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Should you implement a probationary hiring period?

Becky Schmid for Progressive Dairyman Published on 04 January 2018

A common trend with employers is to start any new employee on a probationary basis. What does that mean? An employer specifies a set amount of time for any new hire to allow the company to evaluate that person’s abilities and if they are a good fit for the company before becoming a permanent employee.

Generally, probationary periods last anywhere from two weeks to 90 days, sometimes longer depending on the position. We’ll talk about the positive aspects of a probationary period, the negatives and things to keep in mind if you’re considering implementing one.

Why you should consider a probationary period

There are many upsides to having a probationary period in your company. A probationary period allows you to try out an employee to see if they’re a good fit, if they really do have the skills necessary to complete their job duties and make sure they will be a reliable and contributing member of your team. Having a probationary period in place can also help avoid legal issues if you let an employee go during this initial term. It doesn’t completely mitigate your risk for wrongful termination, but it gives you more flexibility. Another benefit of this period is that you can postpone the new employee’s eligibility for benefits until the period is complete. Sometimes, companies will pay a training or probationary salary that is slightly lower than what the normal pay will be until the new employee completes probation and learns the required job duties.

The downsides

Although a probationary period can be very appealing for an employer, it is not always liked by employees. Having a lower initial pay may turn away potential candidates, which in this tight labor market is not something you want to do. For more skilled positions, we tend to see those candidates wanting more security – they feel that a probationary period is risky, and the candidates want assurances that there will be long-term employment before signing on the dotted line. Another potential pitfall is employees may feel like they can slack off after their probation is finished. If they’re not being watched as closely, you may notice a slip in performance. It’s important to keep these negative aspects in mind when developing or deciding whether or not to utilize your probationary period, so you can not only protect yourself, but also be fair and attractive for candidates.

A few more things to keep in mind

When developing or reviewing your probationary period policy, there are a few more things to keep in mind. Make sure your probation policy is very clear, and let your employees know when they are hired that they will be on probation and what that entails. Be sure to provide feedback to your new employee during and at the end of their probationary period. Keep documented records of your conversations and any issues or concerns you have with their performance. The probationary period gives you a good reason to discuss issues right away to set your employee up for long-term success. If you’re seeing issues with your new employee, you can extend the probationary period. Talk to the employee about your concerns, how long the probation will be extended for and what your expectations are. If things don’t get better, you may need to decide if it’s time to let that employee go.

Most importantly, be consistent. Every new hire, no matter their rank, must abide by the same policy. Treat all your employees equally and fairly, and hold up your end of the bargain by giving them the training and feedback they need to do a good job. Lastly, consider calling this a “training” or “introductory” period instead of a probationary period. A training period is still technically a probationary period, but is a bit less intimidating and can help reduce employees’ worries about continued employment as well as minimize the perception that they don’t have to work as hard after this period ends.

A probationary period can provide a safeguard for employers and help reduce costly hiring mistakes. If developed and implemented properly, a good policy can be beneficial for both employer and employee.  end mark

Becky Schmid is the operations manager at AgriStaff USA, a labor service agency that provides workforce solutions to the agricultural industry. They have offices in Kiel and Appleton, Wisconsin.

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