OUTLOOK — By Salim Al Riyami — Recently, I met a couple of friends who were HR professionals like me. After greetings, suddenly one of them popped a question on the probationary period at work, and whether it is really necessary? We started debating on its meaning, use and what it is for the employer and the employee? Based on this debate and discussion, I would like to share with the readers some views on this issue. While reading the above title you may think that the probationary period is “an engagement period between couples before marriage”.
After landing a job the employer’s offer letter reads: “Congratulations you have a new job!” But after carefully reading the employment contract you see that there is a probationary period. What does this mean to you and what should you do about it? Probationary period is designed to allow both you and your new employer to decide if the job is suitable for you. While on probation you are a normal employee, you are paid for your work and you have rights just like other employees. The difference is that you are usually being evaluated, and either you or your employer can terminate the employment agreement with very short notice. The probation period can be viewed, if used correctly, as one long audition for a job. The probation period reveals an individual’s true skills and attitude and surpasses by far any interviewing technique, new or old. There is no substitute for viewing an individual on the job in real work situations.
What the law says: Article (24) Oman Labour Law: “A worker shall not be placed on probation for a period exceeding three months if he receives his wage on a monthly basis nor shall such period exceed one month if he receives his wage otherwise. A worker shall not be placed on probation more than once with the same employer and the probation period shall be included in the period of service if the worker has successfully completed it. In all cases the probationary period, if any, shall be specified in the contract of service. Any one of the parties may, after a notice of not less than seven days to the other party, terminate the contract during the probationary period, if it becomes clear that continuation in employment is not suitable”.
Legally, the impact of the probation period amounts to one thing only — a reduced standard of just cause for summary dismissal. It allows the employer to temporarily take advantage of a much more forgiving just cause threshold when deciding to summarily dismiss an employee. However, employers should be mindful that the legal onus is still on it to justify the summary dismissal of a probationary employee (just as it is in the case of a regular employee).
What the employer should do: As indicated above, probationary period is meant for the employer to assess carefully his new recruit, how he/she fits in the organisation and how things may be improved in later stages. Unfortunately, many employers do not pay much attention to this period, thinking that it is just a legal term, and a routine that must be presented in the employment contract. Other employers use it as a weapon in their arsenal to ‘fire’ the new recruit if he makes a simple mistake, instead of supporting him and finding the remedy! So why have they recruited him/her in the first place? Actually, the employer should be responsible for:
• Providing the employee with a clear job description.
• Providing an overview of the general business practices and procedures.
• Set up weekly or monthly 1-2-1 meetings where you can run through the progress reports and offer feedback on the various aspects of the employee’s role.
• Evaluate and assess the employee at the end of the probationary period.
• Finally, inform the employee that he/she has been successful in the probationary period, or was not found suitable and fit for the job, otherwise.
It is the first three bulleted points that are crucial in the success of the probationary period.
Probationary period is a ‘two-way street, one is by employer and the other is by the employee, whereby they should intersect in a common point — ‘fitness in the workplace’. Thus, the new employee has to:
• Turn up at work on time.
• Adopt a good attitude, apart from serving the company better?
• Become an expert at the job by learning everything one can.
• Work hard, lazy employees do not last long!
Employers should not fall in this trap: The new employee frequently receives attention in the first week or two and is then more-or-less ignored — why? This may be due to the pressure on a manager’s time or they may be taking the probationary period for granted. As a result, by the time the new joiners are formally reviewed towards the end of the probationary period, they could have established working patterns which may not be acceptable, or their morale may be low and retaining them will prove a real challenge. Therefore, to avoid this it is useful as an employer to document the progress in your own records and in writing to the new employee. This avoids ambiguity, provides motivation if the employee is doing well and clarity on what is required.
All this seems so simple, right?! Believe it or not, very few people follow these simple rules! Good luck to the employers with your new recruits! As for employees good luck with your new job — have a nice, long-term relationship.