Probation periods are a common part of the employment process. They give employers the option to terminate an employee's contract more easily (and equally, make it easier for employees to quit) if things are not working out as expected.
A recent HR survey revealed that almost a fifth of new workers fail their probation in the United Kingdom. The two primary reasons cited for the failure to proceed onto a permanent employment contract were unsatisfactory performance (62%) and absence / lack of time management (50%).
Those statistics suggest that probation periods are an essential safeguard in the hiring process, to protect companies from making bad hires.
HR teams and employees need to be aware of the different types of probation, what they entail, and how they can affect an employee's career. Read on for five specific areas to consider regarding probation periods.
What is a probation period?
Probation periods are a common way for employers to assess an employee's fit within the company.
The probation period allows both the employer and the employee to determine if the job and company are a good fit for each other. Typically, the probation period is around 3 months, but it can be shorter or longer depending on the organisation.
During the probation period, the employer will assess how well the employee follows instructions, completes tasks, and handles criticism. Additionally, if there are any issues with attendance or punctuality during this time, it should be noted.
The probation period is also a time for employees to assess if they want to stay with the company longer term.
5 things to know about probation periods
1. What to do when an employee is experiencing difficulties during probation
If an employee is not meeting the expectations of the probation agreement, the employer may need to take corrective action, which may include termination.
Before taking any corrective action, the employer should meet with the employee to discuss the issues and give them an opportunity to correct their behavior.
If the employee does not improve their behavior after meeting with them, then the employer may need to fire them.
A few things you might consider doing to address probation period difficulties:
- Set objectives and KPIs early on
- Be honest and open about issues with the employee
- Offer substantial evidence of those problems whenever possible
- Let them respond constructively
- Offer support and suggestions on how performance could be improved
- Try to compromise on the nature of the issues
2. The ideal length of a probation period
In most countries, such as the United States and UK, the probation period is generally a month to three months, depending on seniority. Though some countries, such as Germany, typically have probation periods of six months or even a year.
The reason for this discrepancy is largely due to cultural differences between countries and companies. For example, in the United States, there is a strong belief in individualism and that people should be able to start new jobs without too many restrictions. In Germany there is a stronger belief in order and hierarchy, so employers may want new employees to prove themselves over a longer period of time.
While it can be difficult to generalize about how long a probation period should be, HR professionals should keep these cultural differences in mind.
3. What happens after the probation period
If an employee does not satisfactorily meet the expectations of the employer during the probation period, the employer may terminate the employment relationship. However, employers should be aware that there are laws governing when and how employees can be terminated.
There are a few things that can happen once an employee completes their probation period. In most cases, the employee is given a permanent position within the company.The alternatives to this are:
The employee is let go. This usually happens when the company decides that the employee is not a good fit for the position or for the company culture.
In some situations, the probation period might be extended. You might consider doing this for a number of reasons: for example, if you do not feel that the probation has been long enough to assess a candidate fully. Typically extensions can last 90 to 180 days.
4. What should you assess during an employee's probation?
It's a good idea to assess an employee's probation period situation at least once – ideally with 1:1 meetings each month to review tasks and monitor performance. For example, you may want to ask the employee what they think of their new job, and how their working environment is shaping up, plus what else you could do to support them.
First, you should assess how well the employee is performing their job duties. Are they meeting deadlines and following instructions? Are they taking initiative and going above and beyond what is expected of them? If not, then you may need to consider terminating them.
You can assess this by implementing goals and KPIs when they first join, and hold them accountable to these goals at the end of their probationary period.
You should also assess how the employee interacts with their co-workers. Do they get along well with everyone or do they seem to have issues with certain people? Do they work well in teams or do they prefer to work alone? You might assess this by getting feedback from other team members who have worked with your new employee.
Be conscious of immediate red flags such as lack of punctuality, poor communication, passion and lack of interest in the role. These should be noted immediately and addressed.
5. Laws, rights and responsibilities for probation periods
It's important to understand the laws and regulations around probation periods.
First and foremost, always check your national / local laws to be sure that you're following the correct procedures. There may be specific requirements governing how long a probation period can last, what notice needs to be given before termination, and other factors.
As an employer, it's also important to remember that probation periods offer both you and the employee a chance to test out the working relationship.
Be clear about what is expected of the employee during this time period, and make sure that they understand their rights and responsibilities.
HR and recruitment platforms are a useful way for teams to manage work aspects like pre-employment hiring, talent management and probation periods. If you are looking to improve aspects of your HR, Picked is a useful all-in-one tool that can help you.