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Updated Mar 02, 2023

90 Days to Prove Yourself: The Power of a Probationary Period

How long should employees have to prove themselves? Some say it can take as long as 18 months. Here’s why probationary periods can work.

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Written By: Julie ThompsonSenior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
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November 2022 saw over 6 million new hires and 5.9 million separations (resignations, layoffs and discharges), according to the U.S. Department of Labor. While such movement is unavoidable, a streamlined hiring process can help the employer and the employee have a smoother transition during the first few months on the job. Probationary periods can decrease costs, build relationships and eliminate weak links. 

Instituting a 30-to-90-day probationary period to determine whether or not a new employee is suitable for the position is beneficial whether you’re making your first hire or you have gone through the process hundreds of times. To make the most of probationary periods, establish frequent communication, constructive feedback and timely closure (whether that means officially hiring, extending the probationary period or dismissing the employee).

Entering a probationary period without clear guidelines may turn off some employees. You may also face criticism if the employee feels undervalued, or legal consequences if the process is not conducted properly.

Let’s look at how to properly set up a probationary period and determine whether or not it’s right for your company’s hiring process.

How to execute a successful probationary period

1. Before you hire, make sure this is the right person for the job.

Don’t hire based just on a gut feeling. Develop a list of the necessary competencies, and only accept resumes that match them. During the interview process, avoid general “tell us about yourself” HR questions; instead, probe to learn the candidate’s skill set as it relates to the desired competencies. In many cases, hiring a recruiting firm to do the pre-screening (as long as you are specific about what you need to screen for) may be worthwhile.

If you’re presented with two or three equally qualified candidates who seem a good fit for the position and your company culture, then you can consult your gut.

2. Provide a mentor.

If your idea of training is a quick overview of what the employee needs to do, you’re setting them up for failure. Foster an environment where asking questions is encouraged. 

Better yet, assign the new hire a mentor charged with answering the new employee’s questions and addressing their concerns. Mentors contribute to a positive company culture, rich communication and upskilling.

FYIDid you know
Eighty-four percent of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs, according to a MentorcliQ report.

3. Develop an onboarding program.

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) estimates every new hire will cost a company $4,700. However, most employers estimate that completing the onboarding process costs them three to four times the position’s salary.

Given the costs of replacing new hires who don’t work out, the upfront investment to properly train and familiarize new employees with their job responsibilities and performance requirements during the onboarding process is money well spent.

4. Set reasonable expectations and check in periodically.

Don’t overburden a new worker with tasks; allow some time for them to get the lay of the land. Once a new hire gains confidence in performing a limited set of tasks, you can expand their responsibilities. 

Involve co-workers to support the onboarding process and beyond. At the start, check in frequently and early to see how things are going, what problems are encountered and how those problems can best be solved.

5. Give a new hire sufficient time to adapt.

Don’t adopt hard-and-fast rules like “90 days or you’re out.” People adjust differently to different kinds of challenges, and some take time to fit into a company’s culture. The best rule of thumb is to ask people who perform similar jobs how long it took them to feel comfortable and competent in what they do. 

After that period is the best time for you and your new hire to sit down and discuss how things are going and what you can do to make sure they are able to accomplish their tasks.

Bottom LineBottom line
Probationary periods require frequent communication and feedback regardless of the position. If you decide to extend the probation, inform the new hire during their final review meeting. Any new terms must also be provided to the worker in writing.

Pros and cons of a 30-day probationary period

Pros

Here are some of the advantages of a probation period for a business and its new employees.

Training and support

The 30-day probation period gives additional time for the recruit to gain training with the support of management. While the onboarding process involves learning, this additional time is an opportunity for new employees to raise their concerns and ask questions.

Time to review decision

A probation period gives the company and the recruit enough time to determine whether they made the right decision. The company can assess the new employee’s skills and determine their suitability for the role.

On the other hand, the employee has enough time to decide if they are ready to take the position. If either party wishes to terminate the contract, they can do so within 30 days.

TipBottom line
Probationary periods are customary for new hires. However, they can also be instituted for current employees that are promoted to a new position and for current employees that are experiencing decreased performance in their present position.

Cons

The 30-day probation period poses some disadvantages as well.

Lower employee motivation

New employees are often under a lot of pressure to perform exceptionally well or put themselves in danger of losing their jobs. These conditions may lower their morale and reduce their confidence in their work. New recruits who work with skilled employees may feel undervalued.

Risk

The company and the recruit face risks during the probation period. The company reveals crucial confidential information to an employee who may leave after 30 days. Some organizations have reported theft from their new employees.

Employees also risk injury, especially in manual labor roles, for a job they may not keep. They also face the risk of leaving their current employer only to be dissatisfied with the terms of the new workplace, causing them to leave. 

author image
Written By: Julie ThompsonSenior Writer & Expert on Business Operations
With nearly two decades of experience under her belt, Julie Thompson is a seasoned B2B professional dedicated to enhancing business performance through strategic sales, marketing and operational initiatives. Her extensive portfolio boasts achievements in crafting brand standards, devising innovative marketing strategies, driving successful email campaigns and orchestrating impactful media outreach. Thompson's proficiency extends to Salesforce administration, database management and lead generation, reflecting her versatile skill set and hands-on approach to business enhancement. Through easily digestible guides, she demystifies complex topics such as SaaS technology, finance trends, HR practices and effective marketing and branding strategies. Moreover, Thompson's commitment to fostering global entrepreneurship is evident through her contributions to Kiva, an organization dedicated to supporting small businesses in underserved communities worldwide.
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