Probation periods are for probing – so use them

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A probationary period can be good for both a new employee and their employer, giving both the chance to make sure it’s the right fit.

Using a probationary period well can be labour intensive, but rarely is it not worth it. It’s easy to let this period pass as routine, allowing all but the most blatant poor performers to shuffle through to permanent positions. However, if you use the probationary period well, with appropriate training and mentoring, you can ensure you keep only the best workers on staff.

So how do you make sure you have a successful probationary process?

Get it in writing
Formal probationary periods are only valid if they are written into the employee contract upon hire. You can’t go back and issue a probationary period in a couple months’ time should the employee not be working out.

Set clear goals and expectations
Make sure your new hire knows exactly what is expected of them in their first few months of employment. Regular reviews will help you keep on top of their progress and let you adapt their training as needed. Providing praise and constructive feedback will also help motivate the employee and will allow both parties to get the most out of the arrangement.

“Include information on the duration and terms of the probationary period, as well as information on what standards, duties and responsibilities the prospective employee will be expected to meet. Tell the prospective employee how she will be evaluated during this period,” lawyer Mary Brady said.

Document the new employee’s progress
A paper trail of reports, reviews and feedback in the employee’s personal file will let you easily look back on progress, and will also prove important if you decide to dismiss the employee during the probationary period.

Provide adequate feedback
“Address concerns with the probationary employee, verbally and in writing, when they arise about her performance during the probationary period,” Brady said. Provide the probationary employee with assistance in improving her performance. Remind the probationary employee that she will be terminated if her performance does not improve.”  

Make a decision early or extend
If it’s clear early on that they are not a good fit, terminate earlier rather than later because as the deadline approaches the expectation that the position will become permanent grows. You can extend the probationary period, and on the flip side you can change the employee to a permanent contract early if you’re sure they will do well.
 

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