Stop Calling It a Probationary Period

I always feel like groaning when I hear the word “probation.” It’s an awful term, conjuring up images of prisons and criminals rather than the welcoming of new employees into the firm. 

Of course, the probationary period originally came about because if a company wanted to ask someone to leave, they used to have to do this within the employee’s first year (now two years). But do we really need to set a term? Why wait three or six months to sit down with a new person and have a conversation about how it’s going? Surely a manager would know more quickly than that if he’d made a mistake by hiring him.

Apart from anything else, it’s so unwelcoming: “Hello on your first day, we’re so glad you joined us. But don’t get too comfortable — you’re on probation, and at the end of your probationary period you’ll have a review in which we’ll let you know whether you can stay or not. Feel free to be loyal to us in the meantime, though.” 

For one of the companies we’ve worked with on improving the employee welcoming process we’ve changed the name of the probationary period to the “settling in” period, which is much more human. 

One airline we work with went even further. It looked back at how many people actually failed its probation period and found that it was around two people every year — out of a workforce of 10,000! It quickly dropped it so when employees start they don’t have the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads!

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Meanwhile, a business process outsourcing company in India has a great way of getting to know its new hires. It gives them a problem-solving exercise and encourages them to reflect on how they approached it. This helps both parties analyze the recruit’s particular strengths, which leads to a discussion about how those abilities could be applied to their job. Notably, the company is not expecting its recruits to conform to them — in fact, quite the opposite. It’s seeking ways to adapt its approach so it can help its people bring their best selves to work. 

And the result of all this? It has a 33% higher retention rate in the first six months, and it’s led to better customer satisfaction levels, as well. How different this is from the one-size-fits-all approach most other companies adopt.

Excerpted from HR Disrupted, 2nd Edition by Lucy Adams. Practical Inspiration Publishing. ©2021

Lucy Adams is a "recovering HR director." Having held board-level HR roles in major organizations, she is now on a mission to change outdated HR practices for good.

Lucy is also the author of HR Disrupted: It’s time for something different. As the ex-HRD at the BBC, Lucy brings her beliefs and practices into her work as CEO of Disruptive HR.

Published in January 2017, HR Disrupted is already a best-selling book on HR, topping the Amazon charts. Her book addresses some of the biggest challenges facing leaders and HR today and is packed with practical ways to innovate HR’s approach to leading people in a disrupted world.

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