Workplace Probation - Is It Really Necessary?
Probation is a word generally used to describe a criminal offender, yet we also use it to describe an employee.
Yes, we’re using the same term to assume that our very own team has to earn our trust before they can become a fully committed member of the company.
How does that make you feel?
And most of all, how does this make them feel?
Do you think this engenders a feeling of trust from day one?
In a traditional workplace context, probation is the horrific word used to ensure that a business can let go of any undesirable candidate that doesn’t fit their expectations within a three to six month period. And it’s quite one-sided.
You provide rules and expectations, maybe even supervision, under the assumption that, until this person has ‘proven’ their worth, they are untrustworthy.
Does this not ring of an outdated workplace concept that we are all so desperately trying to move away from?
Over the past few months, I have seen many people celebrate the ending of their ‘probation’ across LinkedIn and Twitter, and I sit in shock and disbelief that we are still using this term in our modern world of work.
Such outdated language echoes the mindset of American Engineer Frederic Winslow Taylor, who in the 1900s wrote the first essay on people management, claiming that workers are “so stupid and phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make up the ox than any other type.” – Where did you think the word, as dumb as an ox came from? Unfortunately from Victorian management theory.
The term probation assumes two things.
One, that this person is to be untrusted before they have made the effort to prove themselves.
And second, that this ‘probationary’ period is only for the individual.
We should all be well aware by now that it’s not just companies who are trying to find the ‘right fit’ for the role, but now more than ever, it is also people who are making the choice about who they work for.
You may also be intrigued to know that probation has no legal standing. You are making the choice about whether to go down this path and make this part of your culture.
What Should We Do Instead? Improve Your Hiring Practices
When I put this statement out on LinkedIn about the use of the word probation, suffice to say it got a lot of attention. It seems we’re uncomfortable with the term.
But the truth is, it shouldn’t even need to be used, or part of our workplace culture vocabulary. The real struggle is with recruiting people in the first place. Because if you actually truly trusted and believed in those you were hiring, you wouldn’t need to use the word or have a ‘get out of jail free card’.
We should start by removing it from the culture dictionary altogether, and instead focus our energy on improving recruitment processes to ensure we’re bringing on team members who are fully aligned with the company’s mission without feeling there’s a need to take an easy way out when things don’t work out.
And If You Insist - Reframe It
Probation as a concept is not required, we do not have to sign up to use the archaic term, or follow the rules to an exact science. After all, it’s a best practice, not a must practice.
If we are to change and shape the way we build our cultures so that we can lay the foundation for trust from day one, we need to create an environment in which everyone feels safe to say if it’s not working for them.
There will be those who insist on having some kind of ‘probation’, but reframe it so that it encompasses the duality of the experience. For example, using terms such as discovery or fostering. Call it anything that evokes a sense of collaboration.
Luckily, I know I’m not the only one who feels uncomfortable with using outdated terms to discuss culture processes.
There are a number of forward-thinking companies who realise that this incubation time between person and company is precious, and is in fact about making sure that everyone in the relationship is happy.
The company needs to ensure that they are hiring people who are passionate about their mission and dedicated to fulfilling their role.
People need to ensure that they haven’t been blind-sided by a great job advertisement, and the culture is truly living up to the expectations that were laid out.
This time is important for both parties. Not just for one.