become a part of your recruitment process so you can, as the saying goes, “put your best face forward.” The better the external marketing of your company to potential employees, the more likely you are to attract better-quality candidates.

2. Hiring process

Next up is the hiring process. Once a job goes live and you begin chatting with potential candidates, there are many different steps that must take place.

Whether you’re new to HR or you’ve done it for decades, this is one area where you are likely familiar. Most HR professionals engage in the hiring process to some degree at some point in their careers. That being the case, we won’t dive too deeply into what the hiring process is like here.

If you do need some brushing up or some tips, we recommend checking out this excellent guide on Top Tips to Prepare for an Interview from Robert Half, a MentorcliQ client and Fortune 500 company that specializes in talent solutions.

How to be actionable during the attraction and recruitment stage:

It’s important to remember that the hiring process is exceptionally stressful, but your company can make a large impact on potential employees at this step in a few critical ways that are often overlooked

  1. Conduct a structured interview that removes bias
  2. Give timely feedback to candidates
  3. Send letters and feedback to candidates you don’t select (e.g., no more ghosting job candidates)

The more you can make the hiring process an enjoyable, low-stress, and highly engaging experience, the more likely you are to get a “yes” from your top candidates. And even when you say no to candidates, they’ll have nothing but good things to say about the whole process. That’s good PR for your company and increases the chances that strong candidates will re-apply for other positions and encourage others in their network to apply for jobs with you.

3. Onboarding

Congratulations! You have found the perfect candidate, they have signed their contract, and they are all ready to come aboard!

Next in the employee life cycle is onboarding, where you introduce new employees to life at your company and ensure that they fully understand how their role fits in.

Every employee will need something different in this life cycle stage:

  • Younger workers may need additional hard and soft skills development
  • Experienced hires may need to bridge the gap between their existing skills and your company’s processes, products, and services
  • Boomerang hires may need to re-acclimate to any organizational changes since they’ve been gone.

Because new hires tend to be the most likely to quit, you don’t want to risk rushing this stage of the employee life cycle. Paychex found that 80% of employees who had a bad onboarding experience were willing to quit because of it.

How to be actionable during the onboarding stage:

Two employees highfiving to celebrate a successful mentoring relationship.

All of these needs are best supplemented with mentoring strategies. Onboarding mentors can help hires of all stripes onboard more quickly and more organically. It also adds an important engagement layer that is often difficult to accomplish with a traditional onboarding approach.

You may also want to consider a longer-term buddy system, which often lasts longer than the onboarding period. This key stage can provide both existing and new employees with that solid foundation of trust and welcome that sets them up for success across the rest of their time at the company.

The onboarding process is likely to have several stages itself, starting from the employee’s orientation on the first day through to check-in sessions and regular feedback across the first quarter. Clear communication is a must in this employee life cycle stage to ensure that there is a smooth transition for both the new hires and the teams they join.

4. Employee engagement and development

Employee engagement and employee development can sometimes be viewed as two separate parts of the employee life cycle model, but we think they combine quite nicely. Once new employees have completed onboarding, a company needs to provide an engaging work environment continuously to successfully retain them and keep them focused on their jobs. That engagement should come with the development of that employee’s hard and soft skills, as well as their personal and professional qualities that lead to success within the company.

Here’s a perfect and personal example. My own manager recently sat down with me to discuss an area of improvement: independent problem-solving. This was presented in the absolutely best way by explaining what I’m doing well in that area and exploring how I can improve, with actionable advice on how to make those improvements happen.

It came down to needing to take a few moments before asking for help, and specifically, making sure I thought through my asks in a way that allowed her to provide better and faster responses to them. The very next day, I had the opportunity to put this into practice with feedback that will warm my heart for years to come:

“You made it very easy for me to reply to this email quickly!”

Employee engagement and development is about both providing spaces for employees to engage, and providing adequate and structures for them to develop their skills. This falls under the umbrella of the “employee experience.”

The employee experience is often split into four sections:

  • Digital experience: This can include tools we use to communicate and share resources with colleagues and virtual spaces where workers can connect that don’t necessarily carry work functions.
  • Cultural experience: The corporate culture in which workers interact with one another and feel at home.
  • Physical experience: The space from which employees work; whether this is a physical office, a work-from-home setup, or a hybrid arrangement – how are employees physically carrying out their tasks?
  • Educational experience: The development pathways that exist, whether self-direct, employer-directed, or through mentoring, allow employees to actively identify and grow their personal and professional skills.

