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How to make the probation period work for you

So your new employee isn’t the right person for the job. What do you do now? It’s simple, use his probation period to assess his performance ability and suitability for the job. Here’s how you can make probation work for you and what to do if your employee’s not up to standard.

A probation period is a length of time you use to check if an employee is suitable for the job.

You can use it to evaluate the employee’s performance before you confirm permanent employment when he’s:

  • A newly hired employee; or
  • An existing employee that you’ve promoted into a new position.

A probation period is only effective if you stick to these guidelines:

If you want to make the probation period work for you, ensure it’s for a reasonable period and that it’s based on the requirements of the job.

It should be between three and six months. But, there’ll be exceptions when a longer period may be needed, for example, specialist working environments.

A shorter period’s fine when a job requires low levels of skill or technical expertise.

For example: You employ Mrs Adams as a receptionist. You give her a standard greeting to use when answering the phone and tell her not to keep clients waiting for any length of time. You also give her a few other basic instructions.

You’ll be able to tell if she can do the job within two weeks or one month at the most. There’s no point in a three- or six-month probation period.

Can you extend the probation period?

You can only extend the probation for a reason that relates to the purpose of the probation. For instance, if you want to further assess if the employee’s suitable for the job.

Again, the length of time must be reasonable for what you need to assess. You must assess the probationer’s performance through evaluation, instruction, training, guidance or counselling.

It isn’t enough just to make yourself available to assist. You must give regular feedback, tell your employee if he’s incompetent or below standard. Ensure he has a clear understanding of what you require of him. Set down realistic goals and time-frames for him to improve. Tell him if he’s unsuitable for the job and inform him he may be dismissed as a result.

A word of caution: An employee on probation is an employee in all respects, except that permanent employment is conditional on him successfully completing his probation.

You can’t abuse probation and use it to deprive employees of permanent employment status.

The bottom line: If you want to make the probation period work for you, determine the probation period based on:

  • The nature of the job; and
  • The time you need to assess the employee’s suitability.

Use this time to work with your employee to monitor and correct areas of poor performance by providing the necessary guidance, counselling and training.

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