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How To Attract And Retain Top Talent Through The Employee Life Cycle

In 2022, it's predicted that human resources will spend 25% more time on talent acquisition than in 2021, as per a report by McLean and Company.

So if you're already feeling the pressure of finding top talent this year—and it’s certainly something we’re going through currently—it probably doesn’t help to know that your competitors are beefing up their talent acquisition efforts too.

So what can you do to stand out from the crowd of talent-hungry organizations out there? And, once you've attracted and hired your ideal candidate, how can you keep them satisfied, engaged, and loyal?

The McLean and Company report recommends that companies “make the employee and candidate experience a priority to address a number of HR challenges in 2022, including employee attraction and retention”.

So that answers what you should do, but how can you do that? And this is where the employee life cycle comes in.

Here we'll cover:

Let's dive in.

What Is The Employee Life Cycle?

A great way to approach talent management in your organization is to view people's journey through the lens of the employee life cycle model.

Sometimes referred to as the employee journey, the employee life cycle covers six stages of interaction between your employee and your organization: attraction, recruitment, onboarding, development, retention, offboarding.

Employee-Life-Cycle
The employee life cycle.

It’s a useful method for honing in on different parts of your employee experience, even before they’ve spoken to HR or a hiring manager.

If you put in the time and effort to support your employees in each of the six employee life cycle stages, in return you'll get:

  • Higher levels of productivity
  • Lower employee turnover
  • Reduction in recruitment costs
  • A strong employer brand.

As you can no doubt imagine, there are many ways you can improve the experience across the life cycle. One thing to mention is that it's much easier to improve something if you know where you're going wrong, which is why talking to your people and gathering feedback is so crucial.

Feedback, along with metrics such as turnover and career advancement opportunities, paint a picture of what life is like for people across your organization and help make it a fairer, more inclusive, and attractive place to work.

Next, I'll explain (with help from a few friends) each stage of the life cycle and provide tips, resources, and examples to help you create a positive experience at each stage.

Employee life cycle stages

The employee life cycle is split into six stages:

  • Attraction—the way you're perceived as an employer
  • Recruitment—your recruitment process
  • Onboarding—getting a new team member off to the best possible start
  • Development—the growth, progression, and developing opportunities you provide
  • Retention—how you look after people and recognize them for their work
  • Offboarding—parting ways.

Of course, there exists some overlap between each stage, for example a great onboarding experience will help increase retention and set new team members off down the right development path.

Now I'll delve a little more into the different phases of the employee life cycle and some areas of focus for each stage.

Stage 1: Attraction—how are you perceived as an employer?

It's likely you know of a few companies people say are great places to work. They treat their employees well and their Glassdoor rating reflects that.

If an interesting position opens up at such a company, you'd seriously consider applying!

So, while this may be the first stage of a potential new team member's journey with you, a lot of work has gone into crafting your employee experience so that your employer brand is strong.

But maybe you're new and are still building that reputation or, if you've carefully built it, you want to show it off to the world. This means putting yourself out there and getting on the radar of potential employees, otherwise called recruitment marketing.

In a way everything your company does publicly is a form of recruitment marketing, as potential candidates are looking at what you’re putting out there that is aimed at clients.

But there are certain channels specifically aimed at job seekers you can take advantage of—think job descriptions, careers pages, hiring platforms, and industry events.

These are opportunities to showcase your culture and what you offer as an employer, also called your employer value proposition.

If your current employees feel that your organization is a great place to work, you already have the advantage of good word-of-mouth marketing as they'll recommend your company to friends and family and word will spread.

Not sure if they would? Ask them. Send out a survey asking how likely people are to recommend your organization to a friend or relative, what their challenges are, and where you're succeeding or could improve.

Further resources here:

Stage 2: Recruitment–are we a match?

The recruitment stage is when you’re actively hunting talent in the market and taking them through your recruitment process.

This is about sourcing talent, engaging with them, and creating a great candidate experience.

Almost everyone I talk two has an 'I can't believe they behaved like that' recruitment story or two.

When I spoke to Joel Peterson on the podcast, he told me about the time his recruitment firm was called in to help an Australian client that was having zero luck hiring anyone.

It turned out that, during interviews, the hiring manager at that company would make his own chair higher and the candidate’s chair lower because he wanted to see how the candidate would react in a “high pressure” situation. No wonder nobody accepted the job!

Recruitment is about people, so treat candidates like real people.

When I interview a candidate, I start with putting their resume to the side. I ask them to tell me about their interests, goals, and values, and what success looks like to them. 

Through engaging in meaningful conversations, both the candidate and I can better discover if they’d be a good fit for the role and company.

