Probationary periods: a necessary evil or outdated practice? 

The whole point of a robust recruitment process that invests time and effort in a comprehensive induction in your green business, is to ensure that you’ve found the right person for the vacancy and that you’re setting them up for success in your business.  

So why include a probationary period within the first few months of a new starter’s employment?  

Probationary periods currently serve as common practice for employers and employees, yet their effectiveness and fairness are subjects of ongoing debate particularly within HR circles.  

Are they a valuable tool for assessing new hires, or do they create uncertainty and anxiety in the workforce?  

Do they align with who you are as an organisation and the image you want to portray? 

And what about the language… “probation”?  It’s really formal and speaks to a judicial process rather than what should be a really exciting time for the employee and employer. 

Let’s delve into the arguments on both sides to better understand the nuances of this contentious issue. 

The pros

Assessment of Fit: For employers, probationary periods can offer a crucial opportunity to evaluate whether a new employee is a good fit for the role and the company culture. During this time, employers can assess not only the candidate’s skills and qualifications but also their work ethic, interpersonal skills, and adaptability. 

Performance Improvement: From the employee’s perspective, probationary periods provide a chance to demonstrate their abilities and willingness to learn and grow within the organisation. Feedback received during this period can help your new recruit identify areas for improvement and take necessary steps to enhance their performance. 

Legal Protection: Probationary periods can also serve as a legal safeguard for employers, allowing them to terminate an employment contract with minimal legal repercussions if the new hire fails to meet expectations or fit into the company culture. This flexibility can be particularly valuable in industries where the cost of a bad hire is significant. 

Recruitment agency clawback:  If you’ve recruited through an agency then you likely have a period of time when you can clawback the recruitment costs, if that hire “doesn’t make it”.  Often based around 12 weeks from the recruit starting, this milestone can be significant in the induction review process and is often a safety measure historically welcomed by many companies. 

The cons 

Increased Stress and Insecurity: For employees, the prospect of being placed on probation can create unnecessary stress and anxiety, leading to decreased job satisfaction and morale. The fear of failure during this trial period may prevent your new recruit from fully engaging in their work or taking calculated risks to innovate. 

Potential for Abuse: Critics argue that probationary periods can be abused by employers as a means to exploit workers by offering lower wages or fewer benefits during this time. Additionally, some employers may use probationary periods as a loophole to avoid providing proper training and support to new hires, leading to a higher turnover rate. 

Limited Effectiveness: There is also scepticism about the effectiveness of probationary periods in accurately predicting long-term job performance. Research suggests that the relatively short duration of these trial periods may not provide sufficient time for employees to fully acclimate to their roles and demonstrate their true potential. 

The name: The term probation brings about all sorts of connotations; it’s very formal, implies misgivings or a lack of trust and is quite old fashioned. We prefer review, trial, onboarding, assessment, evaluation; it has the same purpose but sounds less threatening which could mitigate some of the other ‘cons’ when delivered effectively. 

What’s the answer? 

While the debate surrounding probationary periods may continue, the choice is yours in terms of their continuation but there are ways to mitigate the potential drawbacks and maximise their benefits: 

Clear Communication: Employers should clearly communicate the expectations and evaluation criteria for these periods upfront to alleviate uncertainty and anxiety for new hires. Making clear how performance will be review and that it’s also a two way street; a chance for the new starter to also assess whether this is the right role for them.  

And a re-brand – the term is very out of date and implies ‘we don’t trust you’ (or that we’re covering ourselves in case we’ve make a mistake!). 

Fair Treatment: It’s essential for employers to ensure that probationary periods are implemented fairly and transparently, without discrimination or favouritism. 

Continuous Feedback: Regular feedback and support from managers can help employees navigate the challenges of their first few months and facilitate their professional development. 

Evaluation and Reflection: Employers should take the time to evaluate the effectiveness of these periods within their organisations and make adjustments as necessary to optimise their impact on recruitment, retention, and overall employee satisfaction. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, while probationary periods can be a valuable tool for both employers and employees, their efficacy depends on how they are implemented and managed. By addressing concerns around fairness, communication, language and support, green organisations can harness the potential of these employment periods to foster a positive and productive work environment for everyone involved. 

Don’t just use the words and processes that have been in place for decades, regardless of how they sound in 2024.  Your recruitment, onboarding and induction process is one of the most important things to get right so think closely about the impact you want to have, and the candidates you want to join your business the most. 

Not sure on how this applies to your business or what to do next? Get in touch and we’re happy to help contact the friendly wayvie team for a free consultation

Probationary periods: a necessary evil or outdated practice?  was written by

Pete Starr

Pete is the Founder of wayvie, with a wealth of experience in learning and development, sales, and leadership. He’s passionate about helping green businesses excel by investing in their people. Pete’s expertise includes selling, account management, leadership development, performance coaching, and he’s an enthusiast of Wim Hof’s cold water techniques.

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