How Do You Manage Employee Probation Periods? Part One

By setting a probationary period, as an employer, you can let newly recruited employees know that their performance will be under continuous review during the first weeks and months of employment. It also lets them know that their continued employment is subject to them completing the probationary period. This can help you to manage the employee’s expectations and their relationship with you, as their employer.

Length of Probationary Period

The length of a probationary period will depend on the position and your requirements. A role requiring a high degree of skill and responsibility is likely to need a longer probationary period than one with limited skills or responsibility. Probationary periods are typically between three and six months.

You should set out in writing to your employee that the position is subject to satisfactory completion of a probationary period. You should also specify the length of the probationary period, how progress will be monitored and reviewed and that the probationary period may be extended.

It is important for you to set out employees’ roles and responsibilities at the outset and to go through a comprehensive induction process.

It is advisable for you to hold frequent review meetings or one-to-ones with your new employees to provide progress updates, encouragement and support and to identify training needs. If performance issues are identified during the probationary period, you should consider whether or not extra training or coaching would be appropriate, rather than leaving it to the end of the probationary period before addressing performance issues.

Statutory Employment Rights

Probationary periods have no legal status and an employee who is on probation has the same statutory employment rights as other employees. It is the length of continuous service that defines an employee’s statutory employment rights, including his or her rights in the event of dismissal.

Probationers are entitled to:

  • the national minimum wage
  • statutory sick pay
  • rights under the Working Time Regulations
  • annual leave entitlement
  • family-related rights in the same way as other staff.

Dealing with Disciplinary Issues

Employers often don’t apply their formal disciplinary procedure to employees on probation. To avoid ambiguity, where you do not want to follow your full procedure, you should make clear, in writing, in the contract and/or disciplinary procedure, that there is no contractual obligation for you to do so.

As probationers do not normally have sufficient service to claim unfair dismissal, they cannot challenge the procedural fairness of a dismissal in the employment tribunal.

However, a probationer could claim that a dismissal was for an automatically unfair reason or for reasons that amount to unlawful discrimination. Therefore, where an employee on probation is suspected of misconduct, you should investigate further before taking action. If you prejudge the situation and dismiss the employee without going through your disciplinary process and giving the employee the opportunity to explain his or her version of events, this could increase the risk of a claim of unlawful discrimination or automatically unfair dismissal. You will be in a better position to argue that the reason for dismissal was the employee’s misconduct if you investigated the matter and can show reasons behind its decision to dismiss.

Extending the Probationary Period

Where an employee has not reached the required standard of performance by the end of the probationary period but you recognise that there is potential for improvement, you might choose to extend the probationary period. The right for an employer to extend the probationary period should be set out in the contract or offer letter, which should also make clear the terms and conditions that will apply during the extension period.

The extension should be for a reasonable period, taking into account how long it might take him or her to complete an improvement plan. You should discuss your employee’s performance and why you are extending the probationary period with him or her and allow the employee to put forward any explanation for the performance issues.

The extension should be agreed and arranged before the original probationary period ends.

Sickness Absence

Sickness absence during a probationary period will need to be monitored and managed in the usual way. Where the absence is frequent and/or long term, this may make it difficult for you to assess the employee’s performance during the course of the probationary period because of their reduced attendance.

You will need to consider whether to: terminate the contract due to the employee’s failure to complete the probationary period satisfactorily; extend the probationary period to give the employee more time to demonstrate his or her suitability for the job; or confirm the employee in post regardless of the absence.

You should investigate the sickness absence to find out if it is due to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. If it is, but you dismiss the employee for failing to complete the probationary period satisfactorily, they may have grounds to bring a disability discrimination claim. You would need to be able to justify your actions.

In part two of this series of blogs, we’ll look at what to do if all goes well through the probation period and you decide to keep your new employee on. If you need any advice now about how to handle probation periods, get in touch by emailing sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk or calling me on 0118 940 3032.

Performance Management – How to Get the Best from Your Team

In May I delivered a free webinar that covered a number of aspects of performance management and how to get the best from your team.

