Are probation periods important?

Yes, and you should do all you can to help your employees to prove themselves

If you have any doubts about the necessity of using probation periods for new employees, consider this recent research finding: 18% of new recruits fail probation (Opinion Matters survey, 2014).

So without a probationary period, almost a fifth of your workforce could be duds!

There are plenty more reasons employee probation is important, too. Here’s what you should consider when planning your hiring methods.

What is an employee probation period?

Probation can be broadly defined as a trial period for newly recruited workers. Probation periods commonly last for three months, six months, or a year.

It’s usually a fixed period of time at the beginning of the employment relationship, during which the new employee is exempt from some contractual items. Most significantly, employees on probation can be let go without the standard notice period. Employees usually have the right to notice of between one and 12 weeks.

Other benefits, such as pension schemes, are often off-limits during probation too.

Your HR software may provide automated notifications to remind you about the end of your new employees' probation periods come to and end.

Probationary dismissal rights

Employees on a probationary period won’t have worked for you long enough to qualify for unfair dismissal protection. However, they are still protected against harassment and dismissal for ‘protected reasons’ such as gender, age, ethnicity, disability, religion and cultural background.

Protection is also provided against wrongful dismissal, which can occur during probation when an employer fails to follow the contractual dismissal process.

Probation: because your hiring process isn’t perfect

A common reason for using probation periods is that the standard recruitment process, which usually ends with a job interview or practical assessment, isn’t perfect. However thorough your process might be, you can still end up someone who underperforms or doesn’t fit your organisation.

Probation periods give you the opportunity to assess new recruits on the job, for three months or more.

It’s common for employers to discover, a few weeks into the employment relationship, that new hires:

  • don’t deliver the skills or performance they promised at interview
  • have poor timekeeping or attendance
  • are a bad fit in terms of personality or organisational culture

Probationary periods allow you to manage the relationship more flexibly, so you can address problems before agreeing on a full contract.

Extending probation periods

An alternative to dismissal is to extend an employee’s probation period, thereby giving them the opportunity to improve. There is no law limiting the length of employee probation periods.

Managing employees during probation

It’s important to remember that although probation allows you to terminate new recruits more easily, the real aim of probation is to bring an effective employee on board.

Make sure you support new employees to:

  • Know what is expected from them during the probation period and after
  • Develop the knowledge and skills needed to fulfil their new role, through training and support
  • Address problems with their performance before the probation period is over

Probation periods usually end with a review meeting between the employee and their manager. At this meeting, you can assess how well your new employee is performing, what his or her training needs are, and whether they’re a good fit for your company. Probation makes this possible — and you have the option to develop the employee, or dismiss them.

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