The importance of employee probation periods

Understanding the probationary period

First published on Thursday, Jun 04, 2020

Last updated on Friday, Jun 14, 2024

Effectively managing employee probation periods can be challenging for employers. It’s a complex subject, and questions often arise about their purpose, duration, and best practices.

So, let's answer these queries, giving you practical advice on structuring probation periods to evaluate fit, provide feedback, and lay the groundwork for successful long-term employment.

What is a probation period?

A probation period is an essential period for new employees to understand their role, evaluate their compatibility with the company, and identify areas for improvement.

Your employment contracts should have an explicit probation clause, which covers the duration, requirements, potential extension, and termination conditions of employment during probationary periods. This helps prevent any confusion or misunderstandings between you the employer, and your new employee.

You should also consider performance management during probationary periods which includes regular feedback check-ins, addressing issues proactively, and clear communication regarding modifications or dismissals. This ensures fairness and legal compliance.

2 people having a meeting to discuss performance during probation

The importance and benefits of employee probation periods

Imagine you’re tasked with assembling a puzzle. You’ve got all the pieces but no idea what the final picture should look like. Sounds challenging, right?

That’s how a new employee might feel if clear expectations aren’t set during the probation period. It’s a critical time to help the new employee understand their roles and responsibilities, assess their suitability for the job, and identify any training needs.

Establishing these standards early allows you to evaluate whether the new employee is a good match for your company and if they meet expectations. Factors that come into play when setting these expectations are:

  • Performance
  • Skills
  • Abilities
  • Attendance

In essence, the probation period acts as a safety net, granting an opportunity for both parties to assess their compatibility before committing to a long-term partnership. This makes probationary periods an important evaluation process for both the employer and the employee.

Setting expectations

Setting expectations in the workplace is much like laying the foundation for a house. It needs to be solid and clear to ensure the structure—or in this case, the new employee’s role—stands firm.

The process of setting expectations includes defining the employee’s responsibilities and formulating measurable targets to monitor performance. Because clarity from the get-go is the secret to a successful probation period.

But what happens if you don’t set clear expectations? The answer is simple—chaos.

Without a clear understanding of what’s expected, an employee might fail to meet performance expectations, lose motivation, and could ultimately face dismissal.

Identifying training and development needs

Regular check-ins or a performance review meeting during probation help to direct the new employee on their journey within your business.

These regular interactions can help identify knowledge gaps, skills needed, and specific training requirements before they become major roadblocks.

Think of it as a two-way street. While you get to understand the training needs of the new employees, the employee gets a chance to voice their concerns and receive necessary guidance.

This approach helps in building a strong employment relationship and ensures the employee is on the right path to success.

A person conducting some training to people in the probation period

Crafting an effective probationary period clause in employment contracts

A well-formulated employee’s probationary period clause in an employment contract should include the following:

This clause sets the rhythm for the probation period and ensures both the employer, and the employee are in harmony.

Remember, the employee’s probation period is not just about assessing the employee’s performance. It’s also about providing feedback, setting clear goals, and adjusting as needed.

The probation period clause should adequately cover all these aspects, ensuring a smooth and successful probation period.

Managing employee performance and conduct during probation

Overseeing employee performance during probation is vital. You need to set a clear course, keep an eye on performance metrics, adjust as needed and always provide feedback, as this propels the employee towards success.

It should be specific to their actions and not a critique of them as individuals. Providing constructive feedback regularly and supporting the employee is key to navigating the probation period successfully.

Regular check-ins stand as one of the most crucial aspects of performance management during probation. These meetings provide an opportunity to understand how the employee is progressing, offer necessary support, and address any emerging issues promptly.

This approach ensures that the employee is not left in the dark and is always aware of how they’re doing and where they need to improve.

Regular check-ins and feedback

Periodic check-ins throughout the probationary period provide an opportunity for the employee to refuel and recalibrate.

Scheduled at regular intervals, these check-ins allow you to assess the employee’s performance, provide feedback, and set new targets if necessary.

Feedback during these check-ins is the fuel that keeps the employee moving forward. It helps them:

  • Identify their strengths
  • Identify areas of improvement
  • Adjust their approach
  • Enhance their performance

two people having a meeting over probation period

Addressing issues and concerns

Resolution of issues and concerns during probation ensures the employee can continue their journey smoothly without tripping up.

You should communicate openly and honestly about any problems, making it clear when HR should be involved to prevent issues from escalating. Problems during probation can range from performance issues to behavioural concerns.

Your HR processes play a crucial role in identifying these issues, figuring out where the employee is facing challenges, and determining if they’re a good fit for the job. This proactive approach can prevent minor issues from snowballing into major concerns.

