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Probationary Periods: What Are They and What Is Their Purpose?

Probationary Periods: What Are They and What Is Their Purpose?

What Is a Probationary Period? 

A probationary period is a set time frame dedicated to training and assimilating a new hire. This time frame can range from 30 days to upwards of six months. The length of the probationary period typically depends on the complexity of the role; the more complex, the longer the probation. During this time, both the employer and the employee are likely exempt from contractual obligations. For instance, at any point during the probationary period, the employee can be terminated with little or no notice, and the employee can also choose to leave in the same manner. 

Probationary periods can occur for new hires, promotions, or new roles within the same organization, or as a result of poor work performance. 


What Is the Purpose of a Probationary Period? 

Probationary periods give employers the opportunity to test the new hire and see if they are capable of successfully completing the required tasks for the role. They also give employers the chance to see if the employee is a good addition to the workplace culture and if they are a sufficient match for their team. 

Employers aren’t the only ones who benefit from probationary periods. Employees are given the chance to experience the job and the company as well. This time gives employees insight into whether or not this position is the next step towards advancing their career. It also gives them a chance to meet people at the company and chat with coworkers. New hires can learn a lot through these conversations, including the culture and values of the company, the perspectives of others who have worked there for a long period of time, and many other details. 

Having this time to gain clarity on all facets of the company and the role will best allow the new hire and the employer to make the right decision on whether or not it’s a good match. Going through this process may be lengthy, but it will increase retention rates in the long run. 


How To Structure Probationary Periods

When an employee is hired with a probationary period, there must be clear performance goals set with the understanding that if they hit these goals, they will move past the probationary period and officially obtain the role for which they were hired. If they do not meet their goals, they will not assume the position and will be let go from the company. 

These goals should focus on three key components: learning, independence, and assimilation. Let’s break these down a bit more. 

Learning. Assess how the new employee is retaining the information being taught to them. Make sure you’re setting fair expectations, though. There should be a timeline in place for what the employee is expected to learn and by when. 

*Make sure you also have proper onboarding training set in place. During the new hire’s onboarding experience, they should have a specific checklist of what is expected over the course of their probationary period. 

Independence. While it’s encouraged and expected for a new hire to have a lot of questions, assess whether or not it’s question overload or a normal degree of questions. Also, what are the questions being asked? Are they valuable or are they questions that the employee should be able to answer on their own? Essentially, you want an employee who can be independent and has problem-solving skills. 

Assimilation. Does the new hire fit in with the company and with their team? Having a positive team dynamic is important. Not to say that everyone on the team has to be best friends, but they should all be able to communicate together well and have positive, productive conversations that can drive the team forward. 


Transition From Probationary Period to Employment 

Once the probationary period comes to an end, there are two possible outcomes. 

  1. Regular Employment.

    If both the employer and the employee are satisfied with how the probationary period went, then the employer would offer the employee a permanent position. Sometimes, an employee may be given more money after the probationary period is over, either as a raise or a bonus. During this transition, there will likely be a contract to sign with additional parameters. 

  2. Termination of Employment 

    If the employer or the employee do not feel satisfied with the results of the probationary period, then either can make the decision to part ways. Keep in mind that termination can occur at any time during the probationary period, by either the employee or the employer.


Additional Resources

You can stay informed, educated, and up to date with important HR topics using BerniePortal’s comprehensive resources:

  • BernieU—free online HR courses, approved for SHRM and HRCI recertification credit
  • BerniePortal Blog—a one-stop shop for HR industry news
  • HR Glossary—featuring the most common HR terms, acronyms, and compliance
  • Resource Library—essential guides covering a comprehensive list of HR topics
  • HR Party of One—our popular YouTube series and podcast, covering emerging HR trends and enduring HR topics 

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