Traditional employee lifecycle

The employee lifecycle as we know it has become stale and is no longer usable as a diagrammatic picture of career progression in the changing world of work. The employee lifecycle has been depicted in many ways but most commonly the phases have been traditionally identified as Attraction, Recruitment, Onboarding, Development, Retention, and Separation.

This traditional model of an employee lifecycle worked perfectly in a traditional work environment, but things have moved on. AI, robotics and technology have already changed the landscape, not just in terms of work, but the effect this has on our lives, and our lifespans, which is another major contributing factor. While the reality of longer lifespans is yet to set in for many, this will undoubtedly change retirement age, and the length of time most people remain in the workforce. This goes hand in hand with having more time to become experts in various fields and if Malcolm Glawell's "10 000 hours to become an expert" is to be believed, there will be plenty of time for the average professional to become an expert in multiple areas.

The re-engineering of job roles was never included in the traditional employee lifecycle and is now conspicuous in its absence. A new and more appropriate model is messy, with a lot of movement. I believe a better picture would look a lot more like this:


Agile employee lifecycle


The Effect of the Brand

Attraction of skilled potential candidates is absolutely key to any organisation,. There is an entirely new economy that we have not got to grips with, - the talent economy, inclusive of the gig economy - where skilled potential candidates can take their services to market in a number of different ways. Making sure that we are on their list of places where they want to work is not an easy task, and the strength of the brand and the reputation thereof, is critical to being considered by potential candidates at the top of their game.

 An employer's brand should highlight what an employee should experience in working for an organisation, and it is vital that leadership and employees really live what is preached in the core values. . How an employee interacts in the broader environment is part of an employer’s brand, and particularly in regard to attraction of potential candidates, the message that employees are putting out on social media and other platforms becomes the voice of an employer.

Employee Experience

The employee experience starts from the very first time a potential candidate Googles the employer's name. Already at this stage, they are trying to work out what it would be like to work for the organisation.

Focusing on the needs of employees will go a long way to creating a positive employee experience. In the same vein, focusing on an employee and their employee experience, and then building campaigns around their experiences it is critical for employers if they are going to be on the shortlist for a candidate who is top talent.


There is competition

As the strength of an employer brand grows, and helps us to attract potential candidates, it is important that recruitment initiatives do not stay purely in the realm of HR.

A key aspect to recruitment is to make sure that from the very beginning, the recruitment team includes supervisor or managerial level employees that will be working with the potential candidate. This also helps to make onboarding so much more seamless, and it strengthens the ability to answer technical questions that the candidate may have, which may be the differentiator between an employer and their competitors.

The business cost including supervisory or managerial level employees in this process, pales in comparison to the unquantifiable cost of a bad recruit. The attraction of the most talented skilled experts, should be a major concern for all areas of the business as well as the top executives and the board.

Recruiting existing employees

From the model above, once a role is re-engineered, the circle starts again. This should have a direct impact on the initial phase of recruitment for two reasons:

  • Knowledge of the talent and skills in the business, starts at the initial recruitment level as it may be that a recruit is brought in to fulfil one function, but would be capable of fulfilling another.
  • Candidates may be recruited with a base skill set, and already in the interview, advised as to which areas they need to diversify their skill sets in. Being able, and willing, to continuously develop is a critical feature for all new recruits in the fourth industrial revolution. The way that a person fits into a changing organisation is often more important than the suite of current skills they bring to the job.



Traditionally the onboarding process was a week of induction training, masses of paperwork, formal "Meet & Greet" functions and exchanging of information as to who is who and fits in where. The time needed for formal onboarding has been reduced thanks to platforms like LinkedIn where the person joining the team, already knows the career history and job titles of the members of the team that they will be working with. Many larger organisations also have this kind of platform internally.

Onboarding is an important part of bringing in a new employee and ensuring they are aware of the culture of the business, as well as the critical rules and procedures for that work environment. However, as we all move away from traditional L&D initiatives and more to online learning, more of those processes should be automated and gamified where possible.