You need to ensure that all of these are covered holistically to improve job satisfaction, productivity, and, ultimately, employee retention.

How to be actionable during the engagement and development stage:

This is the stage where stars can emerge. The employees who have just joined might end up being the leaders of tomorrow. They already understand the company culture, and choosing to reward them with a promotion can help to strengthen their loyalty. Such employees could be good candidates for high potential mentoring and leadership development programs.

All employees should have the chance to work with a mentor to set long-term goals they wish to work towards – whether these are across a whole career or just while the employee is with the business. Long-term goals may include aspirations of leadership, specializing in a particular niche, or even just developing new skills. Having a mentor by their side will help employees set realistic and achievable goals and will give them support and motivation in their journey.

There’s an “easy button” for employee development and engagement! Using MentorcliQ’s mentoring software can remove much of the administrative burden that can come with matching up mentors and mentees. Our algorithm removes bias from decisions and ensures that each mentee is paired up with the mentor with the know-how they are searching for.

5. Promotions

Most employees dream of getting promoted, but there’s a catch: Not everyone wants to be in leadership!

Jodi Davidson, Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Sodexo (and MentorcliQ’s 2023 Mentoring Champion of the Year), explained this well in a Talent Trends post:

Jodi Davison Mentoring Champion of the Year

“In today’s climate, it really is about superseding the proverbial “career ladder of success.” Instead of mentoring being made available solely for the “HIPO” that was only looking up, we can reach a far greater critical mass who recognize the multi-directionality of that same ladder. ” – Jodi Davidson

Promotions aren’t always to management level positions. Some employee life cycles mean that when promotions do come, those employees get selected to become subject matter experts and are offered the opportunity to do more of what they love (for more pay).

Of course, traditional promotions are still commonplace, and many employees will ultimately step into critical management roles and significantly want to do so.

How to be actionable during the engagement and development stage:

Beyond the onboarding period, how well you engage and develop your employees will make or break your retention and productivity rates. Human nature is universal: People want to feel like they have a place they belong and a place that fosters their growth.

Here are a few ways you can do that during this critical stage of the employee life cycle:

  1. Embrace diverse career paths
  2. Leverage mentoring for engagement and retention
  3. Promote a culture of inclusion and diversity
  4. Establish trust in mentor-mentee relationships
  5. Identify and address roadblocks to career advancement
  6. Measure and adjust

That last point is particularly poignant if you want to have meaningful and measurable employee engagement and development. Continuously assessing the effectiveness of your engagement and development strategies will show you what’s working and what needs improvement.

Use feedback from employees, mentors, and mentees to refine your approach, ensuring that your programs are meeting the evolving needs of your workforce. The success stories and ROI from existing mentoring programs can serve as a guide for what works and what can be improved​​​​.

By integrating these strategies, you can create a more engaging and development-focused culture that not only supports the growth of their employees but also aligns with broader organizational goals of retention, diversity, and innovation.

6. Offboarding

Not everyone stays in the same job forever, and that is totally ok. The penultimate stage of the employee life cycle model comes when an employee decides to move on to a new role. This should benefit both the employee and the company as a whole and should bring things to a satisfying close as the worker leaves.

As with offboarding, this part of the employee life cycle should aim to ease the transition of the employee leaving. Handovers should be created, and teams should be prepared to shoulder any changes that may arise in this period, whether that be new responsibilities, a new team member, maybe even a new manager, or a promotion.

How to be actionable during the offboarding stage:

The main event of the offboarding stage of the employee life cycle should be the exit interview. Employers can learn about their recruitment and operational processes (what works and what doesn’t), and employees have the chance to share open and honest feedback about their experiences at the company.

This structured conversation should advise on how to make the employee experience more positive and productive for any future new hire.

That said, most companies are already using exit interviews. So the trick is to make them more meaningful to both your company and yourself and to make attending them more desirable for employees who are on their way out the door.

Here are a few thoughts on getting more from the offboarding period of the life cycle:

  1. Emphasize the value of feedback
  2. Ensure confidentiality and comfort
  3. Prepare structured yet flexible questions
  4. Follow up on actionable feedback
  5. Offer career support and networking opportunities
  6. Conduct “Stay Interviews” as a preventive measure
  7. Leverage Technology for Feedback Collection:
  8. Analyze trends and take strategic actions

By implementing these strategies, you can transform the offboarding process into a more productive and meaningful experience. Not only does this approach benefit the departing employees, but it also provides your company with critical insights for continuous improvement, ultimately leading to a more engaged and committed workforce.

