Understanding the Probation Period: 5 common mistakes to avoid
By Avi Kumar – Senior Workplace Relations Adviser, iHR Australia
The first six months* of an employee’s journey at their new place of work is known as the Probation Period. Identified in the Fair Work Act as the Minimum Employment Period, this important period of an employee and employer journey is often underutilised.
*12 months where the employer is a small business and has less than 15 employees.
To help explain how the probation period is best utilised, we have used real life examples that occurred in the last two years:
1. No induction process during the probation period.
An employee from the health industry was terminated within the probation period for not following clinical protocols. The employee’s union challenged the termination as ‘unfair’ and asked to see the probation period induction training schedule that was meant to have been provided to the employee. Much to the leadership’s surprise, an investigation found the new employee induction process was a part of recruitment advertisements but never actually followed by operational departments. It was an effective wake up call for the leadership team.
To ensure new team members feel engaged, productive, and part of the team from day one, create the right induction experience. The success of any induction program is measured not only by the number of employees completing the probation period well but also by the support each department provides to its new employees.
2. Implementing an intensive induction process without consulting line managers.
A human resources department introduces a new intensive induction process for new employees completing their probation period. The process required new employees to catch-up with their line manager once a week for 26 weeks and answer a series of questions that took 30 minutes. Within three months, there were multiple resignations from line managers who were already working at capacity and had no extra time.
A good induction process it not an onerous one that requires too much of a supervisor or team leader’s time. Employers may wish to implement a process where new employees undertake a structured probationary period review in two parts: Part one (midway) at three months and part two (final) prior to the completion of six months.
If a new employee is unable to demonstrate the necessary performance and behavioural standards at the three month mark, then you need to start considering risk mitigating actions.
3. Remembering that the probation period is a two-way street for both the employer and the employee.
A large insurance brokerage firm appointed a new International Products Broker Manager. The new employee was advised that all staff members meet for Friday drinks. For the first two weeks, out of politeness, he attended but then did not show up after which led to unnecessary friction between himself and other colleagues. At a scheduled one month performance review and feedback session with the director of international products, the new employee was praised for the quality of their work but was asked to ensure that for overall team harmony, they must attend the Friday drinks. The next day the employee gave in a resignation letter – whilst he had enjoyed his first four weeks at the firm, he was there to do a job and his suitability for the role should depend on his productive outcomes, not by attendance at a drinking session.
Get used to the paradigm that a probation period should be one of healthy tension where both the employer and employee work together to make it successful. During a probation period, new employees also get a chance to decide if they want to stay and work in the organisation. Hence, it is important for:
- current staff members to make new staff feel welcome.
- current staff members and leadership to demonstrate the values of the organisation as new employees take their cues on what behaviour is acceptable within the workplace.
4. New employees regularly being thrown in at the deep end.
A new casual barista at a very popular local café was rostered to for an early morning shift on their first day. Being unfamiliar with the café and the orders of regular customers made it difficult for this otherwise expert barista to satisfy their needs. As a result, the café was subject to negative reviews online which impacted revenue for the next few months.
Just because an employee has been recruited for their skills and experience, does not necessarily mean that they will know what to do at their new place of employment as soon as they come into work on the first day. Whether it is a small business or big business, it is imperative to establish a day one protocol that will assist new employees to set themselves up for success.
5. Implementing a generalised ‘best practice’ staff induction program during the probation period.
Many Australian organisations advertise ‘best practice’ induction programs for their new employees in order to recruit ‘optimal employees’. Today, CEO’s and HR professionals must realise that best practice is whatever practice works best for an organisation legally, while keeping the workforce engaged and customers happy. For a successful probation, an ‘optimal’ induction process is one that has had the input of current tenured and new staff members. As long as the new employee can feel safe and engaged with their work, the rest is up to the new employee to demonstrate their individual abilities to do their job.
Organisations can spend a lot of time, effort and resources to implement an induction process for new employees during the probation period. Yet, it is important to ensure that every new employee has the opportunity to demonstrate their full potential.
Key takeaways for a successful probation period
- Ensure the basics are being met.
The most successful probation periods are those where the basics are clearly met – such as a safe workplace, shift start and end times and are contributing to productive output. If they are being done well and every new employee is successfully finishing their induction period, it is only then you should consider adding more bells and whistles.
- Give structured feedback sessions.
Successful probation periods allow new employees to meet with their supervisors or managers at least once a month for structured feedback sessions. These feedback sessions should encourage two-way feedback so that the employee has the opportunity to provide feedback on their view of how they are performing and the level of guidance and training they have received.
- Provide meaningful and challenging work.
If you do not give meaningful and challenging work to a new employee during the probationary period, you will not be able to properly assess their value to the business.
Probation period pitfalls
At times organisations have no option but to performance manage a new employee during their probation period for a number of reasons – such as poor demonstrated performance or behaviours.
Whilst protection from unfair dismissal commences after six months of service, there is no minimum employment period to serve for a general protections claim such as Adverse Action or Discrimination. Hence, employers must follow a procedurally fair process and have a valid reason for termination of employment to protect the business from a potential claim.
How do organisations ensure that they have an optimal probation period plan for their new employees?
You can also receive in-house training with iHR Australia’s Managing Everyday Performance program to support your leaders in providing performance feedback and having conversations that build capability, performance, and engagement in their teams.
Need help or more information?
Organisations or employers* seeking support and information call 1300 399 912 or make an online enquiry.
*Please note: iHR Australia provides advice and support to organisations and employers only. Individuals seeking advice should contact the Fair Work Commission.
About the Author
Primed with an MBA(HR/IR) from Griffith University, Avi has forged a career in Workplace Relations across diverse industries including Public/Private Health Services, Aviation, Retail and Hospitality. Being mentored by Rachel Bernasconi (Partner, Seyfarth Shaw) at the start of his career allowed Avi to play an integral role in drafting and negotiating enterprise bargaining agreements as well as guiding employee relations within some of the most challenging workplace environments in Australia.
An experienced practitioner, Avi is adept at suggesting future focused workforce models that rationalise FTE and organisational budgets. With extensive experience in undertaking impartial and independent investigations related to Executive Management Failure, Bullying & Harassment, Sexual Harassment, etc. Avi has a particular interest in ensuring employers meet their obligations so as to avoid costly litigation.
As a multi-retail business owner across 3 continents, Avi is able to provide contemporary solutions to manage the ever-changing human capital expectation management.