Relationships between colleagues during the onboarding phase have been downplayed, and with the replacement of classroom learning in the onboarding process, to make sure that new recruits are assimilated into the business, with a network of people to lean on for information and socializing, a formalised buddy system, tailored for each recruit, is key.

Instead of becoming less important in the digital age, the need for agile teams and quick assimilation into a role, relationships, and facilitating new networks, must become a key focus for HR and each employee.

Learning & Development

L&D is significant to agile Human Resources,. Employees with multiple skill sets, translate to teams that are varied and can change direction with speed. L&D initiatives should be self-driven and it is critical that these goals form part of the continuous performance management process in order to create a culture of continuous professional development, and to ensure an employee is capable and ready for change and challenges.

With the variety of online learning platforms that exist, only the will to learn, and a bit of time, stands between an employee and a new skill, so there is very little excuse for stagnation.  Allowing an employee to build skills quickly, and on their own terms, is a very powerful aspect in the employee experience. Promoting study assistance in the form of bursaries for short courses is an easy way to achieve this.  

The challenge that this creates for HR is tracking the learning within our workforce as well as their ever changing skill sets.


Back to Basics

The most important aspect of retention is listening to an employee. Having the kind of personal relationships with line management where an employee can both address their issues and complaints, as well as raise their goals and ambitions is a game changer in an environment where there is a shortage of scarce skills and tough competition.

Ensuring that an employee is engaged means more strategic thinking on the employee experience, and employers should be asking themselves what they want them to feel about the employer brand, while asking them how they want to do their jobs, or even, what job do they want to do.

Retention is multifaceted and complicated. Systems and processes that are designed for retention are not able to ever replace the basics of a trusted relationship and business partnership that individuals want and need.


Promotion is powerful.  It is a signal to the individual being promoted that they are important to the business and that they are valued. If the reasons for promotion are clear, and the promotion is fair, others will be positively inspired by the growth of their peers.

Almost every piece of research says that diverse teams are better. This should be an organisational focus at top management level and it is very positive to achieve better diversity and inclusion through internal promotions. It is necessary that conversations on diversity are centred around race, ethnicity and gender, but age is a factor that is often missed on the list, leading to unintentional discrimination both in terms of candidates that are perceived to be too young, and those perceived to be too old. Promoting younger employees is great for new ideas, new technology and the like, however it should not be neglected that employing and promoting older employees who are close to what was traditionally retirement age, can have a remarkably positive effect on teams and work environments.


Internal recruitment

Internal hires are often a lateral move and possibly the best way to show growth and give employees the opportunities they are wanting. Mobility within a business keeps employees happy and reduces the time that a fresh new recruit takes to assimilate to the cultural aspects of an organisation, as well as the technical requirements of a new role.

Growth and development of internal candidates should be self-driven, and facilitated by their line managers who have a responsibility to develop and retain the right employees, as well as creating opportunities for them. Internal recruitment and internal promotions are a wonderful way to bring energy, new ideas and positivity.

Role re-engineering

Role re-engineering can be the creating of an entirely new role in a completely different team, or it can be as simple as tweaking a few aspects of the current job description. In some instances, role re-engineering should go hand in hand with internal recruitment, and sometimes it's just not necessary.  Part of role re-engineering is the need to create and disassemble multi-skilled teams quickly, the need to solve a client's problem as opposed to provide a particular service offering.

The factors at play here are the client needs, the business needs, the team needs, and the individual needs. Sometimes these align nicely, and sometimes it’s a little tricky. If an employee is on an assignment that they are not enjoying but still learning from, it's easy to navigate. If they are on an assignment that they are not learning from, or enjoying, there is an even greater need to ensure that there is something different in the plan for their future.

Robotics and AI are not a threat to the multi skilled employee, role re-engineering is critical to develop and maintain a multi-skilled professional. 

Today's teams

Teams are no longer focused on a particular service line, but are focused on solving a particular client's problem, and having the right employees on board to deal with the variables that this comes with is a massive business challenge. Teams must be able to be formed, unformed, and reformed quickly. Part of making fast moving teams successful is ensuring that the employees in them are empowered to make decisions, and upskilled in their various areas of expertise.