Some further resources:

Stage 3: Onboarding—where are we going and how will we get there?

Studies show that organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. So the onboarding stage is crucial but, unfortunately, often overlooked by employers. 

Depending on the role, the onboarding process can take up to ninety days. During this time, you need to help the new employee adjust by providing all the necessary information, setups, and training to perform their role effectively.

Some areas of focus to help you nail onboarding:

Talk about the goals, expectations and individual preferences

In our podcast, How To Grow Fast In A Sustainable Way (with Manuj Aggarwal from TetraNoodle), Manuj stresses the importance of having clear goals and action plans in order to drive employee success.

This resonated with me because, when I meet with a new employee, I make sure to review the job description and explain how the role feeds into the overall goals of the organization.

In addition to setting goals and expectations, the manager and employee should also share about their work and communication styles. Ask questions such as: what is your most productive time of the day? When do you prefer to have meetings? How do you like to receive feedback?

A 30 60 90 Day Plan is a great tool for making action plans and setting goals during the onboarding stage.

Welcome new employees to calm, not chaos

People are nervous enough when starting a new position, so their first day shouldn’t feel like a game show where they’re trying to unlock doors or crack the code to their laptop! 

Sounds basic but, before the new employee starts, get organized and ensure managers and team members are available to meet them. 

Onboarding actually starts before someone’s first day, in what's called the preboarding phase. At this stage you're sending them everything the need to make their first day go smoothly, for example your employee handbook.

Other useful resources for onboarding:

Stage 4: Development–help them help you

At the development stage, you're supporting your team member through their professional learning and development. This will help them to succeed in their current role and open up the doors for career growth within your organization.

A lot of companies pay lip-service to learning and development without properly committing the resources required, but it's worth the investment.

It almost goes without saying that providing the right conditions for professional development will increase employee engagement and retention. You're also helping people to be better at their jobs, which in turn helps deliver results.

L&D is a vast topic, and constantly evolving, but some aspects I like to focus on are:

Coach your team

In a recent chat with my friend and former colleague, Tamara Wilson, a Senior HR Business Partner and Program Manager, she advised me that going from a manager to a coach is one of the most effective ways to develop your team.

Coaching, in essence, is when you focus on helping team members find solutions to their own problems and unlock hidden potential. It’s more indirect than straight feedback and can provide a greater sense of ownership and empowerment. 

Some powerful coaching questions:

  • How do you think it went?
  • What could have been done differently?
  • What are you hoping to achieve and by when?
  • What resources do you need?
  • Who can help you with that?

Try using some of these coaching questions in your conversations with your staff to help better understand what they want from their careers. Then you can work together to set goals on how to succeed.

Offer non-linear development opportunities

In their book Help them Grow or Watch Them Go Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni give the snakes and ladders treatment to the traditional career ladder so that it now looks like a lattice—we go up, sideways, backward, etc.

So, instead of focusing on traditional upward progression through promotion, try to support employees to explore career options within the organization and find mentors that might be outside of their current departments.

For more on how to help employees plan out their careers, read Alana Farris’s article, Putting Employees In The Driver’s Seat Of Career Development.

Create hands-on learning opportunities

The 70 20 10 Rule is useful to help managers and employees to structure their development path. 

The rule is based on research that found that 70 percent of what we know comes from hands-on experience, 20 percent from social learning, and 10 percent from formal learning.

Therefore managers need to build in lots of on-the-job training and provide challenging work assignments that relate back to the employee’s development goals.

It's something that Tamara Wilson covers in her excellent article How To Create A Learning and Development Strategy In 7 Steps.

Stage 5: Retention–keeping workers healthy and engaged

It is estimated that turnover can cost between 30%-150% of the employee’s salary, and research presented in the 2022 State of HR report by intelliHR reveals that “36% of HR professionals say employee engagement and performance are a top priority.”

Continuing to provide interesting and challenging work for your high performers is a given when it comes to keeping them engaged. 

But your culture, quality of interpersonal relationships, flexibility, and other workplace perks play a tremendous role in motivating employees to stay and to do their best each day.

Again this is a vast topic, but here are a couple of my most used strategies to retain talent.

Check their energy

If you’ve ever had a meeting with me (and please, reach out if you’d like one), you’ll know what I like to ask at the beginning.

“Word and number?”

A word to describe how they’re feeling and a number that represents their energy levels.

Why do I ask this? Well, I genuinely care about how people are doing.

If a staff member is consistently reporting a low energy number, the employee and I can talk about it during our one-on-one meetings. It’s a useful tool to open up conversations about what challenges the employee is facing both at work and personally.

If you are looking for a simple and easy-to-use wellness app that your team could use, take a look at CheckingIn.

