February 8, 2023


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New employee probationary period: Best practices

New employee probationary period: Best practices

Whether employers and human resources professionals like the idea of the new hire probationary period or not, they know one thing for sure —  employee turnover isn’t cheap.

Replacing team members can cost business owners between half and two times an employee’s yearly salary, not to mention the time and resources it takes to hire, onboard, and train them.

Too much turnover can also damage a business’s reputation, make owners miss out on attractive candidates, and dampen employee morale. That’s all made more difficult when you probably had to compete for new hires in the first place.

Implementing a new hire probationary period can be an effective solution to the above risks. If you’re unsure whether it’s right for you and your team, look no further. We dove into exactly what a new hire probationary period is, the most common probation scenarios, and some of our top tips for doing your probationary period right.

What is a probationary period at work?

A new hire probationary period at work is a short period of time — usually lasting between one and three months — where employers assess new employees for professional qualities like work ethic, adaptability, cultural fit, and attitude before offering them a permanent role. Employee probation is also beneficial for new hires who want to be sure their new job is a safe and supportive place to work and develop their skills. 

What is the purpose of employee probation?

Employers use the probation period to avoid employee turnover as much as they can. Job candidates often look great on paper and give a great first impression in an interview, but an employee probation period gives employers more time to determine whether their new hire will be a good fit in the long run.

Testing a new hire

Many small business owners will tell you there are plenty of lessons to learn when managing a team of people. Even if you take the time to create an employee handbook or set expectations from the start, it’s hard to predict all the issues that might come up in the hiring process. New employees could have a positive attitude at the outset but end up clashing with someone on their team. Or they might produce high-quality work during their first few weeks but let things slide over time. 

Testing a new hire during a probation period lets you account for the issues or quirks you can’t always predict during onboarding and training — and gives you time to address those problems before they get out of hand.

Putting an employee under review due to poor performance

When a team member just isn’t performing up to your standards after receiving consistent, constructive feedback, you may decide to put an employee under review instead of firing them.

An employee review period — which can last around three to six months depending on the manager’s judgment — works best when leadership can point to specific instances where employees didn’t meet expectations. Managers putting employees under review should also be ready to create a detailed plan for that period with action steps for development and improvement.

Putting an employee under review for a new position

When a team member gets promoted, establishing a review period for their new role lets managers assess how they’re adapting — and gives the employee time and space to ease into their position.

During a review period for a new role, managers often want to determine whether the employee can:

  • Work with the business’s mission in mind
  • Communicate effectively
  • Coach coworkers or new hires
  • Self-start and self-manage
  • Produce profitable results for the company

8 tips for creating employment probation period policies

Setting up a probationary period for a new hire can give you more confidence in your recruitment decisions, but we’d encourage you to think about how they feel too.

Employee expectations are changing, and they now feel more empowered to push back and leave their jobs when they’re unsatisfied. Here are some strategies to avoid that from the get-go.

1. Set clear expectations

Whether it’s your new hire’s first job or they’ve been in the workforce for decades, they’re new to your way of doing things. Create a culture of clear communication from day one by setting them up in your team communication system and explaining what your probation period will look like. 

You can even create a 60-day or 90-day plan for new team members that guides them through the skills and training they’ll have to complete by the end of each week or month. Whether you own a roofing business or a pottery shop, your probationary employee will appreciate your detailed expectations.

2. Define a time frame

Determine how long you think a new hire needs to be fully onboarded, trained, and eased into their new role. 

It’s okay to give yourself more time than you think you need, especially if you want to see how your new employee does without the training wheels of extra supervision and onboarding materials. Just make sure you explain your reasoning behind the time frame, so you establish an open, trusting relationship right off the bat.

3. Provide mentorship

Take advantage of the probation period to give your new hire extra guidance, frequent feedback, and detailed answers to their ‌questions. The employer-new hire relationship isn’t just transactional — you want to help them grow and develop personally. 

Making it clear to new employees that you want to support their unique personal and professional attributes will help you build a solid foundation for a long-term working relationship.

4. Establish a solid new hire onboarding program

Onboarding doesn’t mean throwing your new hire into the deep end on their first day and seeing how they get along.

You need to train new employees with an onboarding program that has specific learning objectives and training materials and keeps different learning styles in mind. We recommend using an LMS (learning management system) to help you deliver your content systematically.

Showing your new team member that you have a system in place for onboarding sends the message that you value an organized, predictable work environment for yourself and your team. 

5. Conduct performance reviews and provide feedback

Your probationary employee needs your feedback to understand where they need to grow — but if you don’t give them performance reviews often enough or your feedback is too vague or direct, you might lose their trust. That goes for giving praise, too.

Let your new hire know when you’ll give them a performance review or feedback ahead of time, and follow the S-B-I  (situation-behavior-impact) framework for constructive feedback that’s specific, actionable, and won’t put your new employee on the defensive.

