With various sources stating that humans are now predicted to spend as much as a third of their lives at work, and the retirement age continuing to rise ever higher, it is no wonder that UK employees expect more from the workplace than ever before.
The average person is believed to change their job between 10 to 15 times over the course of their career, and spend an average of five years or less in each position – meaning that far more time and attention is now devoted to transitioning from one job to another.
With this in mind, probation periods have therefore never been more important. If any employer is ever in doubt as to their importance, a survey from HR Magazine found that up to 18 percent of all new recruits fail their probation in the UK. The two most common reasons for failing to progress onto a permanent contract were cited as poor performance (62 percent), and absence from the workplace (50 percent). Without such measures in place, this could potentially mean that a fifth of one company’s workforce could be completely unsuited to the jobs that they have been hired to do.
What is a probation period?
Otherwise known as a ‘trial period,’ the term probation period refers to a trial period of employment at the beginning of an employee’s working relationship with a company. The period will usually consist of a fixed amount of time, set out by the employer, during which the new employee will be exempt from some contractual rights and responsibilities.
Why are probation periods used?
Essentially, probation periods exist to protect both employees and employers from the potentially negative impact of an employee not being a ‘good fit’ within their new role or in the wider business, and also to make things easier should the contract need to be terminated on either side.
From a manager’s point of view, probationary periods can be used to evaluate a worker’s performance, skills and abilities, and also to assess whether they engage with the existing organisational culture. On the employee’s side, probationary periods are useful in order to assess if they enjoy working for their new employer, and how well the reality of the role is suited to their existing skills and abilities.
How long are they usually for?
New employees commonly join a business on initial probationary periods of between three to six months, although some companies will extend this to up to a year in some circumstances (normally related to more senior or complex roles and working situations). Contract workers or those working part-time may be given shorter probationary periods.
What are the benefits of probation periods?
If an employee joins your business knowing that they will be under close observation for a set period of time, it can act as a great way to encourage them to work hard and prove their worth, especially in a situation where the probation period is less than six months long.
Probation periods can also be useful for existing employees who have recently been promoted or moved into a new role within your organisation. take up a new role may also benefit from a probation period, during which their progress should be monitored closely.
Having a structured probation period with frequent reviews and chances to communicate can also ensure that expectations of both employees and employers are realistic and well-managed. Employees should expect to listen and act upon constructive criticism, whilst employers should endeavor to provide helpful feedback and guidance wherever possible.
What rights do employees on probation have?
Employees that are working whilst on a probationary period still retain statutory employment rights. As with all other employees within your business, they are entitled to at least the national minimum wage, their rights as defined under the working time directive, statutory sick pay (unless you operate an occupational sick pay scheme), and all family-related rights such as maternity and paternity leave, and time off for dependents.
Probationers are also protected against unlawful discrimination, detrimental treatment and automatically unfair dismissal in the same manner as all other employees.
However, many companies can and do choose to restrict work-related benefits during a period of probation, such as access to company-defined pension schemes, bonuses and shares.
The main difference in employment rights during a period of probation is the length of notice that needs to be provided on either side in order to terminate an employment contract. This depends entirely on the employment contract that your employee has signed, but a standard length of notice for an employee within a probationary period is around one week (as opposed to a month or longer on a permanent contract).
What responsibilities do I have to employees on probation?
Although probation periods partly exist in order to allow for easier termination of employment on both sides, should the arrangement not work out, the real aim behind them is to allow a new employee the time and practical experience that they need in order to settle in and work effectively within their new role.
If you have new employees that are currently working a probation period within your firm, you should ensure that you are fully supporting them to:
- Know exactly what is expected from them during the probation period, and afterwards
- Full develop the knowledge and skills that they need in order to fulfill their new role – this is achieved through adequate training and support
- Address any problems with their performance and take steps to try and improve it prior to the end of the probation period
- Investigate any grievances or incidents of bullying or harassment that are reported in the same manner as you would with any other member of staff