Managing Employees During the Probationary Period

Welcome to this week’s HR Blast. Most companies add a probation period to their contracts of employment, but as an employer do you know what rights you have with regard to probation periods?

We’ve outlined our top tips for managing probationary period issues and as always let us know if you’d like extra support on this topic from Jaluch.

For HR

#1 Length: choose a sensible length (i.e. 6 months, not 3 months)  we still come across organisations that have 3-month probationary periods. This is too short for many roles and too short to properly understand the person you are dealing with. Plus there is no legal basis for 3 months and what is the use of ‘it’s the way we’ve always done it’ if that doesn’t help your managers?

It might not always be liked by your incoming staff who want to feel they are now secure in their role, but 6 months is not so long that it should deter any good applicant, so stick to your guns and insist on 6 months.

#2 Escalation: ensure that managers are crystal clear what and when they need to refer to HR. Confusion about this issue causes many probationary issues to go unresolved and unreported until after the end of the probationary period, which then causes other problems.

Be aware that even where escalation procedures are clear, what often causes problems is the seeming unavailability of HR at times when they do try to escalate. How many times do you really expect managers to try to get hold of you before they decide they have other more important things to do? Is your HR team responsive enough to managers asking for support?

#3 Timescales: instead of berating managers for forgetting that staff have reached the end of their probationary period, organise a proper mechanism of flagging this up to managers when there is just one month to go.

For Managers

#1 Expectations: when your new starter arrives, set out clearly how often their performance will be reviewed. Do not give your new starters an expectation that nothing will be said and that no review will take place until the end of their probationary period.

If you expect probationers to be up to speed in their role in 4 weeks, tell them. If you think it will take 3 months, tell them. Be clear about what you expect and by when.
Be clear with your new starter what support you will give them.

Also, be clear about what you do not think they should expect to be supported with. Be particularly clear, if you think that necessary, with your new starters that your title is ‘manager’ rather than ‘parent’.

Aim to review weekly in the first month and then review monthly thereafter. Even just a 5 minute formal catch up with them is sufficient to ensure they understand that they are still on probation. It also gives them regular opportunity to bring issues of concern to your attention.

#2 Setting targets: set targets for performance from week 1. Don’t wait until you have problems before setting targets.

Ideally set targets based on outputs rather than inputs i.e. it’s not about time spent on the production line, but the number of quality widgets coming off the end of the production line.

However, don’t steer clear of soft targets based on behaviours as it’s often just as important they show they can operate as part of a team and follow instructions as make their nice shiny widgets. Soft targets could include: team working, confident communication, personal organisation, attention to detail and problem solving (Not sure how to set soft skill targets? We can create some training materials so you can run a one-hour mini training session on this for your managers, contact us)

#3 Social needs: starting a new role is scary for many, even though many hide it well. Most people dislike being out of their comfort zones and many struggle to quickly fit in with new colleagues.

New starters therefore often need support. If their social needs are not met, i.e. a sense of feeling comfortable and able to communicate well with the people in their new environment, then they can quickly become demotivated, disengaged or lose confidence. And, if they become demotivated, disengaged or lose confidence then there is a high probability they will never perform to the required standard. You, the manager might not have caused this, but their underperformance then becomes your responsibility.

#4 Decision making: we often find that managers know that someone is not working out, but they delay making a decision to dismiss.

This might be because…

  • their ‘gut’ is telling them something is wrong, but they lack solid information to back that up
  • because they fear conflict and dread the possibility of having to dismiss someone, or
  • because they have a tendency to always give everyone the benefit of the doubt for far too long.

Encourage your managers to talk about why decision making is often delayed and what the repercussions of that can be. Encourage them to agree a practical plan of action to ensure minimal delays occur in future with decision making.


If you would like to buy ready prepared training materials to develop your line managers, you can view our store here.. Or if you’d like to inquire about us delivering workshops for managers contact us.

The information contained within this article is for general guidance only and represents our understanding of employment and associated law and employee relations issues as at the date of publication. Jaluch Limited, or any of its directors or employees, cannot be held responsible for any action or inaction taken in reliance upon the contents. Specific advice should be sought on all individual matters.

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