Topic: Employee Experience


How Recognition Fits into the 6 Stages of the Employee Lifecycle

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Updated on 

February 16, 2024






It’s simply not enough to hire top talent and then forget about them until a work anniversary or performance review. We know that every employee goes through a distinctive cycle that begins before they even hire on. This is the employee lifecycle.

Within this employee lifecycle we can incorporate significant, personalized recognition moments to design an intentional employee experience that creates balance, fulfillment, and longevity.

Research also shows that a structured recognition program leads to higher rates of retention and significant savings for your organization.

“In most cases, the employee lifecycle begins before their resume ever crosses your desk.” —O.C. Tanner Institute

What Is the Employee Lifecycle?

The employee lifecycle maps the different stages an employee experiences during their time with a company. This cycle has six stages and starts the moment an employee learns about the organization.

As the employee engages with the vision of the company in those early impressions, they form opinions and ideas that carry right on through to recruitment and onboarding. These foundational experiences become the core of an employee’s lifecycle during their time working with the company until their separation and post-employment phase.

Research shows that a great employee experience drives revenue. The Harvard Business Review notes, “Improvements in employee satisfaction can drive improvements in customer satisfaction.”

Although small details change here and there, the overall structure of the employee lifecycle remains the same across industries. Awareness of and engagement with your company’s employee lifecycle can result in more productive and fulfilled team members, which in turn leads to a thriving workplace culture and a better reputation for your organization.

The 6 Stages of the Employee Lifecycle

Let’s take a closer look at each stage of the employee lifecycle to better understand how it all works.


In most cases, the employee lifecycle begins before their resume ever crosses your desk. The attraction phase is one of the most crucial, because it largely depends on an organization’s strength and reputation. You want potential employees to view your company as a great place to work, where they will be valued and enjoy a positive experience. Or else why would they bother to apply in the first place?

Employee attraction ties back to recognition. As you take care of current employees and create a strong workplace culture, this in turn builds your reputation and attracts top talent to your company.

From those earliest moments, you want job candidates to see much more in your organization than just a paycheck. You want them to be attracted to the holistic experience of belonging that a strong work community offers.

So, attracting top talent is directly connected to cultivating and nurturing the employees you already have.


The recruiting process is where you reach out and recruit the best talent to join your team. Recruitment happens when you need to fill an existing role or a new position is created. This will be the first point of contact a potential employee has with your company and how it treats people, so it’s incredibly important to get it right.

The best recruitment plans center on the candidate, provide clear communication with established criteria, and operate on defined data to improve the process every time.


Onboarding is all about efficiency and communication. You want employees to get up to speed and feel comfortable as quickly as possible. Every step of this process is an opportunity to reinforce what a great workplace you have and to make a new team member feel valued and cared for.

The importance of the manger-employee relationship cannot be overstated. “Too often, managers are either not included in the onboarding process, or they are given a simple onboarding checklist to complete,” according to Gallup. “Such an approach turns onboarding into a formality rather than an experience that makes an employee feel good about their decision to work for you.”

The onboarding process helps employees develop an understanding of performance expectations as well as a feel for team dynamics. Use this time as an opportunity to educate new employees on the tools, systems, and processes that help your team function and succeed on a daily basis.



Some people may be content with the same position for years on end, but most employees want an opportunity to learn and grow over time. In a work world largely driven by software, apps, and tech, skillsets need to update regularly.

As a result, ongoing professional development is more essential than ever.

Development is crucial to a team that remains smart and relevant. Research shows that employees thrive when encouraged to create their own professional development plans. And when employees see a future for personal growth and a path forward within the company, it increases fulfillment and retention.


Everyone knows it costs much less money to retain current employees than it does to recruit new ones. It is during this stage that your top talent can seem to fall through the cracks. At this point they are experienced members of the team, working in a groove, cruising along in their careers.

It’s important to make sure employees are happy and challenged as the years go by.

Company culture is essential to consistent retention. Open communication, regular performance reviews, and honest feedback help to understand how people feel and to boost employee morale.

Cultivate and promote strong relationships among team members to keep them motivated.


The final stage of the employee lifecycle is the separation stage. Employees leave for many reasons. This process can be awkward or jarring, but it doesn’t have to be. Regardless of the reason, when a team member leaves the company, it has an effect on other employees.

It’s important to make sure the departure causes as little disruption as possible.

The exit interview is a great opportunity to receive the most open, honest feedback you’re likely to get.

As an HR professional, use these moments to learn how employees feel about your culture and to understand why someone would leave the organization. Listen well and use the information to make improvements where needed.  

How Recognition Fits into the 6 Stages of the Employee Lifecycle

Why does recognition matter? Employee recognition contributes to a thriving work culture, which will improve every stage of the employee lifecycle and bolster your organization’s reputation.

More companies now see recognition as a fundamental part of the employee experience. Organizations use employee recognition software to create an intentional recognition program centered on meaningful awards to help employees feel appreciated.

