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8 tips for effective probationary periods - how to successfully manage your new employees when they start

What are probationary periods?

Most permanent employees will have a probationary period upon starting at a company. Probationary periods give both the new employee and the employer an opportunity to assess whether the employee is suitable for the position. During this period the new employee will undergo an induction programme which may include any relevant training. The probationary period is designed to help the employee make a smooth transition into the role and team they were appointed into. 

An employee may have slightly different contractual terms and conditions of employment during the probationary period. For example, the employee is likely to have a shorter notice period during their probationary period. This means if the employee wishes to leave the job during the probationary period, they have to give less notice than when they become a permanent employee. Equally, the employer, has to give less notice in order to end the employment during the probationary period.

Notice period lengths are typically stated in an offer letter and the contract of employment.

Below are our 8 top tips for effective probationary periods

1. Conduct regular meetings

It is good practice for managers to have regular probationary review meetings with each new employee during their probationary period e.g. once a month. These should take place on or shortly after of the anniversary of their start date. The meetings should be about reviewing performance and development over the past month and also be about setting objectives for the forthcoming month. 

Shaw Gibbs recommends that the final probationary review meeting should take place on the last day of their probationary period. If this does not fall on a working day, bring the meeting forward to the nearest working day.

If the employer fails to conduct the final meeting before the end of the probationary period, the employee may have deemed to have successfully passed their probationary period by default. This may mean they will automatically now have a longer notice period.

2. Be prepared

To get the most out of a probationary meeting, the manager must prepare for it. This means reviewing the employee’s work prior to the meeting, to understand where they are performing well and what they need to improve on. This could include talking to the employee’s colleagues to obtain feedback about any progress.

3. Provide feedback

Managers should use probationary meetings as an opportunity to provide feedback about where they need to improve. Regular feedback will help to ensure that the employee does not become entrenched in doing something badly, and is clear about what is expected of him or her.

The feedback should be clear and precise. Managers should provide specific examples of areas where the employee needs to develop their performance or correct their conduct, avoiding generalisations.

Probationary meetings are also an opportunity for the manager to engage the employee, so the manager should also highlight areas where the employee is doing well.

4. Explore problems

Managers should use review meetings to explore any issues that have cropped up, discussing these with the employee. For example, they might be finding it hard to get to grips with the technical aspects of the role, or to get the tools they need for the job.

It should be a two-way meeting where the manager and employee analyse problems together, including the reasons behind the issues, and come up with a plan of action to address them.

5. Set the right tone

It is important for managers to set the right tone during a probationary review meeting. Getting carried away and assuming a disciplinary stance can be off-putting for the employee.

The emphasis should be on supporting the employee. The manager should be tolerant; the employee cannot be expected to get everything right straight away. They will, in many cases, need to learn new processes and systems before he or she can get up to speed with the job.

Even when addressing concerns, the manager should discuss these fully and openly with the employee, and deliver any criticism in a constructive way. It is best to use positive words, such as “improvement”, rather than negative words associated with failure.

6. Encourage an open dialogue

A probationary period is more likely to be successful if the employee has been given plenty of opportunity to raise issues and ask questions about the working environment.

Often, the employee may be nervous about asking for help, particularly if it is about something they have already been shown.

Therefore, during each meeting, the manager should make clear that the meeting is a two-way street to raise issues and for them to work together to find ways to ensure that the employee will be happy and successful in the role. One way of creating an open dialogue is for the manager to ask open questions. The manager should also listen actively to what the employee has to say.

7. Create a record – use a Probationary Review Form

It is best practice to use a Probationary Review Form at every probationary review meeting. This form can be used to record objectives and track performance.

After each probationary review meeting, the manager could send the employee an email confirming the key points discussed at the meeting and attach the updated Probationary Review Form.

This record will serve as a reminder for both parties at the next review meeting of the issues that needed to be addressed. It can also help to propel them into action following the meeting, to work on the points they have agreed.

A record will also provide evidence that the organisation raised under-performance or conduct issues with the employee should the need arise to discipline, performance manage or dismiss them at a later stage.

8. Take action to dismiss employee or extend the probation before the probationary period expires

There are 3 possible outcomes to a final probationary review meeting – they pass and become a permanent member of staff, they aren’t suited to the role/it isn’t working out and you dismiss them, or you extend their probationary review period to give them additional time to get to the level required.

If you decide that unfortunately the employee has not reached the level of performance required in the role, you can dismiss them. They will be entitled to notice or a payment in lieu of notice, as stated in their employment contract.

Further Information

If you have a question relating to probationary periods or have a specific employee scenario you would like advice on please contact kerry.whitfield@shawgibbs.com or phone 01865 292260 for a free consultation.

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Contact Us

If you have a question relating to probationary periods or have a specific employee scenario you would like advice on please contact kerry.whitfield@shawgibbs.com or phone 01865 292260 for a free consultation.

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