Making the Most of the Probationary Period

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The probationary period is mutually beneficial for both the employer and new hire and provides the employer with flexibility in managing the employment relationship.  It is typically set for 90 days and helps both parties determine if the company and role is the right fit for everyone involved.

In many cases the employee has left a secure role to pursue a new opportunity and although they appear confident and capable when they first start, it can be challenging to learn a new role while adjusting and transitioning into the culture within a short timeframe.  The position and responsibilities also need to meet anticipated employee expectations. Stakes are also high for everyone. For the employer, significant effort goes into finding, selecting, and onboarding a candidate. While for the candidate, career momentum may be lost with a false start, and it may also be difficult to find an alternative position if things don’t work out.

The employer should do their best to ensure they have an effective recruitment and selection process in place rather than relying on the probationary period to correct poor hiring decisions. It’s important that they hold up their end of the employment promise by providing a thorough and effective onboarding bridge to set up the employee for success.

The probationary period should also be clear and unambiguous in the relationship.  The employer should insert a probation period clause in the employment offer and contract, and this should be discussed and reviewed in the recruitment process. For the employer, the probationary period itself should be structured and managed with any necessary terminations handled carefully and in good faith.  If you need help with probationary periods, Bridge Legal and HR Solutions can provide you with advice and guidance.  Please contact us at 647-794-5442 or admin@bridgelegalhr.ca

Benefits of the probationary period

  • It provides the employer to confirm the correct hiring choice has been made while observing the employee’s behaviour and ability to perform the duties for the role.  It allows the employer and employee to determine if they will fit in with the organizational culture.
  • It gives the employee the opportunity to confirm if they like the role and atmosphere before committing to anything permanent.
  • It can help the company save money in situations where the probationary period is designed to stage salary or benefits based on the successful completion of the trial period. Some employers that include a sign-on bonus can protect their recruitment investment by making the signing bonus contingent upon successful completion of the probation period.
  • It can avoid retaining employees who are not capable of consistently performing to the required standards.  This can include the early identification of both poor performance and work habits or unprofessional tendencies such as tardiness and absenteeism.
  • It is less expensive overall to correct hiring mistakes and part ways with the new hire early in the relationship during the probationary period if they are not meeting the required standards rather than endure a protracted tenure.
  • It can assist by identifying work style such as whether an employee is a “self-starter,” or if they need more deliberate and consistent direction and support. Mutual learning in the probationary period can provide insight into the most effective management approach.
  • Utilizing probationary feedback from your new hires can help to improve your future hiring and onboarding practices. Consider providing your new hires a survey at the end of the probationary period to rate the effectiveness of your recruitment and training function and whether they received sufficient support from their manager and colleagues.
  • It can provide an opportunity to observe the participation and leadership abilities of your management team and identify areas of opportunity when it comes to coaching and mentoring new hires.

Mistakes Managers Make During the Probationary Period

The employer should also have realistic onboarding expectations. Don’t forget that the employee is unlikely to learn all the requirements of the job within the probationary period and are bound to make some mistakes.

New hires are eager when they come on board but may feel overwhelmed when there is a flood of information to digest and shouldn’t be expected to remember every detail initially.  There should be clear goals and objectives set and the manager should thoroughly discuss the job description and his/her expectations, and balance these with the time and support necessary for success.

Managers are often too busy to spend the time necessary to accurately access the new hire’s performance. This should happen during the probationary period itself not weeks or months later. Time should be scheduled in advance with the new employee and the hiring manager must make time for them.  Set frequent meetings to review and discuss performance, address initial feedback and any further training needs, and give them the support and direction they require.

Ensure that the new hire is aware that there is a probationary period and that there will be discussion at the set calendar milestone to review the new hires progress.  If the habit of meeting regularly and properly discussing objectives is in place, then the probationary feedback meeting will not come as a surprise. These discussions happening from the start also establish ongoing discipline.

The new hire will also expect confirmation that they have passed the probationary period and a lack of communication and follow up will often lead to feelings of disappointment or even more damaging, a sense of poor management or lack of discipline.  Successful completion of probation doesn’t need to be over emphasized, but it is also an important mutual acknowledgment that the relationship has been launched as expected.

If the employee is the right fit and it’s clear that they are learning quickly, remember that they still need positive reinforcement and engagement.  Just because they will “do just fine” in their new role doesn’t mean that they will want to stay with the company. Keep your new hires top of mind and check in with them regularly to show you care.

Conclusion

If the employer has developed an effective hiring process and has a thorough on-boarding program that provides the employee with the right tools and resources to perform their role, then the probationary period will be a breeze for all parties involved.  Contact Bridge Legal and HR Solutions at 647-794-5442 or admin@bridgelegalhr.ca if you need help with probationary periods.

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