Most companies have a probationary period of one sort or another whereas the new employee entering the organization must be on his or her best behavior. Often times this period lasts 60 or 90 days from the date of hire. It, in effect, allows the company to see attributes or qualities demonstrated in real that were discussed during the hiring process. I'm fine with this kind of a policy. Anyone can say anything they want to get through an interview. Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding, and this is the employee's time to shine.
The difficulty occurs when certain companies take this policy to the extreme. Everyone knows its crunch time. Everyone knows you can't miss a beat. But how much does a company's management have to hang this period over the new hire's head? How much fear does a company need to impart on the new hire? What considerations should be made when the probationary period has ended to truly determine whether or not the employee is a suitable candidate for permanent employment?
Ultimately, I think the entire period should be based on character and merit, and on the new hire's demonstrated ability to perform the job that he's been hired for. That's what the policy's function should be. I think that's really the intention of most probationary policies.
Yes, the new employee should be timely in his work, be on time, and be professional in every way. Yes, the new employee is on probation and should be keenly aware that he's not yet a permanent fixture on the company's payroll. But companies should be equally aware of the nature of life and its certain unpredictability. It's not necessarily what happens, but what you do when it happens.
What if a close family member dies? What if the new hire has an auto accident? Should the employee be forced to decide whether his job is more important than a family member's memorial? Should a company decide that an accident is grounds for dismissal because the employee ultimately couldn't show up to work because he or she is lying in a hospital recovering? What if the new hire's car breaks down unexpectedly (of course, when do we expect it, right?), but he or she follows a professional path to inform the right people of the situation and makes every effort to still report to work—albeit late?
What I believe should be most important in all probationary policy, and frankly any policy in the workplace, is flexibility. The reality is that most managers tell an interviewee during the interview process that, "We are looking for someone able to be flexible, to be able to adapt to varying situations, and to be able to offer creative solutions to problems and situations that may arise throughout the workday."
I highlight words like flexible and adapt and creative because all of them lack one thing in common. Rigidity. A policy, like an expectation held to the employee it ultimately affects, should not be so rigid that it cannot address real situations that people may encounter in everyday life—even when that person is on their 90 days! Things happen. Situations arise. We deal with them. We adapt to them. We have to. That's the nature of life.
To anyone hiring someone today or currently administering a probationary policy, keep this message in mind. People seek jobs to work. They seek jobs to provide a living for themselves and maintain a good qualify of life for their families. Fear is never a good way to motivate a new hire to do good for the company. And when you are a company who strictly enforces a policy like a probationary one, heedless of uncontrollable circumstances that a new hire may sometimes have to deal with, even when he or she deals with them in a courteous, honest, and professional manner, you can't also honestly believe our employees are our most important asset is a statement that holds any water. Most important, don't forget you were once a new employee as well.
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