The evolution of teams in the current work environment is leading to new needs in HR data and analytics. One such interesting tool is organisational network analysis software, which is used in assessing who is speaking or networking with whom, using patterns in emails, instant messaging and physical proximity. The purpose of this is to identify who is connected to who, both formally and informally, together with their skill sets and experience. Identifying networks that are leading to increased job satisfaction and efficiency can be unpacked to assess what makes it a successful network in that particular environment and why it works.

Robotics and AI need to become integrated into our working environment and part of every agile team, so encouraging experimentation and innovation has to be part of the culture. After all, every agile team is in itself, an experiment.

The Lifecycle Begins Again

To ensure that employees are engaged, and remain so, it is important that when their roles, and teams are re-engineered, they are still positive about their work and the value that they bring, as well as the value they get from being with the employer. At this stage to ensure that they are still integrated in the organisation, the onboarding process should begin again in full or in part.


While our lives at work is very much part of who we are, employees are still people. They are on their own individual journeys through their lives, and make decisions based on a variety of factors, of which work, both in terms of what to do and where to do it, is just one component.

Sometimes good employees will leave. If an organisation believes in their employer brand, and the employee experience, an employee should exit with a positive outlook and experience of the organisation, and become brand ambassadors. Some of the best, and most loyal of employees are "boomerangs" who leave, and come back, with different skills and different experiences from when they left. Equally, some of the best word of mouth referrals will come from past employees who understand the organisations culture and service offering or products.


The talent economy has brought into focus the professional reputations of individuals. This has made the idea of self-driven continuous performance management more viable than ever before.

Measuring and tracking L&D is key to ensuring a multi-skilled workforce that are recognised for their development.

Particularly in regard to a team environment, performance, or lack thereof, is much more transparent. The 360 performance appraisal was a hot concept a few decades ago, and fell out of fashion, but as agility and the evolution of teamwork changes, this is almost certain to once again become a useful tool. The 360 appraisal in a team environment is useful as a part of determining compensation and benefits, but it has to be part of the culture to make sure that the information is honest and, for the most part, constructive.



Employees need to be recognised for the contributions that they make. For many, recognition is a key component of motivation so getting recognition right in high performing teams is very important.

Compensation & Benefits

Compensation and benefits are already changing as a result of the gig economy, and this will have an effect on all employees regardless of the nature of their employment. Over time, people will expect to receive compensation and benefits for the value that they bring and how that translates to the work environment.


Non-performance needs to be dealt with swiftly and efficiently. In an environment where job roles are morphing constantly, identifying a reason for non-performance becomes a bit more intricate. If it is an area of technical development that is required, it may be best to set out a performance improvement plan. If it is an attitude or cultural fit problem, it is probably best to part ways as amicably as possible, as fast as possible.


The agile employee lifecycle is inextricably pinned to the employee experience and to the employers' brand. The failure to deal with the employee experience strategically, will mean that the right employees for that environment are not attracted, recruited, onboarded and developed. At best this is a lost opportunity, at worst it is a move that strengthens the employer’s competitors by default.

Employers now need to ensure that they have multi-skilled employees. This means an increased need for continuous professional development to be truly part of an employer’s culture.

 Recognition, compensation and benefits has never been more multifaceted, employers are, knowingly or unknowingly, on the edge of a revolution in these practices. Already gig economy workers are putting in bids to do a job, the effect of this on workplaces is very much still to be determined, but it is certain to change the landscape in which employers currently utilise and remunerate employees. In five years' time the concept of an annual increase and annual performance bonus will be as outdated as the traditional model of the employee lifecycle, if it isn't already.

With HR becoming more and more complex, it is critical that HR professionals are able to go back to basics in facilitating and creating relationships. To match the aspirations of an employee to the needs of clients or customers, there is an increasing need for HR to become part of the client or customer facing areas of the business to make sure that the diversity of the clients or customer needs, are matched by the diversity of the skill sets of the employees in the teams on the assignments, and to make sure that this can change with the changing needs of the business environment.

Candice Eaton Gaul

Head of HR & Labour Consulting, Johannesburg

Related articles

Tightening the ropes on your payroll control        

Sections 22 and 23 of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act