We talked about the success factors of performance management and what effective performance management requires. We discussed the differences between formal and informal performance management and the day-to-day issues that need to be covered. We also looked at Personal Development Plans and how you can use them to get the best from your employees.

If you missed the webinar and you would like to listen to it, you can hear it here. You need to register by putting your contact details into the form on the page and then you’ll be able to download the webinar and listen to it as many times as you like.

If you have any questions about how to improve the performance of your team, do get in touch. You can call me on 0118 940 3032 or email me at sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

How to Deal with an Employee’s Difficult Attitude

Sometimes, as a Manager, you might have to deliver some bad news to one of your employees. You may have to tell someone that their job is redundant, or discuss some poor performance or unacceptable behaviour. The topic under discussion may be a sensitive issue. Some employees could react negatively, by becoming upset, angry or verbally abusive. There are several things that you can do, as their manager, to ensure that the meeting remains productive.

Remain calm. It is your responsibility to achieve a successful outcome to the meeting and this can be done only if you remain calm and refrain from bringing your own feelings into play.

Let the employee ‘vent’. It is important that the employee calms down. However, allowing the employee some time to vent his or her anger or frustration, gives them space and a feeling of being listened to. They may also reveal information that may help in finding a resolution to the problem.

Remember the reason for the meeting. It is easy for the employee to veer into other topics if he or she feels uncomfortable, or is looking for excuses for his or her behaviour. To get back on track, you should remind them of the reason for the meeting and the ideal outcome.

Remember that the issue needs to be dealt with. When faced with a difficult attitude, you might be tempted to postpone the meeting in the hope that the employee will calm down. However, this can make both parties lose sight of the issue. Don’t postpone the meeting simply because the employee is not being receptive.

Inform the employee that his or her attitude does not assist the organisation as a whole. If the issue being discussed is the employee’s misconduct, you could explain to the employee that his or her difficult attitude in the meeting mirrors his or her behaviour in the workplace. This may help the employee to reflect on his or her behaviour and calm down.

Following the Meeting

After the conversation, you should keep the momentum going. Achieving a successful outcome is an ongoing, building process. Failing to keep on top of the issue may undo all the good work and may leave you having to deal with the issue from the beginning. To ensure momentum is not lost, there are several things that you can do:

  • Make sure that the employee feels supported. If the employee knows that a manager is there to support and help him or her, this will be invaluable in achieving a successful outcome to the conversation.
  • Have regular informal chats with the individual and less regular formal discussions, including a further meeting to review the outcomes or first step.
  • Ensure that what was said and agreed in the meeting is well documented. Both parties should agree that the contents of the document reflect what was agreed and thereafter refer to it if there is confusion or disagreement.
  • Monitor how the agreed actions are being implemented by the employee.
  • Comply with your obligations as to follow-up, for example providing agreed training.

Dealing with a difficult attitude or an angry or upset employee is not something that you have to handle every day, as a manager. However, if you’re prepared, if and when the situation does arrive, you’ll be in a better position to handle it. If you have a difficult conversation to have with a client and you’d like some help getting the best outcome for everyone, call me on 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk and I can give you some advice and pointers.

The 12 Days of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, a Contract in a pear tree. Make sure that you have up to date contracts for all your employees.

 

 

 

 

 

On the second day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, two boxing gloves. Don’t go picking a fight with your employees just because they don’t do what you want them to do. Learn to manage them properly!

 

 

 

 

On the third day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, three French Hens. If you have employees from Europe, keep an eye on our blog for news of how Brexit could affect your employees and your business.

 

 

 

 

On the fourth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, four dreaded words. “You have been fired!” Before you rush to sack anyone, check to make sure you have a good reason and make sure you do it properly.

 

 

 

 

 

On the fifth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, five golden things. Here are the five stages of HR that your business will go through.

 

 

 

 

 

On the sixth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, six staff-a-laying. Keep your employees delivering all those golden eggs, to the best of their ability, by looking for ways to develop them and their performance.