Attraction and Recognition

You can’t make great work without great people. Attracting top talent is crucial for any business that wants to grow and endure. Today’s brightest workers seek a culture that recognizes and values what they have to offer.

A global survey of 200,000 job seekers asked employees to choose the most important attributes in a new job from a list of 26. The number one attribute was: my employer or manager shows “appreciation for my work”. Good relationship with colleagues, good work-life balance, and good relationships with leaders came after, with an attractive salary coming in at number 8.

Gallup says, “In today’s war for talent, organizations and leaders are looking for strategies to attract and retain their top performers while increasing organic growth and employee productivity. But in their search for new ideas and approaches, organizations could be overlooking one of the most easily executed strategies: employee recognition.”

According to the O.C. Tanner Institute, both leaders (48%) and employees (57%) say “making employees feel valued and appreciated” is the aspect of workplace culture that is most important to them. Recognition is a top priority for employees seeking jobs, and leaders who want to recruit the best talent for their organizations.

Onboarding and Recognition

Employees are more likely to stay with a company longer when they have a thoughtful onboarding experience. Offer recognition early and often. Congratulate new hires on their great decision to join the team. Connect new hires with a mentor to show them the ropes and make them feel welcome.

Give new employees gifts with meaning. These can be branded and useful, gifts employees actually want to use.

Up to 20% of turnover happens within the first 45 days of employment. Check in frequently to ask employees how they’re feeling, if they need anything, and how to improve the onboarding experience. Set clear goals so your new employees have concrete expectations and feel essential to the team.

Effective onboarding can communicate that new hires are valued, appreciated, and belong, which, according to Harvard Business Review, is linked to a 56% increase in job performance, 50% drop in turnover risk, and 75% fewer sick days.

Onboarding sets the tone for an employee’s experience with you. It also strengthens an employee’s desire to stay. Think about this sobering stat from Gallup: Organizations lose 1/3 to 2/3 of new hires in their first 12 months, even for senior-level positions. Half of hourly workers left after just 4 months.

60% of companies don’t create clear goals for employees to obtain in the first year.
—O.C. Tanner Institute

Development and Recognition

Highly engaged employees are more productive, loyal, and impactful.

60% of companies don’t create clear goals for employees to obtain in the first year.

On top of regular responsibilities, assign special projects to help stretch employees and help them feel valued. When employees participate in special projects they are 50% more likely to learn new skills in their current role.

And when team members complete special projects, make sure they feel recognized for going the extra mile, learning new things, and contributing to the team in a different way.

Special projects and recognition go a long way to bolster employee performance and motivation.

Organizations that offer a career achievement program keep employees an average of two years longer than organizations that don’t. Encourage your employees to grow and give them the space and means to make that growth happen.

Don’t wait for big milestones down the road. Recognize early and often. Reward employees for the small achievements along the way.

Engaging workplace cultures don’t happen by chance—they’re cultivated by providing a strong sense of purpose, opportunities to grow, and meaningful recognition to tie it all together.

Foster a thriving work culture where employees want to push themselves and your organization will attract the best talent and become a happy home for the talent you already have.

Retention and Recognition

In a climate of increased turnover, how do you keep top talent and improve retention? A recent study by SHRM identified five leading factors that keep employees fulfilled and satisfied with their jobs:

  1. Respectful treatment of employees at all levels
  2. Compensation
  3. Trust between employees and senior management
  4. Job security
  5. Opportunities to use their skills and abilities at work

Employee recognition plays a significant role in keeping employees happy and motivated to stay with the organization. This is most effectively done through an intentional employee recognition program, such as Culture Cloud, that allows employees to appreciate great work through the apps they use every day.

Companies with employee recognition programs keep employees 2-4 years longer that companies without a program.

To increase retention, employee recognition should be a constant, integrated element of the organization’s culture. Employee appreciation also works best when it is personalized to fit each employee. Most importantly, it should always connect employees to purpose, accomplishment, and one another.

Milestones such as an employee anniversary and employee service award should be celebrated with other team members and meaningful rewards. Research shows that employees remember intentional rewards and thoughtful moments more than perfunctory appreciation that isn’t personalized or special.

Another stellar way to increase retention is to provide ongoing training opportunities. Team members feel valued when organizations demonstrate that they are committed to employees’ long-term career paths. It's becoming increasingly important to recognize and appreciate the talent you already have to drive retention in your organization. Learn how you can do that from our guide.

Focus on the Employee Experience

The employee lifecycle is a journey made up of projects, challenges, achievements, growth, and teamwork. There are so many concrete ways to shape the experience an employee has with your organization.

And it’s scientifically proven that recognition significantly improves the employee lifecycle, with demonstrable returns on retention and savings.

Gone are the days when companies only focused on the customer experience. Your employees matter just as much. And the truth is that thriving employees are directly connected to happy customers. It comes as no surprise that taking care of your people leads to better outcomes across the board.


Ready to create a positive company culture? Check out O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud.

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