Probation periods: is ‘hire and fire’ really the best policy

Home ADVICE & GUIDANCE Probation periods: is ‘hire and fire’ really the best policy

This sounds preposterous doesn’t it? Something reserved for the CEO’s of blue chip companies perhaps, but (and you might want to sit down before I tell you this) you are probably already doing this.

Somewhere along the way many companies have lost the art of interviewing and have instead replaced the interview process with the probationary period.

There could be many reasons for this. The HR department is always the first to face cuts in a recession.  Also,  recruitment agencies are widely relied upon to attract candidates, but do we rely upon them too much to fit a square peg into a square hole – perhaps forgetting that we are responsible for ensuring that the candidate is actually suitable. I think both of these are responsible in part, but overall I feel the main reason is that we have become too reliant on the probationary period and the ease in which we are able to dispose of employees without legal ramifications.

Employees with under two years service do not have the right to claim unfair dismissal at an Employment Tribunal. This has made employers lazy when it comes to the interview process, thinking that they don’t have to make up their minds there and then at the interview stage.

For many of my clients, the probationary period rarely comes to fruition. It is invariably the   case that they will have an employee who is a few months into their employment and they realise that they don’t have the skills for the job. As long as there are no discriminatory factors (this is key as employees do not need any length of service to claim discrimination) then dismissal will be fairly quick and legally risk free; but what is this actually costing your company?

The problem is that these costs are hard to identify and spread thinly enough for you to miss them at first sight. Training is the main cost. Were they placed on your training program? Attended mandatory courses? Sat next to Simon from accounts for a week and had a half day induction with their manager? But there are other smaller costs too. Who set them up on the payroll system? Activated their pass? Drafted their contract? Sent out the offer letter? Gave them the health & safety tour? Walked them through the factory to introduce them? How much time was spent discovering that they couldn’t actually do the job? How was this discovered? Through errors? What was the knock on effect of those errors on their colleagues, manager and your customers? How much work would then go into preparing for the probationary meeting, typing up minutes and a dismissal letter? The hours spent on this individual are difficult to calculate, but start totting it up and add to it the salary for the now dismissed employee and you can begin to see a substantial amount of your profits disappearing.

Suddenly a longer interview process, including some in-tray exercises and even an assessment centre or character profiling, don’t seem quite so tiresome or expensive after all.

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Elena Boura