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Managing the probationary period of new employees

A clipboard on a desk with the words "WELCOME ABOARD", surrounded by a wirless computer mouse, a mug of highlighter pens, a calculator, a smart device, some coloured sticky notes and a brown notebook. WorkPlacePLUS branding.

By Anna Pannuzzo, WorkPlacePLUS

An extended version of this article was originally published in Speak Out Magazine

The probationary period or “trial period” of employment provides a crucial opportunity for the employer to assess the suitability of their new employee, and for the new employee to decide if the job is right for them.

The duration of a probationary period is typically be six months. An employer can not automatically extend a probationary period. When the probationary period is managed well, an extension of the six months should not be necessary. Employers considering extending a probationary period should seek professional advice as a number of factors need to be considered.

Employees on probation should receive their normal entitlements per their employment contract, including accruing and accessing paid annual leave and sick leave. If the new employee does not pass their probation, or if they decide that the job isn’t right for them, they are still entitled to have their unused accumulated annual leave hours paid out.

Onboarding or induction process

Conducted within the first few days of employment, an onboarding or induction process is designed to familiarise new staff with your workplace culture and the way things operate. Onboarding may include an introduction to:

• organisational vision, mission, values and culture

• policies and procedures including code of conduct

• key stakeholders, key contacts and co-workers within the organisation

• access to technology and/or workspaces

• the scheduling of regular probationary reviews

It is advisable to have an induction policy and checklist - and follow these!

To manage a probationary period successfully, the employer must set clear expectations and key result areas from day one. These measures must align with both the position description and the organisational goals, values, policies and standards. During the induction process, it is advisable to keep a copy of the position description on hand and be prepared to ask or answer a range of questions.

Probationary reviews

An induction process should include some very important dates for follow-up meetings known as probationary reviews. These should be conducted using open, honest, two-way communication.

During the first two weeks, the employer should meet frequently with the new employee to establish and reinforce a mutual understanding of the expectations and key result areas.

During the months that follow, regular probationary reviews serve to develop the professional manager-employee relationship, provide a safe setting for giving and receiving feedback, and allow the employer to assess whether this person fits the work culture and is capable of fulfilling their responsibilities. These probationary reviews should be scheduled at two months, four months, five months and finally at six months, at which time the employer should confirm whether or not the employee has passed their probationary period.

Probationary reviews and regular check-ins are very important, not only for positive reinforcement, trust building and tracking key result areas, but also for allowing employers to notice emerging issues or unusual behaviours before they escalate.

What if it’s not working out?

If you find that your new employee does not fit in with your workplace culture and does not have the right attitude, it is advisable to attend to this during their probationary period. You have the right to terminate the employment arrangement during the probationary period, as long as you are being fair and have applied your HR policies and relevant legislation.

However, termination during the probationary period should not come as a surprise!

It is very poor practice to allow problems or tensions escalate and say nothing for the entire probationary period, only to then invite the person to attend a meeting on the last day or two of their probation, where you terminate their employment. Best practice is to establish regular check-ins from the get-go, for feedback and performance management. Make sure you take notes of each meeting.

For more information, please contact us today.


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