Make life easier

For me, I don’t believe in the term “work-life balance”. I see life as a blend of everything that is important, for example, career, family, friends, community, hobbies, etc. 

So schedule flexibility can be very effective in retaining top talent because it makes life easier and reduces stress.

In fact, in a recent survey by OnBuy, flexibility came 1st of 30 in desired office work perks.

At People Management People, we recently got rid of set work hours. That means that, as long as we meet our goals, maintain high performance, and show up to meetings and events, it doesn’t matter how many hours we work per week or when we work them.

If your company requires staff to be on-site during set business hours, you can still make life easier for them through ways such as paying for meal kits to be delivered to their home, or providing employees with housekeeping services in order to free up time on their days off.

Support initiatives that matter to them

People work better when there’s a meaning attached, so encourage employees to choose and lead special initiatives that are close to their hearts. 

Allow them to use work time to coordinate fundraising and volunteer activities for charities and organizations that matter to them so that the workplace is not just a paycheck, but a means for improving the communities that the employees care about.

Say “I Appreciate YOU” 

Your employer can give you more money, and you’d happily take it, but if they don't tell you that they appreciate you and recognize you for working hard, you probably won’t stay.

I remember a time when someone at work said to me, “I appreciate you.” The “you” in that statement stood out to me because it made me feel valued and seen as a human being.

So, if you really want to express to someone your gratitude for the efforts and sacrifices they make each day to drive results for your company, try replacing “it” with “you” and say, “I appreciate you.”

Related read: 30 Creative Employee Recognition And Appreciation Ideas

Stage 6: Offboarding–it doesn’t have to be goodbye

Whether someone is retiring, found a new role, or has personal reasons, the offboarding stage is a great opportunity for you to receive honest feedback on how the company could improve the employee experience for existing and future hires. 

It's also a chance to leave a good last impression on the departing employee. Maybe they’ll come back!

Some tips for successful a offboarding process:

Ask the 5 Whys to get to the root cause

I mentioned honest feedback and that’s always hard to get. But here’s a little trick to use in an exit interview (or any interview or meeting for that matter). 

Simply asking someone “Why are you leaving?” might result in a surface answer such as, “I found another job.” But the 5 Whys technique of asking a series of questions about a problem can help you get to the root cause.

This is what the 5 Whys process might look like to get to the heart of why the employee is leaving.

  1. Question: Why are you leaving?

Answer: I found a new job.

  1. Question: Why did you feel the need to find a new job?

Answer: I wasn’t happy here.

  1. Question: Why were you feeling unhappy here?

Answer: I didn’t feel supported in my role.

  1. Question: Why didn’t you feel supported?

Answer: Because I was constantly overworked and expected to take on way too much responsibility.

  1. Question: Why were you so overworked?

Answer: Because nobody else on my team knew how to handle the projects so I always had to take the lead or fix everyone else’s mistakes.

From this example, we can see that the root cause of the employee leaving is that there was a lack of skills and knowledge within the team to assist and share the workload. 

Therefore, the organization will need to improve on employee training and hire more competent team members to the department.

To know more about what you should ask in an exit interview, check out 8 Exit Interview Questions that You Should Ask.

Stay Connected


Keep your attitude positive and thank the departing employee for all their hard work and contributions. Ask to keep in touch and make efforts to periodically check in with them to see how their career is going. 

If your company maintains a positive relationship with ex-employees, you can let them know about future opportunities or ask them if they know anybody suitable for the job.

Like colleges, some companies even invest in alumni networks to further support people throughout their careers.

Useful resource: How To Nail Your Employee Offboarding: 10 Steps For Success + Free Template

Using the Employee Life Cycle

I hope that, if you’ve gotten this far, you now think a little differently about what goes into crafting a great employee experience.

Odds are your organization will excel at some elements, but there will inevitably be room for improvement in others.

Perhaps a next step would be getting some feedback from employees about how they feel about the onboarding process or learning and development opportunities.

Collecting and acting upon regular feedback is key to improving the employee experience and is closely tied to a people operations way of structuring (pioneered by Google and other forward-thinking organizations).

I wish you luck in your endeavours and feel free to reach out with any questions or suggestions.

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By Tim Reitsma

Tim is the co-founder and General Manager of People Managing People, an online publication focused on building a better world of work. He is experienced with people & culture, leadership, business strategy and operations with a focus on building great teams who are excited about their craft and their organization. With over 15 years of leadership experience, Tim has always been guided by his core values: faith, family, curiosity, and fun. He is a coach, mentor, speaker, advisor, and an active volunteer in his community. Tim loves spending time outdoors with his wife and two kids as well as mountain biking in the north shore mountains.

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