Can you ever imagine HR ever uttering these words, "For the crime of agreeing to work for us, you're on probation"? Well, it happens every single day. The concept of the employment probation period is a corporate carry-over from days long gone, but it's time to shut it down.
Before the pro-probation enthusiasts attack, let me be absolutely clear—I get it, hiring the wrong person can be costly, and those costs are climbing. A 90-day employment probation period is a sensible safeguard that ensures a new employee is the right fit, but if she's not, the manager and employee can just shake hands and part as friends, right?
Wrong! Here's why employee probation is an ineffective relic of the past that should be replaced with proper onboarding:
Guilty Until Proven Innocent
First, the descriptor itself—"the probation period"—is terrible. It's cold and demeaning. One source describes probation as "the release of an offender from detention." From a hiring standpoint, the terminology creates the assumption that the employee will fail unless he proves otherwise. Is that any way to welcome a new worker?
Tip: Remove the term "probation" from your hiring process and procedures.
Probation Is a Poor Excuse For Bad Hiring
Why place a candidate on probation in the first place? Hiring is a challenging process, but don't take your frustration out on the candidate. By keeping your employees in limbo, you're essentially saying: "Our managers suck at hiring, and we have little confidence in our screening and selection, so we're going to put you on probation for the next 90 days to cover-our-butts." If you've decided to extend a job offer but have little confidence in the employee, a probation period probably won't save you.
Tip: If you're using a probation period as a crutch that supports poor hiring decisions, fix your screening process and help managers boost their candidate vetting skills.
First Impressions Count
In today's market, top talent has choices. Candidates research companies before they apply. Sites like Glassdoor, Indeed and Kununu highlight reviews from current and former employees, and provide information on the interview and hiring process. Would you want candidates to know about your strict employee probation policy? It might deter them from applying in the first place, and you could lose out on great workers. Probation isn't just an HR and recruitment problem—it damages the company brand and bottom line too.
Tip: Consider the far-reaching consequences of the employee probationary period . They run deep and the disadvantages may cost more than any benefit.
The Law May Not Be On Your Side
Probations date back to decades ago, Probations date back nearly 140 years. Unions then adopted the probation period to postpone activation of company benefits such as health insurance and vacation days. It was believed that a probation period let employers off the hook if they terminated new hires within the prescribed time frame but, ironically, a probationary or trial period may create unintended legal consequence. Labor experts cite that some courts have ruled that the mere completion of such an initial evaluation period suggests express or implied contract obligations. This makes it more difficult for comÂpanies to discharge at will, even if state law endorses at-will employment.
Tip: Check with your legal counsel before putting a new employee on "probation."
Alternatives to the Probation Period
Because defining the first 90 days of employment as probation offers little benefit, employers should instead focus on their employee onboarding process to ensure that they set new hires up for retention in the long run. Proper onboarding demonstrates that the company is ready to welcome the new employee as a valuable addition and true human resource. It's so much more than just making sure the employee has received and signed all the paperwork.
Onboarding should be a gradual transition of the candidate from green worker to fully productive employee. As quality of hire becomes a critical HR metric, recruiters have a vested interest in not just filling an open position, but also ensuring the success of the new team member.
The purpose of employee onboarding is not a test of the sink-or-swim survival skills of the new hire, but a process to ensure continuous high engagement and the successful, uneventful and swift transition to full employee productivity. In practice, the onboarding period in many cases may still be limited to 90 days, but the optimum time period will vary from job to job, company to company.
What is absolutely essential, however, is that the stigma of probation be removed and new hires be treated as high-potential assets that are welcomed, mentored and developed. If you don't have the confidence in betting the house and investing in the success of the new hire, 90 more days won't help.
Photo: Creative Commons
Want to keep learning? Explore our products, customer stories, and the latest industry insights.
Ethics in human resources: 6 guidelines for HR teams
Today's human resources professionals manage more moral, ethical and legal responsibilities than ever before. Beyond compensation and benefits, HR teams are now tasked with challenges like fostering workforce diversity, addressing inequality issues and setting standards around workplace conduct.
Your holistic guide to talent success
The 2023 Talent Health Index: Your holistic guide to talent success, a new report led by the Cornerstone People Research Lab, provides you with a comprehensive view of the state of talent programs across organizations worldwide. The study found that most organizations are falling behind with their talent health initiatives, but they don’t have to stay that way. With the 2023 Talent Health Index, you can better understand what a successful talent program looks like and what steps you can take to redefine your talent strategy and unlock your organization’s full potential.