What to do if things go wrong during the probationary period

May 28, 2018 | Good Management

Ideally, the probationary period for a new member of staff will go smoothly, their performance will get to the desired level in an acceptable length of time, they will become embedded in the organisation and you’ll be able to sign off their employment as being permanent with no problems.

But of course it doesn’t always go smoothly, so here are our top ten tips about what to do when things go wrong.

  1. Remember why you hired them in the first place. Presumably they were the best person for the job in terms of skills, experience, performance at interview.
  2. Remember that the aim of probation should be to get them performing well, not to sit back and watch to see whether they fail.
  3. Remember how expensive, time-consuming and difficult re-recruiting would probably be. Better to get this appointment to be successful than have to try again.
  4. Make sure your expectations are realistic. They are not going to perform at the high standard you want straightaway, but as long as there is improvement and they are on the right trajectory, there’s not necessarily any need to be overly concerned.
  5. Raise any concerns promptly. This will give them the best opportunity to improve – if they don’t know what they are doing wrong, the chances of them putting it right are significantly reduced.
  6. Be clear about expectations. If they don’t know exactly what is expected of them, or how things work in practice in your business, they are more likely to fail. Do they know what acceptable performance- looks like’?
  7. Meet with them regularly. It may be time consuming but they are far more likely to improve in terms of performance if this happens.
  8. Provide training and support. If they’re not doing as well as you want, check whether they have had the training they might need, and ask whether there is any additional support which would be helpful.
  9. Don’t let it drift – frequently managers suddenly find that the set probationary period has either passed completely or is almost up before they get around to doing anything about the issue. Depending on how your contract is worded, you may find that probation has effectively been- passed’ just because the time period has gone.
  10. Extend it if necessary. If you’re not sure enough by the end of the set period, extend for a defined period of time, giving additional support and training if necessary, then make a final decision at the end of the extension.

Ultimately, if things don’t work out and someone isn’t performing well enough, you can dismiss someone either during or at the end of their probationary period (or after probation as long as they haven’t reached two years’ service). But it’s generally far better to strive to improve performance if this is possible, and following the above tips will increase the chances of turning things around where they are looking shaky.


If you’d like more advice about probationary periods in your business, do get in touch.