 

 

 

 

On the seventh day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, seven swans-a-swimming. If, like a swan, you’re all grace and elegance above water, while below you’re frantically paddling to keep afloat of all things HR, just get in touch to see how we can help.

 

 

 

 

On the eighth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, eight maids-a-milking. Except that these days, you have to let the men do the milking too, if they want to! You’re not allowed to discriminate. Acas can help you create a fair workplace.

 

 

 

 

On the ninth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, nine ladies dancing. And the men can dance too!

 

 

 

 

 

On the tenth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, ten lords (and ladies) leaping at the Christmas party. Make sure you lay down a few rules for proper behaviour, so that things don’t get out of hand.

 

 

 

 

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, eleven pipers piping. Make a big noise when your staff do a great job. Look for the best way to reward them.

 

 

 

 

 

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my HR Consultant gave to me, twelve drummers drumming. I keep drumming good HR practices into my clients’ businesses, to help them grow successful companies that are great places to work.

 

 

 

Merry Christmas …

And have a stress free New Year with lots of happy, productive employees!

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3 Steps to Get You Through Those Dreaded Appraisals!

With the end of the year approaching fast, now is a really good time for you to be thinking about annual appraisals. It is ideal if you can complete them all by the end of the year, as they give you a good opportunity to review the performance of your staff this year; and to plan what you want them to achieve next year.

Many managers approach appraisals with fear and trepidation. However, if you put some time into preparing for them, they can be a very useful tool for developing your people and improving performance across your business. Read on to find out how to this simply and efficiently!

It seems that many managers, whether relatively new to the job, or with many years of experience, would rather not spend more time than is absolutely necessary on annual appraisals. They have bad press as being a waste of everyone’s time. This is quite possible, if you approach them at the last minute, with no preparation. Here are three steps that will help you and your employees to find them much easier to get through and actually get the best from your time.

  1. Preparation

This is one of the most important stages of the appraisal process and is often missed or skipped over too quickly. You need to have facts about each employee’s performance and evidence of instances in which they have performed well or badly. This will make the appraisal constructive and meaningful.

Throughout the year, track each employee’s performance and keep a log of memorable incidents or projects they’re involved in. Look back at previous appraisal information and job descriptions to make sure they are meeting their agreed objectives.

Make sure that your employees are prepared too. Agree the date, time and place for the meeting at least two weeks in advance; brief them on the importance and scope of the meeting and what you expect from them. Ask them to spend some time thinking about what they’d like to discuss at the meeting too. Click here for an example of a form that you can ask each employee to complete before the appraisal.. If an employee also works for someone else in the business, ask them to be involved too.

  1. The Meeting

Once the preparation is done, here’s how to carry out the meeting:

  • Ask open and probing questions, giving your employees the opportunity to decide how to answer; encourage them to talk freely
  • Listen to what they say without interrupting. Also watch their body language for messages
  • Evaluate performance, not personality. Focus on how well the employee does their job rather than personal characteristics
  • Give feedback based on facts not subjective opinion. Use feedback to positively reinforce the good. In the case of underperformance, use it to help the employee understand the impact of their actions or behaviour and the corrective action required
  • Set SMART objectives for the future and set a timeline for improvement if an employee is underperforming. Look also for development opportunities to help your employees reach their potential.

Document each appraisal. Write a summary of the discussion, what was agreed and any action to be taken while it’s fresh in your mind.

  1. Follow Up

Don’t just walk away at the end of the meeting, breathing a sigh of relief and forgetting about it all until next year!

Do what you say you will do. Fulfilling your promises reflects well on you and your business. If you’ve set deadlines for performance reviews, follow up on them. Check on progress that you discussed in the meeting.

Not following up with appraisals means that the whole process will be a waste of time and something that neither you nor your employees look forward to or find useful. Spend some time planning and preparing and you’ll find them really useful and productive.

If you need help with appraisals, why not use our Appraisal Service? We will help you to hold meetings that actually work for you, your staff and your business. Click here to find out more.

Is it Cheaper to Look After Your Staff or Cheaper to Replace Them When They Leave?

