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What Is a Probation Period and Why Is It Important?

The Great Resignation has inspired many employees to look for greener pastures. With so many new starters, organisations are using this as an opportunity to refine and update their recruitment policies. With a sharp rise in the labour market, companies are battling to ensure they are recruiting the right person for their organisation. But what happens when things don’t quite work out right? This is where probationary periods come in.

What is a Probation Period and why is it important?

A probation period is a set time written into the employment contract – you can think it as a trial period of employment during which someone is employed only subject to satisfactorily completing this period of time. Some employers can also use them with existing employees as they are useful, for example, where you want to try out a member of staff who has been newly promoted. When used for new starters, it can serve as a period in which a new starter is brought up to speed with the business, and for many, also serves as an insurance policy against new hires that are not working out.

A survey from Leadership IQ of over 20,000 new hires and 1,400 HR Executives found that 46% of new starters will fail within the first 18 months – only 11% of those as a result of lacking technical skill. 

Within the study, 82% of hiring managers foresaw signs that a new starter would fail. This survey justifies the importance placed upon probationary periods. It also places a heightened importance on training and a good introduction period when welcoming new employees. 

How is the length of probation period decided? 

Usually, the more there is to learn within an organisation the longer the probation period is. If your business has complex systems and requirements, employees should be given the appropriate training and guidance to succeed and relevant time to get up to speed. 

As a guide, probation periods usually range between 3-6 months. 

While probation periods are not covered by any specific employment law at length, you will need to make sure that the duration of the probation period is detailed within employment contracts. 

What is the benefit for the employee? 

In the same way that the organisation is testing out the employee, the individual can use this time to work out if the company is a good match for them. They can evaluate if the job is as it was described in the specification and interview and can assess if they fit in with the company culture. They can also gauge the workload and responsibilities and determine if they’ll get on with their co-workers and line-manager. 

How best to manage employees on probation? 

Getting to the end of the probation period and deciding that your new starter is not right for the business is not an ideal situation for either party. Training and recruitment costs incurred and maybe more importantly the time invested is a valuable commodity for any organisation. You will want to monitor new employee’s progress during their first few weeks, ensuring open communication and regular catch ups are in place to provide the platform to openly discuss any issues with them. This will save you time and money down the line. 

How do you ensure a successful probation period? 

The key to a successful probationary period is good performance management from the start. Most failed new hires result from poor communication, preparation and attitude from both parties. Ensure prior to a new employee starting your induction and training processes are up to date and can be tailored to different styles of workers. A probation period gives staff members and the organisation a grace period to assess the capabilities and decide whether they are a good fit or not.  

For more information on how to best prepare for new starters, please do not hesitate to contact our expert team. 

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