Probationary periods – are you maximising the opportunity?

Recruiting the right person is never easy and no matter how robust the recruitment process, it is all too easy to employ someone who underperforms or simply doesn’t fit the ‘culture’. Having a probationary period gives you the opportunity to assess suitability for a role from both perspectives.

So…. what is, and why do we encourage, a probationary period? The probationary period, normally between 3 and 6 months, provides flexibility together with a real opportunity to enable the relationship to work. It enables you to monitor employee performance, provide continual assessment from both parties to ensure its working, delay certain employee benefits reducing administration (i.e. company sick pay) and provide a shorter notice period which enables the contract to be terminated quickly if required. And it is, of course, ‘best practice’. The key to a successful probationary period is good performance management from the start and managing expectations which can be achieved through regular meetings, feedback, assistance and training.

Whilst there is no statutory basis relating to probationary periods employees are still protected against dismissal for “protected reasons” such as age, ethnicity, disability, religion, gender, etc. They would also have protection against any wrongful dismissal if the employer failed to follow any contractual dismissal procedure. In any case you want to ensure your ‘employee brand’ does not suffer by not working to best practices – the word soon gets around which makes recruiting even more difficult.

What happens at the end of the period? You need to meet in advance of the end of the probationary period – if the probationary period passes with no indication of the outcome by default that employee has been confirmed as successful. The end of probation review is vital and you have 3 options:

  • Write to the employee to confirm that they have successfully completed their probationary period;
  • Extend the probationary period to allow the employee more time to meet the required standard and confirm the probationary period is being extended, for how long, and the reasons and what the employee needs to do to be successful;
  • Dismiss the employee providing notice in writing if their performance and/or conduct has not been satisfactory.

The aim of the probationary period is to bring an effective employee on board and managed under a thorough monitoring and review process from day one which gives them every possible opportunity to succeed in the role. However, if they are not right for any reason, you can part ways on a considered and amicable basis knowing you’ve explored all avenues and provided support.