90-Day Probation Period: The Pros & Cons

July 12, 2023

90-day probation period: the pros and cons

Hiring a new employee can be a significant investment for a business. Onboarding new employees involves cost and time, and there is always the risk that the new hire may not live up to the expectations. That's where a 90-day probation period comes in. This is a common practice followed by many employers, but it is not without its pros and cons.

This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of a 90-day probation period, including its benefits and drawbacks, and to help you decide whether or not to implement it.

What is a 90-day probation?

A 90-day probation period is a time when a new employee is carefully evaluated to see if they will be a good fit for the position and company culture.

This period is a test duration where both parties can assess whether the job fills the requirements of the employee, and the employee matches the expectations of the employer.

During this window, feedback can be provided more frequently, and if the hiree is not a fit, the employment termination process is usually simpler.

The pros of a 90-day probation period

90-day probation period: the pros and cons

1. Assessment of potential employees: the probation period allows employers enough time to assess if the new hire has the skills, attitude, work ethic, and ability to be a real asset to your organization. It provides an opportunity to evaluate their real-world performance against the potential they showed during interviews.

2. Allows for cultural compatibility checks: sometimes, even skilled professionals don't fit well within a company's culture. The probation period enables companies to verify if a new hire's personality and work style are in sync with the company's work environment, team, values, and operations.

3. Ease of termination if not satisfied: the 90-day probation period makes it easier to terminate an employee if they are not a good fit. This can drastically reduce the legal and financial complications that often accompany firing an employee, offering more flexibility to the employer.

4. Feedback and improvement: frequent feedback during the probation period allows new hires to understand their strengths, what areas need improvement, and what expectations they need to meet. It aids in forming better work habits and improving overall performance.

5. Opportunity for on-the-job training: the probation period offers a structured timeframe for the new hire to learn and adapt to their role, the tools, and the processes of the organization. It creates an environment where mistakes are expected and can be corrected, without having severe repercussions. This allows the employee to become more competent and confident in their job role.

6. Reduced long-term risks: if an employee doesn't perform up to expectations during the probation period, the company can part ways without the long-term financial obligations that come with full employment, such as certain types of insurance or retirement benefits. This makes the hiring process less risky from a financial standpoint.

7. Better employer-employee relationships: probation periods can help foster better relationships between employers and employees. Employers have a chance to show their commitment to employee growth and development, while employees get an opportunity to show their dedication and skills. This mutual effort and understanding can lead to a more productive and harmonious workplace.

8. Opportunity for the employee to assess the company: while the probation period is commonly viewed as a chance for employers to assess new hires, it's also an opportunity for the employee to assess the company. They can determine if the organization's culture, values, work style, and expectations align with their personal and professional goals. This can lead to higher job satisfaction and lower turnover in the long run.

The cons of a 90-day probation period

1. Potential reduction in commitment: employees might feel less committed to a company while on probation. This feeling is often because they sense a lack of job security, which may discourage them from investing their full potential or sharing innovative ideas.

2. Pressure and inhibition: the trial period can be stressful for employees, especially if they feel under constant scrutiny. Some employees might inhibit their natural working style during this period due to a fear of making errors, thereby not revealing their true potential or competency.

3. Possible employee turnover: if the probationary period is not managed correctly, there could be a significant turnover rate among new hires who do not pass the probation period. This scenario can reflect poorly on the company’s reputation and can be costly in terms of wasted training resources.

4. Potential temporary work approach: some employees might approach the probation period as a short-term assignment and may not venture to take up long-term tasks or objectives. This could limit their contribution to the company’s long-term goals.

5. Increased workload for management: during a probation period, managers often have to spend extra time monitoring and providing feedback to the new employee. This can increase their workload and can divert focus away from other crucial tasks. Additionally, if the new hire doesn't meet expectations, managers have to restart the recruitment process, which can be time-consuming.

6. Negative impact on morale and productivity: if employees see their colleagues fail to make it past the probation period, it can create a sense of insecurity and apprehension. This could potentially have a negative impact on the morale and productivity of the existing team, particularly if they fear they might be next.

7. Potential for legal issues: if a company does not handle the termination of an employee at the end of a probation period correctly, it could lead to legal ramifications. Employees may claim they were treated unfairly or that the conditions for passing the probation period were not clearly communicated.

8. Difficulty in attracting top talent: some highly skilled professionals may be put off by the idea of a probation period, viewing it as a lack of trust or commitment from the employer's side. This could potentially make it more difficult for a company to attract top talent, especially in a competitive job market.

Should you implement a 90-day probation period?

90-day probation period: the pros and cons

Deciding whether or not to implement a 90-day probation period can be a significant decision. It is essential to weigh the pros and cons carefully, considering the unique nature of your business, the roles being filled, and your company's values.

For roles where it can take some time to get a clear idea of an individual's capabilities, and where the risk of a bad hire is high, the probation period can be beneficial. It provides a space to assess and provide necessary feedback for the employee.

On the other hand, if feeling secure and included from day one is a significant part of your company culture and you believe in investing in long-term employee development from the beginning, the probation period may actually hinder that goal.

Remember, even if you make use of the probation period, communication is key, as poor or little communication can often lead to negative experiences for both parties. Encourage openness, provide regular feedback and assure them of their role in the company past the probation period.

Every organization is different; therefore, consider your unique needs and values in every decision you make. The bottom line is to shape your procedures to welcome, train, and retain the best talent effectively. The 90-day probation period can be a useful tool in this—when understood, planned, and utilized effectively.

Alternatives to a 90-day probation period

If you’re interested in alternatives to a 90-day probation period, here are some examples:

Performance reviews: rather than having a probation period, the employer could implement more frequent performance reviews during the initial period of employment. This allows the employer to provide regular feedback, recognize achievements, and address issues as they arise, while also eliminating the pressure associated with a probation period.

Mentorship programs: assigning a mentor to new employees can be a great alternative to a probation period. This mentor can provide guidance, answer questions, and serve as a point of contact for the new hire. This can help new employees acclimate to the company culture and their roles more quickly, reducing the need for a probation period.

Trial projects: another alternative is assigning a specific project to a new hire for a certain period of time. The quality of work, timeliness, and how they interact with the team during the project can give insights about their suitability for the job. This trial project can be part of the interview process before they are officially hired.

Temporary or contract work: instead of a probationary period for a permanent position, companies might hire an individual on a temporary or contract basis. During this time, both the employer and the employee can assess fit. If both parties are satisfied, the position can become permanent.

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