How can the loss of key staff members be prevented when so many employers are not interested in managing retention?

Many employers don’t attempt to manage retention of their staff. Those that do so seldom evaluate the impact of their measures, and often base them on unreliable assumptions about the reasons why employees resign.

Several research studies have shown that retention is linked to employee engagement, which in turn is linked to profitability, customer service and other important business metrics. So is it better to focus on improving engagement, rather than retention. Or should you not worry and just bear the cost of replacing people when they leave?

Despite all the evidence that staff attrition costs money, many businesses take no active steps to control their staff turnover. Research has shown that action is most likely to be taken after the event: when turnover has already become a problem and damage is being done to organisational efficiency.

Studies also consistently show that employers tend to mishandle their efforts to manage retention, focusing on issues that they believe are linked to resignations rather than those that actually motivate staff to leave. Pay in particular is often used to encourage employees to stay, yet it is much less of a deciding factor in employees’ own decision-making than being offered career opportunities, being kept informed and consulted and having faith in the business’s leadership.

What is ‘employee engagement’?

It embraces the older concepts of job satisfaction, motivation and attachment that described individual employees’ attitudes to their employer, but goes beyond them to provide a complete model of the psychological relationship between individuals and organisations. It is a two-way process in which employers and employees interact and respond to each other, unlike the more static concept of job satisfaction.

Employee engagement involves two issues:

  • personal satisfaction in the individual’s job or role (“I like my work and do it well”); and
  • the individual’s contribution to their employer’s success (“I help achieve the goals of my organisation”).

Staff retention can be used as a measure of employee engagement, with many companies now believing that employee engagement is one of the keys to managing performance and retaining talent. Initiatives to improve employee engagement are much more likely to gain the interest and active support of senior management than those focused narrowly on increasing staff retention. Employee engagement has much broader business benefits, including:

  • increased profitability
  • faster revenue growth
  • improved organisational efficiency
  • better attendance levels
  • heightened customer focus.

Look after your staff and they are more likely to look after you and the future of your business. If you need some advice or ideas on employee engagement, email us at sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk or call 0118 940 3032.

Are Your Employees Doing Their Best for Your Business?

Your people are the key to the success of your business. By investing in them you are investing in your success. But how do you make sure they are working as hard as they can, to bring about that success? 

Here are our top 10 tips to help you get the most from your people: 

  1. Provide a vibrant and stimulating working environment and a culture that values the contribution made by each person
  2. Embrace the diverse range of skills, expertise, experience, attitudes and backgrounds of all your staff
  3. Encourage your staff to reach their full potential. Provide them with opportunities to develop their expertise, both in terms of technical and soft skills
  4. Provide formal and informal performance reviews on a regular basis
  5. Set clear objectives and achievable targets with your staff and allow them to air their concerns within an environment of trust and honesty
  6. Deal with issues as soon as they arise. Don’t wait for them to become a significant problem
  7. Equip your managers with the skills they need to deal with difficult situations confidently and effectively
  8. Reinforce and reward good performance. Provide incentives and rewards that motivate each individual member of staff
  9. Offer a clear career path to incentivise employees to be the best they can be
  10. Conduct regular employee questionnaires to highlight areas for concern and ensure staff feel that you value their opinions.

Managing staff is often the hardest part of any manager’s job. Follow these simple tips and you’ll find it easier to encourage your staff to put their best efforts into working with you. If you need any help with improving the performance of your people, get in touch by calling 0118 940 3032 or emailing sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk.

How Do You Deal with Poor Staff Performance?

What do you do when you first think that one of your members of staff isn’t doing as well as you would like them to?

Whatever you do, don’t ignore it and just hope that the situation will improve!

For some tips on how to deal with the early stages of poor performance, watch this short video.

If you still have any questions about how to help your staff to perform better, or you have a more difficult situation to deal with, call us 0118 940 3032 or email sueferguson@optionshr.co.uk for some confidential advice.

Poor Performance – Can You Prove It?

