The expectation when you hire is that you have screened and tested the candidate sufficiently so that the probationary period is simply confirmation that you selected a candidate who will be successful.  However, that is not always the case.

Many employers put probationary periods in their offer letters.  Despite that, employers rarely use this time to truly evaluate their new employee and act where necessary. We seem to understand the purpose of the probationary period but for some reason we don’t act on it to our benefit!

The probationary period allows you to evaluate a new employee to ensure they have the skills and fit for your role.  If they don’t meet your requirements, you can terminate them within the period without severance or notice assuming you act fairly.

How can you make the most of this evaluation period? The solution is to manage it properly.

  1. Include the probationary period in your offer letter and make sure there is a sign off for the employee to show agreement to the terms. The probationary period cannot be assumed!
  2. While recruiting, plan the work you will use to evaluate the employee when they start work. In the first 60 – 75 days assign work to ensure you can do a fair evaluation. If you don’t truly test them out, you may not be able to form an objective opinion on their performance when you need to make that critical decision before the 90 day evaluation period expires.
  3. Ensure you set performance standards and goals up front so the employee knows what you expect. Your standards and goals should not come as a surprise when you meet with them for the probationary review.
  4. If interaction with other staff is important for the role, make sure you expose the new employee to a wide variety of people in your organization.
  5. Keep a file folder in your desk where you can place notes on the employee’s performance. Note any good performance and any red flags such as punctuality, attention to detail, fit within the organization, quality of work, responsiveness to feedback etc. Don’t try to rely on your memory as you won’t have the content you really need when you need it.
  6. Set a date to meet with the employee prior to the end of the probationary period to review negative and positive aspects of their performance. This does not need to be a full performance appraisal, however it should be factual and provide measures against quantifiable goals and objectives set when the employee was hired. If you have any concerns, explain them and reinforce the measurable performance standards. If you feel the situation cannot saved, cut your ties prior to the 90 days.
  7. If you feel the employee may be coachable, extend the probationary period another 90 days and repeat the process. Remember, this is also their chance to evaluate you as an employer!
  8. If the employee is doing a great job, reinforce the fact you hired the right person and tell them so.

Generally, tendencies you see early are predictors of behaviours to come. The consequences of not managing this process properly means that behaviours you find early on and choose to ignore will intensify over time and you will end up parting ways further down the road if they are not corrected.  Deciding to postpone acting to a later date means the disruption of an employee leaving; paying notice and severance and; the cost of rehiring. These are significant consequences for not acting when you had the chance.

As with so many things, delaying the inevitable will result in greater costs later, especially if you have to terminate employment for performance issues you had a hint of in the first 3 months!

Sarah Hisey

Human Resources