While on a long run this past weekend, I got to thinking about the employee life cycle*. Hey, when you run 12 miles, a lot goes through your head and this was one of the things going through mine. Another thing jogging through my mind was my favorite race distance, the half marathon. I’ve completed 11 (and counting), so I know a little bit about the ups and downs of the whole preparation, running, and completing of those 13.1 miles. And, what I’ve realized is the employee life cycle, and the emotions that come with it, are a lot like running a half marathon.
Lace up your Asics and try to keep up with me on this race.
If you are a runner, or have ever considered taking up running, you know what it’s like to get the bug to sign up for a race. It may start with a friend of yours completing her first half marathon, or that other friend of yours sharing his accomplishment on Instagram. Maybe they tell you about the whole experience, how happy they were with the sense of accomplishment, and how much you should consider joining the hordes of half marathon finishers. You take the bait, find a race that interests you, and you sign up.
This is much like the recruiting phase of the employee life cycle. Chances are, your good buddy refers you to his company because all he does is talk about how much he loves working there. Your other friend is always sending Snaps your way when she’s at her company functions and you don’t want to miss out on all of the excitement. She refers you to the company. You meet the team, go through the interview process, get and accept your offer, and then prepare for your first day. (Don’t we all wish the candidate experience was this simple?)
Prerace and the first 3 miles. Packet pick-up is here. You get a your bib, that slick dri-fit T, and a bag of goodies. You don’t sleep well the night before because you’re anxious and excited about the big day. You get to the starting line early and are greeted by all of the other racers. Many have done this race before, and there are many more who are just like you, ready to take on their first race. The gun goes sounds and you’re off!
The first mile is awesome. People are cheering, music is blaring, and the adrenaline is pumping. You feel great, maybe a little too great, but you don’t care because you are just happy to be there. Then, you hit that first mile marker and realize you have 12.1 miles to go. You start to doubt your decision to run this race. You drank a little too much coffee beforehand and you feel the slight bit of tension in your bladder. You realize you started a little too fast and you haven’t found the right cadence or breathing sequence. It’s only the first mile! What were you thinking? This feeling stays with you for another couple of miles.
Your first few months on the job are just like this, too. You can’t wait to get to the office on the first day. You arrive early and meet all of the other new hires starting on this day. There are other employees there to greet you. You get your badge and company swag and can’t wait to dive into the awesome day of benefits enrollment and poorly produced corporate videos.
Then, it’s been a week and you still don’t have your computer. Your manager is actually on vacation your first week and you are stuck twiddling your thumbs. You are starting to doubt if you made the right decision and your friend who referred you just resigned. 3 weeks in and you are starting to wonder if you made a big mistake.
Learning and Development
Miles 4-7. You start to find your groove in the race. You’ve found a fellow runner who has a similar pace as you do and you try to keep up with them. You hit your first water station and realize that tension in your bladder has subsided. You even start to look at your watch a think you can pick up the pace a little more. Maybe you can beat that time you had in your head. You are feeling pretty good about this race and your decision to run this thing feels like a good one.
In the Learning and Development phase of the employee life cycle, you really start to hit your stride. You have the basics of the role down, you know where to find everything and you are able to take on some tasks without much direction. You have found a mentor to help you along and be there in case you have any questions. You are starting to drink the company Kool-aid a bit, and realize you have made the right choice.
Miles 8-10. The legs are getting heavy and your body is giving you some serious feedback. While your hydration strategy is going well, you have some areas of opportunity in your stride and arm swing. You feel you’re doing a pretty good job and meeting the expectations you set out, but maybe this isn’t all what you expected. You picture your friend’s Facebook post, drinking his post-race beer and hugging his medal, and you don’t see where all that excitement is. You get a side stitch that won’t go away and you wonder if your soon-to-be PR time is in jeopardy. You may even curse this damn course and that mini-hill nobody told you about. This isn’t what you expected.
Performance management can feel like this. You have your annual review or maybe you get some feedback along the way. There are a couple of areas where you’re killing it and there are some areas you may need to improve. The current project you are on may not be the most exciting and you are starting to wonder if this is the right place for you. You review your own development plan and feel you may have veered off course.
Miles 11-13.1. At mile 11, you’re exhausted. That side stitch hasn’t gone away, you are starting to feel a little blister forming on your heel, and that darn bladder is filling up. You’re convinced this was a mistake and you’ll never run another half marathon again. Your buddy who referred you is a jerk and a liar and you never believed the joy in his Instagram feed anyway. This race can’t end fast enough.
Then, you see mile marker 12 and a little adrenaline kicks in. You realize there is only one more mile to go and maybe, just maybe, you can beat your projected time. The finish line is in sight, you pick up the pace, and cross it while smiling for the race photographer. The volunteer places that well-deserved medal over your head and you make your way to the food tent for some nourishment and that post-race beer.
You finally get home and start to reflect on the race and how you felt. While digging through your race goody bag, you come across an advertisement for another half marathon and you decide to give it another try. You’re hooked.
The decision to transition out of your current company is similar. There will be something that triggers you to make the decision to leave. Maybe it’s a bad boss or a co-worker, or maybe you’re just tired of the same old routine and you feel you will never go anywhere. You put in your two-week’s notice.
During this 2 week period, you start to get a little nostalgic. Maybe this type of work wasn’t so bad. You stride into your HR manager’s office to complete your exit interview and turn in the badge. You reflect on your experiences and provide some constructive feedback, then meet your co-workers at the local pub for a proper send-off.
While on the train home, you’re checking through your emails and another friend sends you a note about an opportunity at this really cool company she’s been working. You’re feeling pretty good about it and decide to respond.
And, the cycle starts all over again.
Not all my half marathons have had the degrees of emotions and ups and downs that I just explained. But there have been elements of each no matter how much I prepared or how much I trained. I have learned to navigate the race and, for the most part, I know what to expect. A job is like this, too. You won’t always have that bad moment that makes you want to quit. Sometimes, you realize you’ve gotten as far as you can go and it’s just time to move on.
Either way, you make the decision to keep doing what you love and sign up all over again.
*(For this post, the employee life cycle looks something like this: Recruiting (because “attraction” sounds creepy), Onboarding, Learning and Development, Performance Management, and Transition. There are many variations of the same thing. This works for my purpose here.)