Solving the Probationary Puzzle

Feb 26, 2024 | News

Solving the Probationary Puzzle:

Why do employees and employers often stumble in the initial phase?

Birch-HR specialise in unravelling the often-complex intricacies of the employment and people management landscape. It’s estimated that 1:5 new recruits fail their probationary period. The most common reasons being poor performance and attendance. Today, we delve into a topic that often perplexes both employers and employees alike – the high rate of failure during probationary periods.

In simple terms, the probationary period is an initial phase of employment, designed to assess an employee’s suitability for a role, which can be unfortunately marked by a considerable number of stumbling blocks. During the last 12-months, Birch have seen a significant increase in clients asking for support to deal fairly with employees during their probationary period, from absenteeism, failing to turn up on day one to work and (up to executive) capability or conduct issues. Is this because organisations are getting better at managing probationary periods, the workplace is evolving, employee expectations are more difficult to meet, or that the recruitment landscape is more challenging?

Birch-HR have certainly seen an increase in clients requesting a probationary contractual clause, probationary policy and urgent advice on the best way to manage employer concerns during the probationary period.

Understanding the Probationary Period.

 It’s clear that probationary periods serve as a crucial period for organisations to evaluate new hires (along with their recruitment process and its success) and for employees to acclimate to their roles and to decide if they are the right fit for the role. It’s a mutual testing ground where expectations very much meet reality. However, despite its purpose, many employees and employers can find themselves wavering and ultimately facing difficulties that can lead to extension of the probationary period, termination or managing a voluntary resignation.

1. Mismatched Expectations

One of the primary reasons for probationary failures is undoubtedly a misalignment of expectations. Very often, job descriptions may not accurately reflect the day-to-day responsibilities and reality of a role, leading to disappointment and frustration for the new employee. Similarly, employers may have unrealistic expectations regarding the learning curve and initial performance of a new employee.

It’s imperative in these very early stages to prioritise transparent communication during the hiring process. At this stage, a hiring organisation retains control to clearly outline the role’s responsibilities and expectations, fostering a realistic understanding on both sides that sits in line with the realities of any upcoming probationary period.

2. Lack of Onboarding Support.

Inadequate onboarding is a common stumbling block behind probationary failures. Without a comprehensive onboarding process, employees are much more likely to struggle to integrate into the company culture amongst their peers, comprehend their role effectively for success, and establish essential connections within the organisation priorities.

A failure to implement a robust onboarding program that includes thorough training, mentorship, 121’s, and opportunities for social and team integration can ultimately omit setting the stage for success.

3. Insufficient Training and Development.

Employees are often thrust into roles without adequate training, hindering their ability to perform optimally day-today. A lack of ongoing training and development opportunities during the probationary period can lead to frustration and immediate underperformance. Small wins in this phase can be the difference between success and failure. Piques in dopamine levels typically lead to hunger to perform at a higher level and remain more open to learning.

It’s important to invest in continuous learning initiatives, this doesn’t have to be costly. Regular and innovative training sessions, briefings, and opportunities for skill and knowledge development can empower new employees, and even veteran employees to excel in their roles and remain motivated. Birch can help plan and facilitate innovative leadership and people management training support for leaders, managers and employees, including performance management, workshops etc.

4. Limited Feedback and Communication.

Feedback is the cornerstone of professional growth. In the absence of regular and constructive feedback, employees are likely to struggle to understand their strengths and areas for improvement, resulting in a lack of progress. Human beings are social creatures, they have a need for community and belonging. Encouraging social interaction helps build effective communication, teams and cooperation to achieve a goal. This phase can also be an interesting learning curve for the company, as you start to recognise and understand a new employee’s new strengths and skillset, their personality styles, the role potentially could morph for the better to accommodate this fresh pair of eyes. Moving in a fluid way with a new team member can be a positive move for an organisation.

5. A Fair process

With one in five new recruits failing their probationary period, there is a need for leaders and managers to understand a fair process to extend the probationary period or terminate the contract of employment. The employee may also wish to resign. Reasons for being fired are automatically unfair, such as religions, sex, gender, sexuality, pregnancy/maternity related, disability/age and marital status, so it is important a fair process is followed and that appropriate notice periods are provided. Whilst an appeal is not always necessary, they can help the organisation to effectively risk manage any issues prior to termination, as well as providing every reasonable opportunity for the employee to meet the standards required. HR can assist with a fair process and policy/contractual framework, as well as training for leaders and managers.

6. Cultural Fit Challenges.

Company culture will always play a pivotal role in employee satisfaction and success. If employees struggle to align with the organisation’s values and work culture, they may find it challenging to thrive during the probationary period.

An emphasis on the importance of cultural fit during the hiring process, taking time to assess candidates not only for their skills but also for their compatibility with the company’s values and work environment is key to aligning individuals with a role that is much more likely to stick.

Based on this thought process, it’s imperative to establish a culture of open communication. Regular updates and feedback sessions create an environment where employees feel supported, welcome honesty and are motivated to enhance their performance, whilst being offered the opportunity to contribute to company success.

To summarise, navigating the probationary period is ultimately a shared responsibility between employers and employees. By actively addressing the root causes of probationary failures and implementing proactive strategies, there’s no reason why a company can’t transform this challenging phase into an opportunity for mutual growth and success.

At Birch-HR, we’re committed to assisting businesses and education sector in fostering positive work environments and ensuring the success of their employees. Recruiting the right team is one of a workplace’s biggest challenges- which is all the more reason to ensure success when that initial relationship is formed.

If you have any questions or want to learn more about our Probationary Support Services, please contact us at or on 0121 674 4230.

We’re here to help you every step of the way.

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