How to manage probationary periods with your Employees

How to manage probationary periods with your Employees

It can be an area easily overlooked, and by that we mean, time can fly by when your new Employee starts with you, they can perform well initially then things can start to go awry, we find that many Employers find following a probationary period an Employee conduct/performance may slip, in our article, we look at what you can do to manage this if/when it happens.


What is a probationary period and as an Employer should I use one?

Used in the initial period of employment for your new starters or anyone newly promoted to a role. In the main, the periods used would be either 3, 6, or in some cases up to 1 year. They can offer the opportunity to assess the skills, performance, attitude, and aptitude of your Employee within the timeframe.

During the period of probation, your Employee would be exempt from contractual clauses set by you, during the period this may include notice periods, although worth noting all Employees have the statutory right to one week’s notice period (after the first 4 weeks) and other statutory rights will exist. Other benefits may be excluded during the period too, so long as these are contractual.
Your Contract of Employment could, however, contain terms that only apply during your probationary period, and which are less favourable than those which apply when your probationary period has ended; a word of warning these terms must not take away your statutory rights.

It is also important to remember that once your Employee has started work, the number of weeks they have worked begins on the day they started, not from the time when the probationary period ended, and that any contractual rights also started from their first day of work unless you add this to the Contract of Employment.

What options do you have when things go wrong?

In a nutshell as an Employer you have 3 options, these are:

  • your Employee passes probation
  • your Employee has probation extended for a period of time
  • your Employee fails probation (termination)

Terminating the Employees employment is the obvious option and you have the right to do so, it is important to take into consideration basic factors some of which are here:

When on the probation period although your Employee will not have worked for you long enough to qualify for unfair dismissal protection, they are still protected against harassment and dismissal for ‘protected reasons’ such as sex, age, gender, ethnicity, disability, religion, and cultural background, etc.

You could also fall foul during this time, where you have not followed the contractual dismissal process, in this case, protection for wrongful dismissal would apply.

We always advise you contact us for advice when considering termination.


So what would be reasonable grounds to terminate?

There are various reasons you can choose from, and it can be said that the area is a little grey, to say the least, we always suggest providing the individual with a reason.

You should be monitoring the progress during the period and discussing this on a regular basis, that should be a number one priority – common reasons for failing at probation would include:

  • lack of skills within the role
  • poor performance levels
  • poor attendance or timekeeping
  • personality clashes and poor fit


When considering any of these options your internal processes still should be followed with your Employee, and your communication should be effective your internal procedures followed.

We always advise that provisions should be in place to support your Employees, letting them fail is as much your fault as theirs.


As an alternative you could extend the probationary period

Where you may feel your Employee may need more time you can offer an extension, there is no legislation around limiting the length of probation periods. It can be unfair at times to have unrealistic expectations by adding further extensions and these should be avoided.

Where an extension is granted, you would most certainly at this stage set objectives and goals with a clear action plan. This would need to be reviewed regularly to guarantee it is being maintained.

We always advise that provisions should be in place to support your Employees, letting them fail is as much your fault as theirs, extending probation periods are wise on occasions like these, it may be training has not been provided, or absence has made performance suffer or many other reasons.


What happens at the end, or if you want to just pass the probation?

This is a great situation and one that all Employers set out to achieve, in an ideal situation either when your Employee is successful at the first stage or offered an extension and successfully completes this you would sign them off as successful and follow this up in writing to them, you may want to set a more defined action plan for a longer period at this stage and it may be time for a pay review too.
if there has been an extension and this has been met you would do the same, sadly at the end of the extended period if there is no improvement you can still terminate.


What can you do if your probation terminations are high?

It may be time you addressed your recruitment process, some standard recruitment methods which result in a one-one interview fail, so you may want to try other options, you may want to take another look at some of these areas:

  1. do you panic when recruiting – this is a vicious cycle, recruitment planning takes time, so you need to think ahead
  2. is it the individual or the role itself – this happens a lot, a role is created or offered, then the physiological contract is shattered in a couple of weeks, this is by both parties as neither knew what was expected
  3. are your probation periods long enough, when they are short (3 months or less) you have less time to assess, make an informed decision, and then you are recruiting again
  4. do you conduct exit interviews – have you explored why Employees leave?


That being said, it is a fact that many Employees just do not want to stay, a probationary period is a 2-way process, and we always advocate exit interviews, these can be invaluable in establishing why Employees are not staying in the role.


How can you manage your Employee during their probationary period?

The ultimate aim of the recruitment process is retention, you need to ensure you have an effective framework and support mechanism in place. Your framework needs to consist of information that is relevant and up to date, these would consist of:

  • policies
  • procedures
  • documents


You need to communicate these to your new Employee in the most effective way, where you need to issue any documents such as Contracts of Employment, and or Employee Handbooks ensure you do this, it forms part of the physiological contract. A solid support mechanism for your new Employees needs to:


  • help them to understand what is expected of them within the role and the business
  • who to speak to if they have a problem or need support
  • where to get key information from when they need it
  • how to get the support they need


You also need to develop the knowledge and skills needed to fulfill the new role, through any training they may need.
An initial review to set all of this up, usually around induction time is ideal, you can then build the framework, support, and training around that; not forgetting to add review periods along the way.

You may be surprised at how you could lower your attrition rates by reducing the turnover in the probationary period.


How can we help?

We are experts dealing with your HR and Employment Law matters, we can assist you should you need our support with managing probation, policy writing, or Contracts of Employment, you can contact one of our team today and we can assist you; contact us on: 0333 0069489 or email us on: [email protected]





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