Managing the probationary period

Appropriate induction should always be given to new employees. This should include a clear indication of performance expectations, set through targeted objectives, and a timescale for probation reviews. This should be clearly communicated to the employee, ideally in writing, so the document can form the basis of review meetings.

A flowchart outlining the probation process is available on the right-hand side.

Reviewing probationary employees

This procedure has no direct connection with salary, promotion, job grading or discipline, for which separate procedures exist. The review(s) will inform decisions on whether to confirm the appointment, extend the probationary period or, exceptionally, not confirm the appointment.

The use of standard forms encourages consistency and completeness.

Prior to and during any review meeting, the following elements are key:

  • setting aside adequate time to prepare for the meeting
  • producing a record of each meeting, including:
    • a review of work performance against agreed objectives
    • objectives for the coming period
    • identification of any development/training needs

The progress of a probationary employee should be reviewed and discussed regularly (for example, at first these could occur weekly, and gradually phase into monthly informal discussions) in meetings between the employee and their manager. In addition a formal review should normally be carried out halfway through the probationary period, when the employee’s performance should be assessed against the objectives that have been set by the line manager, in discussion with the employee, early on in the employment (and a written record of this should be kept on the employee’s file). If the progress of the employee is exceeding expectations, it may be appropriate to review the objectives for the remainder of the probationary period (to ensure these are still appropriate for the level of the role), or the length of probation. Each case needs to be assessed on its merits, taking into account the nature of the role and the various duty requirements at different stages of the academic year.

There should always be a final formal review before the end of the probationary period.  The employee should be notified in writing that their appointment has been confirmed on satisfactory completion of the probationary period.

An ongoing personal development review process should be followed thereafter (continuing with regular meetings).

The flowchart on the right-hand side summarises the probationary procedure.

Concerns about work or conduct

If concerns about work or conduct arise at any stage in the probationary period they should be brought to the attention of the employee as soon as possible. Whenever possible, they should be resolved with the employee informally through discussions. If this does not resolve matters or is not appropriate (for example, in the event of serious shortcomings), the University procedures for dealing with work or conduct issues in respect of (i) all academic-related staff on probation, or (ii) all university support staff on probation (as appropriate) should be followed. Advice on dealing with probationary issues should always be sought from the relevant HR Business Partner at an early stage.

Guidance on informal discussion about concerns of work or conduct during probation

Often an improvement in conduct or performance can be achieved by simply clarifying what standard of conduct/performance is required, why it is important and by explaining the possible consequences of not meeting the standard, i.e. the need for more formal action. This process ensures that the employee clearly understands what is expected of them in order to achieve a satisfactory improvement and ultimately to pass the probation period successfully.

Prior to any discussion taking place, any relevant feedback and examples should be gathered.

The objectives of the discussion are to:

  • Explain the areas of concern.
  • Explore the employee's explanation and view(s) on the concern(s), to establish why there has been a shortfall in conduct or performance.
  • Establish whether further development or training is required.
  • Review current objectives, explain the standards expected in future and set new objectives, with a timescale for the next review.
  • Clarify that if there is not an improvement to a satisfactory standard (or if further issues arise) it may be necessary to consider matters more formally.

It is important that the manager makes and keeps a note of the meeting and writes to the employee afterwards to confirm the main points of discussion and the agreed actions and objectives.

Extension of probationary period

Extension of probationary period

The probationary period should be extended in cases where problems have been identified during the probation period, which the line manager anticipates can be resolved with additional time, support and/or training, allowing the employee to then reach a satisfactory level of performance. This extension might be put in place after the final review meeting or at an earlier stage, when it becomes apparent that an extension is needed. It is normal to meet with the employee to discuss the  problems that have been identified before deciding to extend the probation. An action plan should be agreed with the employee, and further advice should be sought from the appropariate HR Business Partner. The employee should be informed in writing of the extension of the probationary period, which should not come as a surprise, as concerns should have been raised before the process to  extend the probationary period takes place.

Extending the probationary period due to absence

Where the postholder has not been able to attend work for the full length of the stated probationary period (e.g. through sickness absence), or is absent at the anticipated final probationary review, the University may decide to extend the probationary period to allow for this. In such cases the probationer, may be unable to attend an interview, and will be informed of the extension of his or her probationary period in writing, normally before the date on which his or her probation would otherwise have been due to expire. The reason(s) for the extension should be clearly explained in a letter, including specific targets given to the employee to be achieved by the new probation end date.

End of probation

The process to follow for the final review should be based on the principles of the guidance found under ‘Reviewing probationary employees’ above.

If following the final review, performance of the probationary employee is deemed satisfactory, the employee can be confirmed in post. This should be officially communicated to the employee by issuing a confirmation in post letter (via CoreHR).

See also Concerns about work or conduct.