7. Boomerang employees

Maintaining content and engagement with former employees can be a boon. Some employees leave and then decide that they want to go back to their previous roles. In fact, a staggering 61% of people would be happy to go back to their old jobs after leaving.

Keeping in touch with and engaging these former employees is the last step in the employee life cycle for a reason; they are a valuable asset who can champion your company values honestly. Doing so may help turn them into boomerang employees or those who come right back to the fold.

How to be actionable during the (potential) boomerang stage:

The boomerang stage is never guaranteed, especially depending on the circumstances of why someone leaves. But if an employee leaves on good terms, there’s often a chance you can bring them back. Consider implementing some of these strategies to sweeten the deal:

  1. Maintain open communication
  2. Create alumni networks
  3. Celebrate departures and returns
  4. Offer continuous learning opportunities
  5. Implement a structured re-onboarding process
  6. Solicit feedback from returnees
  7. Recognize and utilize new skills from boomerangs
  8. Make policy adjustments that account for, encourage, and accommodate employees who return

Boomerangs are not exceptionally common, but I’ve certainly seen many boomerang announcements in my LinkedIn feed these days. That’s just based on data, though. One survey found that 80% of employees who quit during the Great Resignation regretted their decision. The trend was so significant that it was dubbed ‘The Great Regret’.

That said, if you have employees who quit who were top performers… yes, there’s a chance. You should call them.

How many times do employees go through the life cycle stages?

Looking at the structure above, it would be easy to think that a worker only goes through the employee life cycle stages once, starting when they first join the company. However, an employee might go through them multiple times as they advance through their career.

Let’s take the example of an employee who gains a few promotions throughout their time in your organization. When they first join, obviously, they go through attraction, recruitment, and onboarding, and then move on to engagement and retention. After a period of good work, they are invited to interview for a promotion, taking them back to the start of the employee life cycle and into a new era of attraction.

Then, once they have accepted the promotion, they will go through almost a mini-offboarding process as they tie up loose ends that they may leave behind as they gain responsibilities. At the same time, they will re-enter onboarding as they advance and potentially gain access to new areas of the business.

This is why employee life cycle management is a critical process that has to be tailored to the individual. The employee experience is not a straightforward journey from A to B, and they may have to go through the life cycles several times, needing different types of support with each revolution.

Mentoring is a great way to solve even the most challenging employee engagement problems. Learn more in this Mentoring Soundbites video on 5 Engagement Problems Solved through Mentoring.

Why should organizations manage the employee life cycle?

The employee life cycle is one of the best metrics that we have for measuring how engaged employees are and how they feel about the company as a whole. From new hires through to leaving, the life cycle can track whether your employees have good experiences as they work for you, and when and how they best need support.

Each of the employee life cycle phases will require very different levels of support, and even two colleagues in the same stage might not need the same attention. Employee feedback is crucial in tailoring the level of support required.

A company’s success can often rest on how the existing employees feel. When properly engaged and motivated, a workforce should be able to meet their deadlines and fulfill targets without too much stress. By paying close attention to the employee life cycle and its stages, HR and management can introduce the necessary changes and improvements that could lead to happier and more motivated employees and greater success overall.

7 key takeaways for the 7 stages of the employee life cycle

  1. Attraction and recruitment: Focus on your employer brand; you can’t attract top talent unless you have an enticing place to work.
  2. Hiring process: Make sure you minimize stress and emphasize positive interactions before, during, and after interviews.
  3. Onboarding: Ensure every new employee hits the ground with a positive experience, support from all sides, and a warm welcome.
  4. Employee engagement and development: Mentoring can act as the perfect tool to help employees build the communities that help them to stay and engage with their roles and responsibilities.
  5. Promotions: Take what employees need into consideration and create avenues to help them succeed in their new roles
  6. Offboarding: An exit interview is a two-way street; the leaving employee provides feedback about their experience, and the company can take notes that they then feed forward into the recruiting process.
  7. Boomerang employees: Cultivate relationships after employees leave to make returning a strong consideration on their part.

Each stage of the employee life cycle must be respected for this process to be fully optimized. An organization can call each other an extended family and post glossy pictures of away days on their social media as much as they like, but if they don’t offer development and nurturing further down the line, then employee engagement and team morale overall will suffer from it.

A strong mentoring program can help employees through multiple stages of their life cycle at a company and can provide clear structure and support for their advancement. Empower your employees and help them to plan their personal career progression with MentorcliQ. 

Book a demo today to find out more!

Sam Cook