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What is the point of a probationary period?

Updated: Mar 28


A lady is sat in an office. She is having her probationary period review

You’ve just hired a new employee. They seem great on paper and in the interview, but how do you really know if they’re the right fit for your company? 


The answer is simple: you don’t, not yet anyway. That’s why probationary periods are so important for any business. When you bring on new staff, you need time to properly assess their abilities, monitor their performance, and determine if they mesh well with your existing team. 


A probationary period gives you the opportunity to evaluate new staff and either confirm them in their role or legally part ways if it doesn’t work out.



What Is a Probationary Period?


A probationary period refers to a trial period, typically 3-6 months, at the start of new employment. It gives both the employer and employee a chance to evaluate whether the role is the right fit. For employers, it's an opportunity to assess an employee's skills, work ethic and cultural fit. For employees, it's a chance to determine if the job and company meet their needs.


What are the benefits of probationary periods?


For employers, probationary periods:


  • Allow assessment of an employee's suitability for the role without long-term commitment.

  • Provide an opportunity to address any performance or conduct issues before they become serious problems.

  • Reduce the risk of being stuck in an unsuitable employment relationship.


For employees, probationary periods:


  • Is a trial run to determine if the job is right for their needs, skills and career goals.

  • Give a chance to assess company culture and values to ensure a good fit.

  • Allow building confidence and skills in a new role with support and feedback.



Are Probationary Periods a Legal Requirement for Employers?


Probationary periods aren’t actually a legal requirement for employers, but they’re highly recommended. Why? Because they give you the chance to properly assess a new employee's performance and suitability for the role before offering them a permanent contract.


As an employer, probationary periods allow you to evaluate if a new recruit:


  • Has the necessary skills and experience for the job

  • Fits in well with your company's culture

  • Works productively with colleagues and managers

  • Meets the expectations set out in their job description


If, after the probationary period ends, you’re satisfied they’re the right person for the role, you can confirm their position is permanent. However, if they’re not suited to the work or company, their contract can be either extended, to allow more time to assess their suitability or terminated.


If a new member of staff is off work ill and is therefore absent for a large part of the probationary period. Depending on the circumstances, extending the probationary period equal to that for which the employee is absent may be appropriate to give sufficient time to assess their suitability.


For employees, probationary periods mean their position isn’t secure straight away. It’s important for employers to provide clear notification to employees about whether they’ve successfully passed their probation.


While probationary periods themselves aren’t required by law, you must still follow standard employment legislation like offering a proper contract, paying at least the National Minimum Wage, and upholding health and safety standards. You should also conduct regular reviews with the employee during their probation to discuss their progress, performance, and required support.


All support necessary should be given to allow the employee to complete their probationary period and continue their employment successfully.


Staff with a disability should be given additional support, to ensure they are not subjected to unlawful or less favourable treatment during their probationary period, in accordance with the Equality Act 2010.  Reasonable adjustments must be made to remove any barriers the employee faces at work.


So in summary, probationary periods are highly advisable and offer benefits for both employers and employees. They enable you to thoroughly determine if a new recruit is the right fit before offering a permanent contract, and give staff a chance to demonstrate their abilities. With the proper support and review process in place, probationary periods can help set new employees up for success in their role.



Managing Employee Performance During Probation


Managing employee performance during the probationary period is crucial. This is your opportunity to evaluate if your new recruit is the right fit for the role and your company culture. As an employer, you need to onboard and train the employee properly, set clear expectations, and regularly provide feedback.


To onboard properly, schedule time for the new member of staff to shadow current employees, review company policies and procedures, and understand their job responsibilities. Explain company values and priorities to align them with the overall mission. Set short term goals and a training plan to get them up to speed.


  • Make performance expectations transparent from the beginning. Explain job requirements and standards of work quality in detail. Share what success in the role looks like.

  • Provide continuous feedback, both positive and constructive. Meet regularly to check-in, review what’s working well and not so well, and make adjustments as needed. Be specific with examples. This helps the employee improve and gives you an ongoing assessment of their performance.

  • Evaluate the employee’s suitability for the role by the end of the probation period. Assess if they have met initial performance expectations, fit in with company culture, and shown potential for career growth. If satisfied, confirm their new permanent position. If not, you may need to extend the probation or let them go.

  • Once the employee passes probation, notify them and celebrate this milestone. Explain any changes to compensation or benefits that come with the new permanent status. Be available to provide mentorship and support their continued success.


Probationary periods allow you to properly determine if a new member of staff is the right match before offering a permanent position. With clear communication and feedback, you set the employee up for success and gain insight into their potential as a long-term member of your team.



