The employment cycle is a human resources term concerning the stages of an employee's working life. There is a predictable pattern of employee behavior over time that tracks the rise, peak and decline of the employee’s productivity. Employers call it the work deficiency syndrome, or WEDS. From an employee’s perspective, the predictable pattern relates to the life cycle of job satisfaction and is commonly called job stagnation.

Stage 1


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Ira S. Wolfe, author and lecturer on human resources management, describes his theory of the employment cycle as beginning with the “Motivated But Not Yet Competent” phase. This is when the employee is first hired. The employee begins with a high level of enthusiasm, full of good intentions, eager to learn and looking forward to feeling confident in his job. This phase usually lasts approximately 90 days.

Stage 2


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The second stage of the employment cycle is called the “Motivated and Competent” stage. This is where the employee has become skilled in the performance of his job. This is where the employee reaches the peak of his productivity and where the employer reaps the maximum return on her investment in the employee. There is no hard and fast rule as to how long this stage continues. The higher the employee is in the company hierarchy, the longer Stage 2 continues. To prolong this stage, employers can be proactive in motivating employees with recognition and rewards for good work. A program of career development with promotion opportunities is also essential.

Stage 3


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The third stage is called the “Demotivated But Competent” stage and can last from months to years. The employee’s productivity levels off or declines as she loses the motivation to take initiative. This is commonly called “presenteeism,” where the employee is present but with little or no enthusiasm for her work. The employee shows up for the paycheck or because she needs the benefits. Wolfe claims that presenteeism costs employers billions more per year than absenteeism, because a Stage 3 employee is a drag on morale and overall efficiency. From an employee’s perspective, this stage is the result of career stagnation and mundanity. If an employee is not learning new things, she becomes bored; if there is no opportunity for growth, she becomes discouraged.

Stage 4


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According to Wolfe, the real danger to the company is not losing the experienced, long-term Stage 3 employee but keeping him because he is on the slippery slope to Stage 4, the “Demotivated And No Longer Competent” stage. In this stage, the employee no longer cares about the quality of his work and he can often be heard complaining about management. Wolfe goes on to say that there is a growing trend suggesting that an increasing number of employees jump directly from Stage 1 to Stage 4. The endpoint of the cycle is, of course, termination.


Some human resources professionals view the employment cycle as starting earlier, during job design and recruitment, and others have a more truncated view consisting of three phases: the “Adjustment,” “Comfort” and “Discomfort” phases.