What is a new hire probationary period?

A new hire probationary period is the first stage of employment, during which an employee receives on-the-job training and professional guidance. Usually spanning three to six months and starting on the employee’s first day, the probationary period is an opportunity for the employee and employer to make sure they are a good fit.

Why should HR leaders care about the new hire probationary period?

The new hire probationary period increases the probability of hiring and keeping high-quality, appropriate candidates. This trial period can be likened to dating, allowing the employer and employee to test their work relationship with “no strings attached.” If either side is dissatisfied, they can more easily terminate the employment within the framework of probation.

The probationary period can also reduce costs for large companies; many employers pay new hires a reduced salary during this period and only offer benefits once employees transition into regular employment. A well-implemented probationary period can contribute to:

  • Higher retention and lower attrition
  • Reduced hiring costs
  • Increased engagement and productivity 

What can HR leaders do to implement an effective new hire probationary period?

HR leaders can utilize the probationary period to boost retention and engagement through these steps:

  • Incorporate an onboarding program. An onboarding program that equips employees with the practical tools to acclimate can lead to an effective probationary period and a fruitful career. 
  • Encourage employees to take it slow. Employees often feel they need to jump right in and prove themselves. Josh Bersin points out, however, that taking the time to read the employee handbook, ask a lot of questions, get to know the people, and embrace the culture, provides a strong foundation for long-term success. HR leaders should heed Bersin’s advice, encouraging new hires to mindfully and patiently settle in.
  • Keep the communication flowing. Through frequent check-ins, managers can provide critical answers and feedback for employees to develop professionally and succeed at their jobs. Immediately addressing any performance issues that arise allows employees to learn from their mistakes and improve their work performance. 
  • Involve a legal expert. Collaborating with an employment attorney to navigate probationary period nuances can help the company avoid legal pitfalls.
  • Make sure the employee understands. Include the conditions of the probationary period agreement in the employment contract. HR professionals should explain to employees the relevant details, such as probationary period length, the assessment method, and the notice period’s length.
  • Assessment. HR leaders and managers should document the feedback and progress to evaluate employees and make informed decisions about transitioning into the next stage.

How can a new hire probationary period improve company culture?

Taking the necessary precautions during the probationary period can promote an effective process that allows employers and employees to decide whether they are a good match. This trial period helps the company form its desired culture through hiring and nurturing individuals who can perform stellar work and positively impact their peers.