Completing Probation: Notifying Employees and Next Steps


Once an employee has successfully completed their probationary period, it’s important to notify them formally. This helps to clarify their new status and provides an opportunity to discuss their role and set expectations going forward.


Meet with the Employee


Schedule a meeting with the employee to notify them in person that they have passed their probation. This is a chance to:


  • Congratulate them on their new permanent position.

  • Reiterate their job responsibilities and priorities.

  • Set performance objectives and targets for the next 6-12 months.

  • Provide feedback on their performance during probation and areas for improvement.

  • Answer any questions they may have about their role or the company.


Put it in Writing


Following the meeting, provide written confirmation to the employee that they have successfully completed their probationary period. This letter or email should restate:


  • Their new permanent role and status.

  • Key points discussed in the meeting regarding expectations, objectives, targets, and areas for development.

  • Their ongoing terms and conditions of employment.


Keep a copy of this correspondence on file.


Consider a Salary Review


If it was not possible to conduct a salary review during the probationary period, now may be the time. Check if the employee’s pay is in line with the market rate for their role and experience. If a salary increase is warranted, notify them in writing along with the confirmation of passing probation.


Passing probation is an important milestone. Handling it professionally by meeting with the employee and providing written confirmation will ensure they feel fully supported in their permanent role. Be open to feedback and ready to answer any additional questions. With the probationary period complete, you can now work with the employee to develop their skills further and pursue new opportunities.



Cost of Replacing Staff


And if this hasn’t convinced you to put time and effort into your new team member's probationary period, then think about the costs.  On average, the cost of replacing a member of staff is more than £30K. 


According to research by Oxford Economics and Unum, the average cost of turnover per employee (earning £25,000 a year or more) is £30,614.  Therefore, to replace three staff on this wage in one year, will cost around £90,000 through:


  • Loss of productivity

  • Advertising the new role

  • Management time spent interviewing candidates

  • HR time spent processing replacement

  • Onboarding and training 

  • Hiring temporary workers before the replacement starts

  • Recruitment agency fees


The time it takes to get a new member of the team to optimum productivity, usually takes around six months.  Therefore, the probationary period is crucial to enable your newest member of the team to have a long term future in the organisation.



Probationary Periods – The Reality!


What I’ve experienced across many businesses, is that when a new employee commences their employment, everything begins positively.  Yay – it’s a great start!


The first few weeks appear to go well, staff are supportive of the newest member of the team.  Then work gets busy, everyone soon gets back to their usual work.  The new employee is then left to continue with their role.  


The induction and training plan go out of the window.  Probationary review meetings haven’t taken place.  Before you know it, the final date of the probationary period has passed, without any reviews taking place.

 

We then get a few months further down the line, and the new employee isn’t doing their job as expected, and the employer wants to let them go.  There were performance issues during the probationary period, which were not addressed.  This is often because managers were too busy or wanted to give the new employee the benefit of the doubt.


Without any formal confirmation to the employee, the assumption is that performance was fully satisfactory and, therefore, they have successfully passed their probationary period.  In this situation, any clauses in the employment contract associated with the successful completion of the probationary period come into force.  


You’re then in a situation, where you have a member of staff who isn’t suitable for their role and not a good fit with the company, and you need to dismiss them.  From their point of view, they’ve passed their probationary period, no one has raised any issues and they think everything is hunky dory!


Previous issues won’t just disappear.  If there is a lack of induction, training, regular reviews and guidance, and employees are not competent in their roles. It can be an unfair process, if the employee is dismissed without any reviews or support and guidance during the probationary period.



Probationary Periods Benefit All Parties


So there you have it, probationary periods are vital for any business. They give you a chance to properly assess new recruits and ensure they are the right fit for your company culture. 

While employees do have basic rights during this trial period, you have more flexibility to let them go if needed. Once they pass probation, you've found a keeper - someone who will thrive and help your business grow. Don't forget to let them know they made it through, it will give them a boost of confidence to keep up the good work. 


Probationary periods, when used well, benefit both employers and employees.


How to Manage Staff Probationary Period Toolkit


If you haven't got time to write you own documents or not had any training on managing the probationary period, then get our Toolkit on How to Manage the Staff Probationary Period.

 

You will get a policy template, letters, forms and documents, together with a training video of how to effectively manage staff probationary period's.

 

It's available at half price £87.50, usually £175, be quick as this offer ends on1st March.

 

To get your How to Manage Staff Probationary Period Toolkit, click here.

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