Sometimes as a manager you need to deliver bad news or negative feedback to a member of your staff. You might need to pick them up on an issue of performance that you’re not happy with, or where they are not meeting your standards.

This is not a comfortable thing to do. You need to be quite assertive about it, to be taken seriously, so that your member of staff doesn’t just argue with you! To help you discuss the issue in the right way, you need evidence of the poor performance. You have to be able to show your team member what they’ve been doing wrong or below standard. Just telling them that they’re not doing what you want them to do, won’t have any impact, if you can’t prove it.

You need to collect the evidence, so your team member can really understand what they’ve done wrong and how you want them to change. It’s not about collecting evidence just to use against someone – you really need it in order to get the message across and to make a difference.

Is one of your team repeatedly late coming into work? If so, you need a recording system that shows them when they came it late and how often it happens. If your staff clock in and out every day, you have your system. If not, you need to look for another way of recording the time.

Does a member of your staff keep making errors in their work? How many times have they made a mistake and what was the result of it? Again, you need to create a way of recording the error rate and the consequences.

Do some of your clients repeatedly complain about one of your employees? If so, you need to keep all the emails or letters of complaint that you receive. When a customer complains over the phone, ask them if they would mind emailing you the details for your records, so that you improve the situation for them.

When you can show proof of poor performance, it is much easier to discuss the issue with the particular member of staff and, between you, work out what needs to be done in order to improve their performance.

We discussed the importance of collecting evidence at one of my interactive workshops. Click here to watch the short video and find out more.

Your Clients vs Your Employees – Whose Side Do You Take?

When your important client refuses to have one of your employees back at its office, as the employer, you naturally have to take steps to protect the commercial interests of your company and maintain a good business relationship with your client. At the same time, you have to balance the employment rights of your employee.

What are the legal issues?

If your first response is to dismiss your employee, without taking any steps to find a solution or take account of any injustice to the employee, there will be a substantial risk of a successful unfair dismissal claim. However, the tribunals recognise the difficulties for employers where there is third-party pressure to dismiss, coming from an important client. You must act reasonably before reaching a decision to dismiss.

What’s the nature of the problem?

The first step is for you to find out the reason why the client has objected to your employee, to see if the problem can be resolved. In some instances the reason may be perfectly clear. For example, there may have been an incident of misconduct at the client’s office, or an argument between the employee and senior personnel at the client’s workplace. In other instances it may be less clear: the client might disapprove of a particular working practice, which the employee could be asked to modify or correct to the client’s satisfaction.

Even where the situation is serious, a tribunal is likely to want to know that, as the employer, you have taken steps to resolve the issue. You will therefore need to have a written record of your discussions with your client. If possible, you should also have in writing from the client, their objections to your employee. Even though you may not be in a position to establish the truth of the client’s allegations, and you may not agree with the client’s actions, the commercial pressure may still provide sufficient grounds for a fair dismissal on grounds of some other substantial reason.

What about injustice to your employee?

If your client is adamant that they will have nothing further to do with your employee, you must consider what injustice might be caused to the employee when deciding whether or not to dismiss. Factors to take into consideration would include length of service and how satisfactory that service has been to date.

Alternatives to dismissal should be explored as this will help to address any injustice to the employee. If there has been a conduct issue at the client’s workplace, you will need to follow its disciplinary procedure. Clearly, where gross misconduct is proved within those disciplinary proceedings, you will have conduct as the reason for dismissal and need not rely on some other substantial reason.

Check your employee’s contract

You have more chance of a fair dismissal due to client pressure if the employee has been warned that the client may intervene to have him or her removed. It is not unusual for commercial contracts to include a clause that says that a client may ask a supplier to remove any employee whom the client considers unsuitable. On induction, employees should be informed of the importance of maintaining good working relations with the client and of the client’s right to insist on removal of employees, if it says so in their contract.

So whose side do you take? It will depend on each individual situation, which you must handle carefully, considering all the specific details, before you reach any decision. Listen to both sides of the case and seek to find a solution that suits all the parties – you as the employer, your employee and your client.