I share my top tips for writing a probation policy.  I’ll also share why probation policies are my most favourite of all the HR policies I use for my clients.


Lets start at the beginning….

So what is a probation policy?

A probation policy / procedure refers to the requirement of a new employee to complete a probationary period or “trial period” for want of a better phrase, during which time their performance and achievements are assessed against company standards for the role.  The policy is intended to allow both the employee and the employer to assess objectively whether or not the employee is suitable for the role.  Commonly a probationary period is 6 months.  If they meet the standards they are confirmed in post.  If they fail to meet the standards they are dismissed (with due process).

When used correctly….

When used correctly a good Probation Policy, ensures new employees are supported in the workplace, receive appropriate training and build a positive working relationship with their line manager opening clear channels of communication and openness.  They achieve and often surpass your targets and expectations, quickly becoming a part of the team as they learn from you and understand what is important in your business and why it matters.

When used incorrectly….

When not in place or when a Probation Policy is used incorrectly, the result is that the business has an under-performing employee who goes un-noticed or tagged with the “he is just new, he will get it” excuse pass.  Oftentimes their “under-performance” is not identified until a few months down the line and by that stage the “new guy” is a permanent employee (with all the rights and entitlements that affords) and the business owner needs to manage that accordingly.  Causing pressure on the manager’s time, resources and working relationship with the employee.  Not to mention the loss of productivity for the business and all that brings with it, but that is for another blog!

Why I love it so much….

So why do I love Probation Policies so much?  Think of it like a dating ritual in a relationship, it is the time when the two sides get to know each other and relax into their true selves as the “Perfect People” of the first few dates make way for the real person underneath.  We all know that the dating ritual helps us select or de-select the romantic partners we want in our lives… so the probationary period is in my eyes the same in the employment relationship.  Take off the rose-tinted glasses of interview day and look at your newest employee like you would look at someone you have been dating a few months.  That faux-pass made on the first date, which you thought was nerves and quite endearing … can become a deal-breaker when six months later you realise you just don’t like each other and that faux pass was just plain rude!  Or in the work environment you realise that they over-sold their abilities and now can’t deliver the work you hired them to do.  Worst case outcome of any recruitment exercise – the wrong person for the job!

My top tips:

Here are my main “Do’s and Dont’s” on how to manage probationary periods in your business


  • Make sure the probationary clause is expressly stated in your written Statement of Main Terms and Conditions of Employment (the “contract”)
  • Clearly identify the length of the probationary period e.g. six calendar months
  • Have a simple system for monitoring employees during their probationary period:
    • Clear training plan for the new employee
    • Follow up after training to check with the employee that they have all they need to do their job
    • Weekly/monthly meeting with their line manager
    • Achievement of targets / KPIs (if these are used in your business)
  • In your non-contractual Probation Policy (usually found in your handbook) clearly explain what happens if a probationary employee is failing to meet the required standards. This is normally one of the following:
    • Offer additional training and support
    • Extend the probationary period to allow them time to catch up
    • Decide to dismiss
  • Face the issue of an under-performing probationary employee head-on, early intervention and extension of probationary periods can work wonders in helping a new employee find their feet. Many also appreciate the “second chance” to prove themselves in their new role, creating loyalty in the long term.



  • Fail to train the new start
  • Forget to tell (and put in writing) the targets the new employee is expected to achieve and by when
  • Fail to meet regularly and talk about progress, or the lack of it
  • Fail to offer additional support if you realise a new employee is struggling
  • Fail to talk with their immediate supervisor to get another perspective on the new employee’s performance
  • Wait until the last week of probation to decide if the new employee is meeting your standards or not
  • Let the probationary period expire without addressing an under-performing probationary employee
  • Fail to take the decision to terminate an employee who has failed probation
  • Fail to follow correct procedures for a probation dismissal, in Northern Ireland that is currently is to follow the “three step procedure” of:
    1. Write
    2. Meet
    3. Appeal

What you should do next:

My actionables for you to take away this week:

  • Find out if you have a probationary period in your employee contracts (ideally 6 months)
  • Find out if you have a supporting probationary policy to explain the procedure that goes along with managing new employees and their probationary periods
  • Take some time out to look at what you do in your business, if you do have a policy, do you follow it? Or does it sit on your hard-drive gathering virtual dust? If you don’t have a policy, then think about putting one in place.
  • Think about recent recruits and how you managed their probationary period (early months in the business) and ask yourself could you and the business have done better by the employee to give them the best chance to succeed?
  • If yes give yourself a cuppa and a bun, even better make one for the employee you just thought of!!
  • But if no, then like I always say when you realise you could improve …..give yourself a pat on the back for recognising it, put your CEO mindset in gear and make a plan to address it.  Good luck – you got this!

If this is something you are dealing with right now, head on over the HR template shop (https://johannascullion.com/shop/), particularly the probation bundle https://johannascullion.com/product/probationbundle/) where we have lots of resources to help you.   If you don’t have contracts in place then check out the three packages I have created to make things easy for you to issue staff contracts and policies. https://johannascullion.com/contractsandhandbooks/

Don’t be afraid – with my help you can work your way through this.

Remember you don’t have to know everything in HR and managing staff, but you do have to be open to understanding more.

I would love to hear from you about what other fears you have about managing employees, or even the topics you don’t know enough about.  I’ll be glad to help out, after all it is my mission to make HR easy for small business owners everywhere.

Have a great week!

Until next time

Johanna xo

Serving small business owners who want HR made easy


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Disclaimer (otherwise known as things the solicitors make me say)
NB:  information correct at time of posting.  Content is not provided as legal advice and/or information.  The content is for your guidance in general situations only.  Professional and/or legal advice should be sought before use.


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