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Probation – how to get it right as an employer

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Probation – how to get it right as an employer

By Olivia O’Neill, Director at the Godfrey Group

As an employer, what you need to know about using probation

When a new employee starts work for you, it’s important for both parties to gauge the new relationship and whether your “new start” is suitable for the role. This period of time – often called ‘probation’ or a ‘probationary period’ – is an important way for you and the new employee to assess their suitability for the role.

What is probation and why is it important?

Probation often involves some form of induction program designed to help the employee transition into the new role (and team) for which they were appointed to. Typically ranging from three months to six months, probation periods are important and whilst not strictly necessary, they are advisable as a positive management tool.

No recruitment process is fool-proof and so a probationary period can be a positive action in the sense that sometimes a person’s work style, personality or just plain old work ethic may not fit with your company or culture.

Given that you will have just gone through a lengthy recruitment process, providing a reasonable amount of probationary time for the new employee to adjust to the role and to see if things work out is important so that you get a return on your investment. With that in mind, here’s how to make the best use of that probationary period of time.

How to make the best use of a probation period 

  1. 1. Support them for success, not failure

The probation period is essentially a trial, but not a trial where you try to ensure your new recruit fails. Given the effort that you made in hiring the candidate, it’s not a bad idea to help them succeed, so put in place certain mechanisms to help the employee pass the trial with flying colours. They can’t be expected to get everything straight away, so ensure that the probationary period is all about supporting the employee.

2. Listen to what they have to say

It’s good practice to meet with the new employee on a regular basis to determine if there are issues or obstacles stopping them from performing their role. During probation, it’s vital to listen to what an employee has to say – you can use these probationary review meetings to address any concerns early on, allowing the employee an opportunity to improve or to address the issue(s) that may be holding them back.

3. Give them time to perform

In a probation period, it’s equally important to give the new employee time to understand the role and the requirements of them. Rather than rush to find fault, instead help them to become more accustomed to the role and ensure that they fully understand the requirements of the position, providing feedback along the way. Spend time with your new employee to make sure that you come to the right decision if you end up letting them go or keeping them on.

4. Employers are on probation too

Even though you can fire someone at any time during the probationary period, it shouldn’t be used as a tool for fear, as an escape clause, or a “get out of jail for free” card. Probation isn’t a one-way street and your employee can just as easily use probation as a means of getting out of your business fast, so remember that you are on probation too.

5. Use probation as an extension of their induction

Probation should be seen as an extension of the induction period, once someone has gone through a recruitment process, rather than a fearful period where the employee is constantly on edge until they get to the end. Aim to use probation as a training period for the new employee to help them understand all aspects of the role before the period ends.

With probation, things often work out, but sometimes they don’t. If the employee doesn’t have the level of skill that you thought they had, or they presented themselves differently in the interview, then the probationary period allows you to assess this and make the decision to let them go. The period can also help you work out if there’s a good fit and whether the lack of skills is something that you can work on to get them to where they need to be in your organisation.

Whatever the outcome, it’s important to get it right – if you’re deemed to have been unfair in letting an employee go or you made a snap decision, it can cost you in the long-run and you’ll need to go through the process again. It can also negatively impact on your company culture.

So, it’s prudent to have a probationary period that covers your time and investment, but also to ensure that it’s a positive experience for both parties with a period of regular meetings, open two-way communication, and constant feedback and training.

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