For example

Situation: “On Tuesday, when we got a large influx of customers…”

Observable Behavior: “you were stocking inventory, but there were a lot of customers at the register with only one cashier…”

Impact: “which created a long line with a long wait time.” 

When you conclude your thought, be sure to include an actionable step for future improvement, like: “In the future, if you notice long lines at the register while you’re doing other things, please check on the cashier to see if they need your help.”

6. Document the entire process

Keeping all your communication, onboarding, and training materials in writing and in one central location helps you understand what worked, what didn’t, and what you need to improve for onboarding new hires in the future.  

But documenting the onboarding process isn’t just helpful for you to learn from your mistakes — storing your employment contracts, completed job applications, employee handbooks, training packets, background checks, and tax documentation in an accessible location keeps you compliant with the US Department of Labor and the IRS.

7. Include certain benefits

Celebrate and welcome your new hire by offering employee benefits they might not have access to in other places. Benefits like alternative healthcare options, flexible working hours, tuition reimbursement, and holidays off can help your new employee feel excited to be a part of your team and satisfied with their workplace right off the bat.

How Homebase simplifies the hiring process

If you’re looking for a tool that can act as your HR partner, Homebase has got your back. Onboarding with Homebase means you can source and train candidates who’ll pass your probationary period. Here’s how.

Create detailed job posts

Attracting the right candidates means getting into the nitty-gritty of what potential employees really want and showing how you can offer them things like health insurance, predictive scheduling, a good company culture, and development opportunities. You might even feel the need to reach out to a recruiter for help in sourcing more candidates.

But Homebase lets you advertise your job opportunity to multiple online job boards like ZipRecruiter, Craigslist, and Indeed for free, no recruiters required. We even provide job post templates if you’re not sure where to start.

Track and analyze applicants

Managing applicants gets stressful when you’re hopping between different job boards and worrying about how to screen all your candidates thoroughly before you offer them interviews. 

You can use Homebase’s hiring and onboarding tool to keep all your applicants together in one place and add screener questions like “Can you work weekends?” and “Do you have a certification?” so you don’t waste your time on applicants who won’t meet your needs.

Schedule interviews with potential candidates

When you’ve found a candidate with great potential and are ready to offer them an interview, Homebase lets you message them and schedule an interview in the same tool, so you don’t need to exchange extra information to stay in touch.

Prepare necessary paperwork

Once you’ve offered your candidate a position, you’ll want to send them the new hire forms you’re legally required to give them right away. These include emergency contact and bank information, an employee handbook with employee policies, benefits, worker’s compensation information, and any necessary tax forms like the W-2, W-4, and 1099.

It’s hard to manage all that paperwork without your own HR department, but Homebase takes care of that for you by sending new hires those documents automatically and letting you store them all in one secure place. 

Gather feedback from your new hire

Feedback isn’t just good for new hires — it’s useful for managers and HR professionals who want to optimize their recruitment and onboarding processes for the future and make sure as many employees as possible pass the probation period.

Take a quick pulse check — a message checking in to see how your new hire is feeling — during your probationary period or gather feedback about your onboarding process with Homebase’s team communication tool.

Be patient during a new hire probationary period 

There’s a lot that goes into the new hire trial period, and if you’ve never implemented one before, it can be easy to get bogged down by all the paperwork, onboarding, training, and communication. 

Be patient, but not just with your new hire — with yourself, too. 

To err is human and showing new employees you’ve created a culture of learning from mistakes will reinforce that your business is a great place to work.

New hire probationary period FAQs

How long is a probationary period?

A probationary period, or introductory period, lasts an average of three months for most businesses. They can, however, last anywhere from one month to six months, depending on your company’s needs and the specific role. 

How to terminate an employee during the probation period? 

Before you terminate an employee during a probation period, refer to your written agreement with them. It should outline the length of your probation period and explain how it’ll conclude. If you told your employee their probation period would end with a performance review, you might want to wait until that meeting until you make a final decision about their employment status.

Whatever the case, let your employee know you’re considering dismissing them at the end of the probationary period before your termination discussion, and make sure you give them evidence supporting your decision. Put your official decision in writing as well and share it with your employee for extra security and transparency.

Is an employee probationary period a good idea?

Some business owners feel that employee probation periods can have a negative impact on how valued new hires feel at work. But an employee probation period is standard practice for businesses because it lets employers assess new hires before making them permanent offers and helps them avoid the risk of turnover.

What is at-will employment?

At-will employment is an agreement between an employer and an employee that either one of them can end their contract at any time for any reason without warning. That means that employers can terminate an employee based on reasons ranging from poor performance to a lack of cultural fit, and employees can leave without being bound by a contract. 

Employers are not, however, legally allowed to dismiss an employee for discriminatory reasons or, in some states, based on conduct outside of work.