Extending or modifying probation periods

Sometimes at the end of or during their probation, you may find that the new employee needs more time to adjust to the role. In such instances, you’d need to implement a longer probation period or modify the probationary period to help the employee improve.

This can happen if the employer and the employee agree, or if it’s specified in the employment contract.

If a probation period is extended or modified, it’s important to document this change properly and in writing. This ensures there’s no uncertainty about the contractual terms of continued employment after the probation period.

A person handing  a document to someone extending probation period

Navigating probationary dismissals and employee rights

The process of terminating an employee during probation can be a sensitive issue. It requires patience, care, and precision. You must navigate this process carefully, ensuring you follow fair and lawful dismissal procedures and respect the employee’s rights.

While probationary dismissals might be necessary in some cases, it’s important to remember that employees on probation are protected from discrimination and harassment. You should be mindful of these protections and ensure you adhere to the law when navigating probationary dismissals.

Fair and lawful dismissal procedures

You are obligated to conform to fair and lawful procedures during probationary dismissals. This includes providing proper communication, appropriate notice, offering support, and documenting the reasons for dismissal.

It’s important to note that when you need to dismiss an employee, the dismissal should be based on the employee’s performance or behaviour, not on discriminatory grounds. Any deviation from these fair and lawful procedures can lead to claims of wrongful dismissal, and unlawful discrimination and tarnish your reputation.

Employee rights and protections

Employees on probation are safeguarded by certain regulations. These rules, or statutory employment rights, include protection against discrimination and harassment, as well as entitlement to statutory sick pay and the national minimum wage.

While they may not have the same unfair dismissal protections until they’ve completed two years of service, they’re always shielded from being dismissed or treated unfairly based on protected reasons such as:

  • Sex
  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Disability
  • Religion
  • Race

You must ensure you treat probationary period employees fairly. This includes:

  • Providing regular feedback
  • Giving them a fair chance to improve
  • Setting clear guidelines about the probation period
  • Communicating any decisions about their employment status clearly and in writing

Respect for these rights and protections is crucial to maintaining a healthy and productive workplace.

2 people having an exchange over probation performance

Successfully concluding the probation period

Wrapping up the probation period successfully involves a probation review meeting to assess the employee’s performance, address any remaining concerns, and confirm their permanent employment status.

This formal probation review meeting should be a constructive dialogue, allowing the employee to understand how they’ve performed during the probation period and what to expect moving forward.

Once the employee successfully crosses the finish line, they should receive a letter confirming their permanent status, marking a successful end to their probation period.

How BrightHR can help with probationary periods

Navigating the probation period can seem like a daunting task. However, with clear expectations, regular feedback, fair dismissal procedures, respect for employee rights, and the right HR processes by your side, it can be transformed into a constructive and beneficial process.

BrightHR has a comprehensive HR document library. That gives you access to a wealth of time-saving expert policies, templates, and guides, including a probation review handbook, probation review form, and letter templates for probation meetings and their outcomes.

Additionally, with unlimited, and secure document cloud-storage and management you can simplify the process of creating and storing probationary documentation, making it easy to maintain accurate records and comply with legal requirements.

You can also set up automated alerts and reminders for key probation milestones, ensuring that necessary evaluations and reviews are conducted in a timely manner.

Remember, the probation period is like a trial run for the long-term employment relationship. It’s a chance to assess compatibility and set the stage for a successful partnership.

The probation period is not just about assessing an employee’s suitability for a role. It’s an opportunity for growth, learning, and building a strong employment relationship.

So, embrace this period with an open mind and a positive attitude. After all, it’s the journey that matters, not just the destination.

Frequently asked questions

What are the rights of employees on a probation period?

Employees on probation have statutory rights and entitlements from day one, including minimum wage, sick pay, time off, and protection from discrimination and wrongful dismissal. Make sure to be aware of these rights during this period.

How long should probationary periods be?

Probation periods typically last between one and six months and can vary for casual workers and those on zero-hours contracts. But there is no set time period for this so you can choose to make them as long or as short as needed.

Do I have to use probation periods?

They aren't a legal requirement but can be useful to provide a structure to assess a new employee's suitability to the role.

Why are probationary periods important?

Probation is important to a company because it allows you to evaluate an employee's skills and performance and assess how well they fit into the company's culture. It helps in verifying if the employee can meet the job requirements effectively.

What is the purpose of the probation period?

The probation period is a trial period for both you and the new employee to assess their compatibility and performance. It helps determine if the job is a good fit for both parties.

Lucy Cobb

Employment Law Specialist

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