Employee probationary period, why bother?

HR guides

Last week saw another successful resolution for a client with a staff under-performance issue. On this occasion the issue was perpetuated by our client, who, by their own admission, failed to follow their own employee probationary review process. 

Unfortunately we regularly experience this problem in small businesses. We encounter managers with limited experience in assessing an employee’s suitability for a role at the induction stage. In fact, even in larger organisations managers neglect to properly oversee or enforce the probationary process. When you consider that UK businesses fail to hire the right person for two out of five roles,* there is clearly a need for the “safety net” that the probationary period provides.

But what is the probationary period?

Usually defined as a ‘trial period’ for newly recruited employees, the probation period will commonly last for three months, with contractual discretion to extend to six months. In essence, the probationary process provides a framework to test out the assurances made by the candidate during your recruitment process. In a survey conducted last year by the recruitment app ‘Job today’ 38% of British people have admitted to lying on their CV.  This statistic typifies a person’s tendency to embellish their skills when competing for a job. A probationary clause in the contract will therefore allow you to weed out exaggerators before committing to a full contract.

A good probationary review process involves regular and robust performance meetings with the new employee against agreed standards, from the day they commence in post.  The employee’s contract, job description and company policies will inform the performance measures (standards) used in the process. These must be communicated clearly to the new employee from the outset and reiterated at appropriate intervals.  This method leaves no room for misinterpretation or excuses.

Failure to meet the performance measures by continually under-performing. or displaying poor conduct can result in termination of the employees contract. However, employers should still tread carefully and ensure adherence to any contractual procedures. An employee has statutory employment rights from day 1, including the right not to be discriminated against. A well drafted probationary clause should be clearly laid out in the contract of employment. Moreover, it must be executed properly to avoid accumulation of evidence for a discrimination claim.

And how does this benefit an employer?

Evidence suggests that serving a probationary period will increase the probability of the new employee succeeding in their role.  The process provides an opportunity for employers to regularly ‘check in’ and monitor progress. As a result it is possible to quickly identify training or attitudinal issues, and address them before they impinge on collective performance. Ultimately this will minimise the indisputable cost of continual under-performance to the business.   

Probationary also offers a speedy way out for unhappy employees; they can leave without having to work a lengthy notice period which reduces damage to morale in the long term.  It will also save the aggravation of managing out an under-performing employee; arguably a more complicated and risky process by far!

In order to benefit fully from the probationary review process an employer must commit to enforcing it properly. However, this commitment should prove economical in the long term.  Consider it to be ‘damage limitation’, preventing one rotten apple from spoiling the whole bunch. 

For tailored guidance on implementing a probationary review process give us a call and see how we can help.

*report from the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC).

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