February 22, 2023

The Employee Life Cycle & Managing the Stages of Employees

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Tags: HR

Key takeaways

  • The employee life cycle involves six stages: brand attraction, recruitment, onboarding, retention, development, and separation.
  • HR teams play a critical role at every step of the employee life cycle.

The employee life cycle provides a concrete framework for conceptualizing each part of the employee journey, from brand awareness to offboarding. Reframing HR processes around the employment cycle can result in a better experience for both HR teams and employees. 

However, optimizing each stage of the employee life cycle requires a clear understanding of what it involves, the factors that impact it, and the steps HR can take to improve it.

What is the employee life cycle?

The employee life cycle refers to the six stages an employee experiences before, during, and after their employment: brand attraction, recruitment, onboarding, retention, development, and separation. This cycle is to HR what a customer journey is to sales and marketing — the bird’s-eye view helps identify opportunities, patterns, and trends, which helps business leaders make more strategic decisions.

When thinking about the life cycle of an employee, it’s important to view these stages as continuously flowing phases rather than as discrete steps. For instance, HR professionals often wear multiple hats for recruiting, onboarding, engagement, professional development, and offboarding. Viewing these steps as part of a continuous cycle instead of separate siloes will improve the employee experience and increase collaboration and communication.

It’s also crucial to keep in mind that the phases may be non-linear as well. For instance, employees may oscillate between retention and development throughout their tenure, or co-exist in both phases at the same time. Some boomerang employees may leave the company and then come back at a later date even though they’re already gone through the separation phase. The stages of the employee life cycle are intended to be flexible groupings, not rigid classifications.

Why is the employee life cycle important?

Employees’ needs and wants change throughout the course of the life cycle, so it’s important for the HR team to be aware of the benefits and risks involved at each phase. For instance, an HR team that’s struggling to meet hiring goals can analyze the variables that might be holding them back in the recruitment phase, but awareness of the brand attraction phase can provide valuable insights as well.

The employee life cycle also ensures that HR teams are looking at their priorities holistically. All too often, issues with employee burnout, disengagement, and performance could have been prevented or addressed earlier if the right life cycle measures had been in place. Focusing on the entire life cycle helps ensure employees receive consistent care and attention.

Effective employee life cycle management can boost employee engagement and motivation across the entire company. It also contributes to a positive, healthy workplace culture where employees feel seen and supported by the HR department at every step of the way.

What are the stages of the employee life cycle?

There are six stages of the employee life cycle: brand attraction, recruitment, onboarding, retention, development, and separation.

Brand attraction

Brand attraction refers to a potential candidate’s first impression of a company or brand. It encompasses any other touchpoints that may occur between initial brand awareness and becoming aware of a job opening. In some cases, there may be no lag time at all, while in other situations a candidate may be aware of the company for months or years before applying to a job.

Brand attraction is an opportunity for HR teams to collaborate with marketing teams to ensure any and all marketing messages align with recruitment materials. Together, both teams can work to create positive impressions of the company, stand out from competitors, and leverage marketing software effectively.


Recruitment refers to the job application and hiring process. It starts the moment a company posts a job opening and continues through the application and interview process. The recruitment phase ends when a candidate receives (and accepts) a final offer letter. This stage can cover many different activities, from asking for referrals to implementing an applicant tracking system (ATS) to find qualified candidates.

The recruitment phase may be under the purview of an internal HR team or an external recruiting agency, depending on the company. Some companies also split the recruitment process between internal and external teams. For instance, a recruiting agency might handle sourcing candidates and setting up initial interviews, while the internal team takes care of the final interview and officially extending the offer letter.

Read more: The Top Recruiting Tools for Effective Employee Hiring


Onboarding refers to the process of integrating a newly hired employee into the company. It covers the signing of official employee paperwork and any initial training period, as well as the payroll and benefits enrollment process. Onboarding is a key stage for getting employees up to speed about the specifics of their job as well as company values and culture.

While the new hire’s supervisor will also be involved in this process, HR teams also play a big role in onboarding. Not only do they handle the administrative work of payroll and benefits, they also provide job-specific training with learning management systems and educate new hires about company values.


Development refers to various activities that relate to helping employees build their skills and knowledge. These activities can range from sending them to conferences to conducting annual performance reviews. Professional development is often closely tied to promotions and pay bumps as well as preparing employees to take on more responsibility.

HR teams can do many things to provide professional development for both managers and employees, like implementing a performance management program and creating a formal review process. HR teams should also offer resources for both internal training and external learning. This might look like providing funding for employees to attend industry conferences or deploying learning management systems to provide training and development courses.


Retention refers to various activities that help keep employees challenged and motivated at the company, including pay increases, promotions, team-building events, and more. It also involves collecting feedback from employees about areas where the company could improve and making meaningful changes based on that feedback.

The employee’s team and direct supervisor play a major role in the retention stage, but HR teams have an important part to play as well. While managers are typically more concerned with individual employees, HR teams take a strategic approach from a higher level, seeking out employee feedback and measuring team morale across the entire company to understand whether the dissatisfaction is an isolated incident or a trend.

Read more: Why Employee Performance Management Is Important


Separation refers to the offboarding procedures for an employee who has been terminated, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. While this is usually the shortest of all the stages of the employee life cycle, it’s no less important. 

During the separation phase, HR teams should verify all offboarding documentation is thoroughly completed and in line with federal and state regulations. This includes information about final paychecks, benefits continuation, and other separation requirements.

If the employee is leaving voluntarily, an HR staff member should also conduct an exit interview to understand why the employee is leaving. In these meetings, offboarding software can provide a foundation for productive discussions and valuable feedback.

How can HR teams impact the employee life cycle?

Whether HR teams are collaborating with marketing to boost brand awareness or preparing paperwork for employee offboarding, they have a huge impact on every stage of the employee life cycle. Looking at the life cycle as a whole allows for strategic planning, proactive problem-solving, and data-driven decision-making. 

HR software can be a valuable asset at each phase, from applicant tracking systems that automatically source candidates to performance management software that helps identify employees who are ready to move up in the company. Without tools like these, there may be hidden challenges that make it harder to attract, hire, develop, and retain valuable employees.

To learn more about solutions that can help manage the employee life cycle, check out our HR Software Guide.

1 Rippling

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Rippling is the first way for businesses to manage all of their HR, IT, and Finance — payroll, benefits, computers, apps, corporate cards, expenses, and more — in one unified workforce platform. By connecting every business system to one source of truth for employee data, businesses can automate all of the manual work they normally need to do to make employee changes.

Learn more about Rippling

2 Paylocity

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Simplify payroll, automate processes, and stay tax compliant, all in one spot. Our tools help you tackle the day-to-day, so you can focus on your people. Empower employees to view checks, request time off, clock in/out and update their personal data with Employee Self Service. Pull expense reimbursements into paychecks and run custom reports to get the data you need. Build a better future for your organization with a scalable solution focused on your business outcomes, priced for your budget.

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3 Paycor

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Paycor’s HR software modernizes every aspect of people management, which saves leaders time and gives them the powerful analytics they need to build winning teams. Paycor provides a full suite of HCM solutions with a single source of truth for employee data, so users never have to switch platforms, log-in to multiple systems, re-key data or open multiple spreadsheets. Everyday processes become simplified, allowing organizations to focus on their most important work.

Learn more about Paycor

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