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Probation in the workplace – how employers can get it right in 5 easy steps!

June 20, 2016






The probation period, according to the Fair Work Ombudsman, is to ‘assess if employees are suitable for the role and business’. It is also how about how well employees fit into the culture of the organisation.


This is something that is pretty well understood and accepted by employees – after all they want to see if the role suits them as well – but so many employers get the whole probation thing wrong and not only hurt the employees but also damage their business reputations.  


How long is the ideal probation period?

For Australian companies in the national industrial arena, the Fair Work Act 2009 specifies that employees need to have completed a six-month minimum employment period before lodging a claim for unfair dismissal. For a small business this period is twelve months. Ideally then, six months would be the probation period but very few organisations have probation periods that length. Generally, they vary from a few weeks to three months.  

In an ideal world an employee commences, the employer provides an induction and everything goes swimmingly and the new employee becomes a permanent employee.


So what could go wrong?           A lot, actually.


From an employer’s point of view, it is all about the employee not performing to the required standard or their conduct not being satisfactory.


Unfortunately, it generally isn’t ever that simple and employers also do things poorly. However, by implementing the following five steps, an employer should be able to get the most out of their new employees and have an effective exit strategy for those that don’t fit the organisation.    


1.     Onboarding or Induction

  • It is time consuming and costly to employ a new staff member and if you want people to stay make sure that all employees receive enough information at the right time. Not everything needs to be covered on the first day because that could be too overwhelming -  space information out over a few days or a week.

  • Make sure there is a work space ready to go – don’t just leave them at someone else’s work station for the day and hope for the best

  • Let current employees know that a new person is starting and encourage them to break the ice and welcome them to the workplace

  • Perhaps assign a buddy to the new person especially if it is a large workplace or they are new to the area – it is nice to have someone recommend the best local coffee shop

  • Provide a folder of information so they can look over details and not have to remember everything

  • Give them a checklist of what needs to be covered in what time period so both parties can tick off what has been achieved, in a particular timeframe.


2.     Make sure the employee clearly understands their role, the expected level of output or performance and         the expected conduct at work. When this doesn’t occur it can be really frustrating for new employees as         they may not know what the expectations are and can get blindsided later with allegations of poor                 performance. It is often related to a  poor induction.


  • Take some time to explain exactly what is required in the role and what outputs are expected so you can monitor the performance and ensure they are learning the tasks associated with the job correctly, are not picking up any bad habits, and are meeting expectations.

  • Explain the Code of Conduct at the induction phase, especially important elements like dress standards and hours of work and customer service expectations. If you don’t have a Code of Conduct explain the in house guidelines the company uses.


3.     Talk to your new employee on a regular basis – nothing major, just check in with them to make sure             they are travelling OK. When it is low key you can find out if there are any issues or correct minor                 problems. Pretty simple stuff but too many employees walk away from jobs without ever really being             given the opportunity for much interaction with a supervisor.


4.     As well as the informal chats with the new employee, provide them with regular performance feedback          during the probation period and inform them, in a timely manner, of any changes needed to their work           or conduct (and document this).


       It’s a great idea to schedule these meetings for regular intervals – e.g. if probation is three months –              have a meeting at 4 weeks and 8 weeks and that way there should be no surprises if things don’t work          out.  Don’t save up any issues for formal meetings though – it’s just more awkward for everyone.                  Address them when they occur.


5.    When issues are addressed that need correcting, give the person a chance to respond to the issue and          to address your concerns. Maybe they require some training or maybe there are expectations that                  weren’t fully explained. Sometimes things just happen to people outside of work that affects their work          and if you are talking to the person you will know this and be able to deal with it. Issues can’t be                    corrected though if you wait until the day before probation ends to have a discussion.  


And if it still isn't working out? 


Of course, even doing all of this won’t necessarily guarantee that your new employees will always work out. Sometimes it becomes clear very early on that the new team member does not quite fit the team or does not meet the requirements of the position and is unlikely to, within the probationary period.


You don't have to wait until the end of the probationary period before taking action. The decision to terminate the appointment can take place at any time within the probationary period and that will never be an easy conversation but it will be a lot nicer for everybody if the person had at least some idea that it was coming.


They are unlikely to walk away and tell everyone what a terrible organisation you have and how the Manager (and HR) was useless. If you leave them their dignity and a chance to know how to improve, hopefully your business reputation will remain intact and their next job will work out.


Remember, we have all been new in a job at least once – it’s scary and there is a lot to learn.



Have you had a bad experience in a new workplace? Share it with me, please.




Need some assistance getting these right in your workplace?  Give me a call on 0412 174 675