No matter how thorough your selection process, you won’t know how your new recruit performs until they arrive and get started.
A probation period is a trial period of employment. The employee is employed subject to satisfactory completion of this trial period.
Using a probation period gives you an extra chance to check that the candidate is indeed a good fit. Likewise, your employee might like the opportunity to ensure they’ve made the right decision in accepting the job.
What happens during probation?
Whether a probationary period is being used or not, new employees should always follow a formal induction procedure. This helps them to feel welcomed and oriented, and also ensures that they can ‘hit the ground running’ once the initial few days or weeks are over.
During the longer probation period, employees should be fully supported to learn about the company’s culture and values. They should be given a comprehensive overview of the tasks they will carry out in the longer term — this can help you assess their competence, and help them understand the role more fully.
Keeping communication clear
Some employees might feel that they’re being scrutinised while on probation. For this reason, it’s a good idea to be clear about what’s expected during this time, and talk about any differences between probation and a normal state of employment.
You could arrange an early one-to-one meeting between the employee and their line manager to discuss expectations of attendance, targets and standards. It’s a good idea to hold follow-up review meetings every few weeks, which also allow the new employee to raise problems in a formal setting.
How long should employee probation last?
There is no law determining how long a probationary period lasts. However, it should be enough to give your company confidence that your new employee is comfortable and well suited in their new job. Therefore, its length is often linked to the seniority of the role.
Three months is the average length, with six months being the commonly accepted upper limit. Casual workers might need only a week to settle in, whereas senior executives might take a few months to assimilate important culture, information and processes.
If there’s a problem
If there’s an issue with your new employee during probation, their line manager should address it as quickly as possible. In response, they might need to:
- arrange additional training
- give general support and guidance to improve confidence
- discuss ways to improve the employee’s shortcomings
- reiterate the need to meet targets or develop appropriately in order to ‘pass’ probation
Reaching the end of probation
A successful probation should be confirmed in writing before the employee moves on to full employment.
If you wish to terminate the contract because of unsatisfactory performance, it’s best to wait until the probationary period is over. Without due process, the dismissal is likely to be regarded as unfair, or wrongful if it's in breach of contractual terms. Employees - including those on a probationary period - are entitled to statutory notice of one week if they've been in continuous employment for one month up to two years. Disciplinary procedures are not usually required during the probationary period.
Alternatively, you might need longer to make your decision. Extending the probationary period gives the employee more time to demonstrate competence, to undertake training, or to spend time with a manager who has been absent. Extensions should last no longer than two months, and should only be used where absolutely necessary.