Who needs the probation period?
Words by Francis Kahihu
At the beginning of every employment contract, employers put their new employees on probation. The timeframe for the probation varies from one employer to another. There are employers who insist on periods not less than 3 months, while others would be comfortable with a week or two. This depends on the nature of the duties the candidate is taking up. Some employers, though, have a flat set period that every employee regardless of position will have to serve under probation.
Probation periods are designed to serve a variety of functions. The fact that you are still on probation means you are not yet fully absorbed into the staff roll, but you are under observation. This is an opportunity for the organisation to observe the new employee undertake duties as indicated on the job description. In this case, the probation period is used to assess the performance of the individual, especially with regard to settling in and having their hands down to work.
The probation period can be viewed, if used correctly, as one long audition for a job. In revealing an individual’s true skills and attitudes, it far surpasses any interviewing technique, new or old. There is no substitute for viewing an individual on the job in real work situations. Documentation should be kept, during the probation period, of the employee’s progress in relation to the agreed-upon criteria. The employer should be pro-active in counseling the employer on the shortcomings. Specific instructions should be provided on achieving the desired standards and the employer should provide its assistance. These are important elements in demonstrating the employee has been given a reasonable opportunity to meet the employer’s standards of conduct and performance.
In most cases, the recruitment process is deceived by various factors. With the challenge many people face in getting a job, there is bound to be the temptation to doctor someone’s resume to reflect a face of a person who is qualified in a particular area even when the only interaction with that field is quite remote. Cases abound of persons who manage to go through the entire recruitment process only to be found incapable of undertaking certain tasks the moment they get to the workplace. The probation period hence serves as an extension of the recruitment process. In fact, as much as you have been recruited and given an offer does not mean you are fully absorbed. The nature of the contract that you get will obviously indicate you are on probation for a particular number of months, after which you will be confirmed.
The probation period is not only helpful to the employer. The employees ought to also appreciate an opportunity when they are provided to assess their suitability for the particular job. An employee should realise that some jobs will be different from the indications they may have gotten at the interview table. Some of the items on the job descriptions are summaries of the real thing. When reality strikes, many employees are bound to feel cheated. The probation period is hence meant to help the employee assess whether or not the job is what they expected, and hence advise themselves on whether they like the working environment they operate in.
As much you may be an experienced player in the industry, the fact that you have joined a new employer means you are as new as any other person who may not have worked before. Take your time to learn the kind of workmates you will be working with and make positive impressions about people.
For many people, the probation period is a season of great uncertainty. The one big challenge with this period is the feeling that you are being spied on. The employer should let the employee know the reason why it is helpful to have a probation period. The aim of the period should be well understood by both parties. This makes the period productive as you both seek the support of each other during this time. As much as new employees should be keen how they behave during the probation period, it is helpful to note that you should also seek to be real. Be yourself so that so are not seen to behave artificially.
As you start on your new position, you will realise there are lots of new things that you are expected to do. Learn to be patient and seek for guidance. You would rather be accused of seeking for so much support than be suspended for messing up systems in your attempt to prove to all that you are an expert. What many employers seek for during the probation is the attitude and drive, and not necessarily your competence. It is common knowledge that you are new to the systems at the workplace and hence need time to learn them. However, seek to show desire and commitment to learn.