How to Extend a Probationary Period and Keep the Individual Motivated

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How to Extend a Probationary Period and Keep the Individual Motivated

I have the pleasure of working with many HR professionals, and a topic that often gets discussed with regards to recruitment and staffing is the probationary period.  More specifically, how to extend a probationary period, and not lose the confidence or motivation of the individual concerned.  In this post, I will share some tips on how to extend a probationary period and keep the individual in question motivated and determined to succeed in their role.

New Starter Probationary Period

In an article written by HR Magazine UK, it states almost 20% of new starters have their probationary periods extended, or their contract terminated, citing underperformance as one of the critical factors.

I’m sure everyone has met with this problem at some point in his or her people management duties and careers to date.  It’s important to decipher the difference between an employee who just doesn’t fit the role or whom isn’t able to deliver their functions adequately; compared with an enthusiastic individual who has a good attitude, a great work ethic and who is committed, who might need just a bit more time and coaching in order to meet the expected standards.

Performance Management at its best isn’t just a tool to dispose of someone who doesn’t cut the mould, nor should it be something that is treated as ticking boxes and dealt with as quickly as possible.  It should be owned by the line manager, HR representative and of course the individual themselves.

Management is responsible for shaping how an individual feels about their role, and instilling confidence through regular, constructive feedback and providing guidance and motivation to the employee, in order to get the best out of them, and in turn, having them performing at their optimum level as often as possible.

Tips for Using Probationary Periods Correctly

There are many different ways probationary periods are used within organisations across the UK.  These points below outline some useful tips to manage a probationary period in the right way, and one which will keep the individual motivated after has been extended.

Address issues and provide feedback on a regular basis

One of the most common reasons an employee can feel completely demotivated following a probationary period extension is the element of surprise they feel when they find out they are not being offered a permanent contract.  This is why my first piece of advice is to make sure they get regular, honest feedback.  Some prefer to do this weekly, while others handle these matters on a monthly basis.  The worst thing you can do is wait until the end of the probationary period to bring up any issues.  Whatever style of management is used by the manager, it is important to ensure that regular review meetings take place.   This not only ensures the employee is used to getting feedback, but it also gives them the opportunity to correct any areas of under-performance as soon as they are highlighted.   It is a much easier conversation to have with an individual if the same issue has repeatedly been addressed and there has been no improvement.  There is no element of surprise, and there is a full paper-trail of the concerns being raised and support being provided to help the individual get their performance up to the desired level.

If an employer has not addressed issues at all during a probationary period, then it is somewhat unfair to expect the individual to know what the issues were, without any plan of action in place which demonstrated the identification of the issue, and the suggestions for improvements.

Make Sure your Contracts Include a Clause about Probationary Periods

Believe it or not, there are many standardised employment contracts that I have seen which don’t include a clause for extending a probationary period. This very small oversight, if made with the wrong individual, can be very costly to a company.  Get your contracts in order and make sure there is a clause that relates specifically extending a probationary period. Ensure you clearly outline the reasons, such as underperformance, attendance, and timekeeping; which could lead to an extension of up to either 3 or 6 months.

Document All Conversations that Relate to Performance

Keeping a paper trail and a record of conversations, reviews and plans is a great way to make sure that the individual has a clear understanding of what is expected of them.  Another reason that employees can feel demotivated and withdraw from their roles following an extension of a probationary period is that they feel that they weren’t clear about the Company expectations.  That feeling of ‘I am just not good enough’ or worse still ‘my manager wants to get rid of me’ can really be a gut-wrenching experience and one which needs to be avoided entirely, at all costs.

Let ’s face it, recruiting, and training is a costly business.  So, you want to get the best out of the individual.  You need to make sure they know the importance of these conversations, also the impact and potential consequences that the continued underperformance can have.  Formalising these meetings with paperwork which both parties sign, is a sure-fire way to give that added element of importance to the conversation.  I know many HR professionals who will always get these documents signed by both the manager and the employee who is on probation. What this does firstly, is makes sure that the meetings are taking place, and the conversations which relate to feedback are occurring, but secondly, that the staff member is fully informed and knows exactly what they need to do in order to succeed and thrive in their roles.

By no means is this list exhaustive; I would love to know of any other tips you might have for someone who is looking to extend a probationary period and wants to keep the individual motivated in order to get the best of out their employee.

Please share any thoughts, feedback or tips in the comments. 

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