Making the Most of a 90 Day Probationary Period

Hiring a new employee should be a well-thought-out process beginning with careful definitions of the job description, duties, responsibilities, and qualifications for doing the job. Unfortunately, the reality is that many companies rush to fill a hole as quickly as possible, and they settle for a candidate who may have the right qualifications on paper but doesn’t quite fit the company’s culture.

A 90-day probationary period is how employers assess an employees performance in the position they have been hired for and their cohesion with the company team.  I will discuss how to use the probationary period to its full advantage to recruit and develop the best members of your workforce. 

Probationary Periods

A 90-day probation period for new hires is a defined amount of time during which a new employee receives specific training, management, guidance, and education to learn a new job.

The purpose of the 90 days is to give grace to the new hire, knowing they will make mistakes, and pardon them from the customary employment rules and policies as they learn the ropes.

The probation period is dedicated to assessing the employee’s skills and commitment to see if they are capable of performing the job adequately, while the supervisor or manager offers coaching and productive feedback to help them develop the areas where they are deficient.   Some employers choose to pay the employee less during the 90 days with a pay increase upon completion.  

Generally, new employees are not eligible for benefits during the first 90 days of employment – protecting your business from unnecessary paperwork and expenses if the employee doesn’t work out. Although some states require paid sick leave to begin accruing at the time of hire, so make sure to check your local legislation to ensure you are in compliance.  

It is essential for the employee to know and fully understand the policies and expectations regarding the 90-day probationary period.  Specify a qualified manager to advise the employee on the policies and procedures and allow them to ask questions to make sure the employee understands them.  

Training and development

A direct manager or supervisor should give the employee adequate training on the job description, equipment operation, and any other areas necessary for their position. Afterward, they should frequently check-in with the employee to review their work and provide and coaching and feedback. 

Make sure to include the employee in meetings or group projects and observe how they interact with their co-workers to ensure they are being treated fairly and respectfully. If you see concerns with behavior or performance, don’t avoid talking to the employee about it. The probationary period is the prime time to coach and mentor a new employee because they will be more inclined to accept feedback and make corrections because they want to prove themselves.   Keep track of their interactions, the date, and specifics to reference during feedback and coaching sessions.   

All training, coaching efforts, feedback, observations, and employee performance comments,   during the 90-day probationary period should be thoroughly documented and placed in the employee’s personnel file. Make sure to avoid documenting opinions, assumptions, or judgments that could be misinterpreted as discrimination. 

90-day review

At the end of the 90-day probation period have a meeting with the employee to discuss their performance and teamwork.  Make sure to share with them the positive attributes you saw and how you see them benefiting the company.  Discuss any performance or behavioral concerns and coach them to find solutions and co-create a plan of action to address them.  Show them that you are there to support them while they work on the problem areas and empower them with daily and weekly check-ins to help them to succeed.  

Ask the new hire to offer feedback on what they learned and witnessed working for the company for the last 90 days. A company can become complacent to its own dysfunction and problems, and new hires can be a gateway into powerful insight to your business.  A newly hired employee will have a fresh perspective and can bring new thoughts and innovation even though they just walked in the door.  Let the new employee know that their questions, thoughts, and ideas are welcomed.

At-Will employment

Employees often have the misconception that once they complete a 90-day probationary period that their risk of termination disappears. It’s important that all of your on-boarding documents, employee handbook and evaluation reports clearly define the probationary period, specifically as it relates to the employer’s right to fire any employee during that time for any reason. Make sure you never say, write, or imply that after a specific time period, their employment is permanent. This misconception can lead to a threat of wrongful termination and potential lawsuits if the employee is fired after those 90 days.   

In conclusion, probationary periods can be an excellent tool for tracking performance and preventing large payouts of employee benefits if employment does not work out. However, using the 90 days to your advantage to gain insight into your business and employees will not only help you develop the new hire into top talent but can also give you valuable information about your company.