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A probation period, at a simple level is a period of time at the start of a permanent full-time or part-time employment relationship that gives the employer the opportunity to assess whether their new employee is capable, reliable and suitable for the job.

Simple in essence, but not so simple if not handled properly – with potentially both the employer and the employee left feeling frustrated if the key fundamentals and communication are missed.

In this guide, Joe Thompson, HR Consultant here at Insight HR, outlines his advice and key tips for ensuring that managing performance during probation periods is not only done in a compliant manner, but also done in a way that protects the organisation, gives support and structure to the manager, and most importantly, provides the employee with the right guidance and support to thrive in their role.

P.S. Join the Insight HR team and our special guest, Cian Moriarty, Partner, Employment & Immigration at Philip Lee LLP, on Wednesday 24th of July at 11:15am, when we will be taking a closer look at the tricky topic of managing performance on probationary periods – the risks, the obligations, and everything in between!

Register for this free webinar, right here!


The Importance of the Probation Period

A probation period acts as a trial phase for both the employer and the employee. It provides an opportunity to evaluate whether the new hire can meet the job’s requirements and align with the company culture. This period is also a chance to identify and address any performance issues early on.

Common Challenges in Managing Probation Periods

  1. Lack of Clear Expectations: Often, new hires are not given a clear understanding of what is expected from them. This can lead to confusion and underperformance. Without a well-defined set of expectations and goals, employees may be unsure about their responsibilities and how their performance will be evaluated.
  2. Inadequate Feedback: Regular, constructive feedback is essential during the probation period. Without it, employees may be unaware of their shortcomings and unable to improve. Feedback should be specific, actionable, and delivered in a supportive manner to help the employee understand what needs to be improved.
  3. Insufficient Training: New employees might struggle if they do not receive adequate training or resources to perform their job effectively. Ensuring that new hires have access to the right tools, training programs, and mentorship can significantly impact their ability to succeed during probation.
  4. Delayed Action: Sometimes, employers wait until the end of the probation period to address performance issues. This can be too late for meaningful improvement. Immediate and continuous feedback allows for timely corrections and demonstrates the company’s commitment to the employee’s success.



Best Practices for Managing Underperformance

  1. Set Clear Expectations: From day one, ensure that the new hire understands their role, responsibilities, and performance standards. Providing a detailed job description and a probation plan can be very helpful. Clearly defined goals and performance metrics should be communicated to avoid any ambiguity.
  2. Regular Check-Ins: Schedule frequent check-ins to discuss progress, provide feedback, and address any concerns. This can be done through weekly or bi-weekly meetings. These sessions should be structured and focused on reviewing performance, discussing challenges, and setting short-term goals.
  3. Provide Adequate Training and Support: Ensure that the new employee has access to the necessary training, resources, and support to perform their job effectively. This includes not only formal training sessions but also informal support like mentorship and peer assistance.
  4. Document Everything: Keep a detailed record of all communications, feedback sessions, and performance assessments. This documentation is crucial if the decision is made to terminate the employment. It provides a clear record of the steps taken to support the employee and can protect the company in case of disputes.
  5. Address Issues Promptly: Don’t wait until the end of the probation period to address performance issues. Providing immediate feedback gives the employee a chance to improve. Early intervention can prevent minor issues from becoming significant problems.
  6. Develop an Improvement Plan: If performance issues arise, create a performance improvement plan (PIP) with clear, achievable goals and a timeline for improvement. The PIP should outline specific areas needing improvement, resources available, and a schedule for follow-up meetings.

What is a PIP?

A Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) is a structured intervention used by employers to address and support an employee who is underperforming. It is a documented plan that outlines specific performance objectives, expectations, and a timeframe for improvement. The purpose of a PIP is to give the employee clear guidance on what needs to be achieved and to provide support and resources to help them reach the required performance level. A PIP should be fair, reasonable, and focused on providing opportunities for the employee to succeed. It should include regular monitoring and feedback sessions to assess progress and offer guidance. A PIP should be implemented in accordance with employment legislation, including fair procedures and the employee’s right to representation and appeal.

The Procedure for Handling Underperformance

  1. Identify the Issue: Be specific about what aspects of performance are lacking. Use concrete examples and data to illustrate the issues clearly.
  2. Communicate Clearly: Have an honest and straightforward conversation with the employee about the identified issues. Ensure the discussion is two-way, allowing the employee to provide their perspective.
  3. Provide Support: Offer the necessary training and resources to help the employee improve. This could include additional training, mentorship, or adjustments to their workload.
  4. Monitor Progress: Regularly review the employee’s performance against the improvement plan. Set up regular check-ins to discuss progress and make any necessary adjustments.
  5. Make a Decision: At the end of the probation period, assess whether the employee has met the required standards. If not, be prepared to make the difficult decision to terminate the employment. Ensure that the decision is based on documented evidence and a fair assessment process.

What is the relevant legislation here?

Although the most recent update to this area of employment law came in 2022 via the Transparent and Predictable Working Conditions, this remains a very live challenge that many employers are still battling with.

As a reminder, the latest regulations state that probation periods can be no longer than 6 months. In exceptional circumstances, an employee’s probation period can be extended for up to a further 6 months (up to a maximum of 12 months in total). An extended probation period occurs when it is deemed in the Employees interest or when an Employee has been on extended leave, such as sick leave, during their probation. It can also be extended where it is justified by the nature of the work, for example, public service employment.

“Although this isn’t necessarily a new update to employment law, it’s something we’re hearing a lot from our clients with questions about what it means, how to manage it, and how to resolve any challenges effectively if there is indeed any deviation from what the legislation outlines. And although it’s something you hear me and the team say a lot, our advice is simple – it’s imperative to have up-to-date handbooks, contracts and policies, particularly for something like this which may essentially, set the beginning of the working relationship or someone’s career in your organisation, off on the wrong foot. We’re here to help.”

Megan Power, HR Consultant, Insight HR.

Why Getting This Right is Crucial

Effective management of the probation period can lead to a range of positive outcomes:

  • Retention of Talent: Identifying and addressing issues early can help in retaining employees who have the potential to improve. Employees feel valued and supported, which can enhance their loyalty and commitment to the organisation.
  • Cost Savings: Hiring and training new employees is expensive. Proper management of probation periods can reduce turnover and associated costs. Investing in the success of new hires can yield long-term financial benefits.
  • Boost in Morale: Transparent and fair performance management processes can improve overall workplace morale and trust. Employees are more likely to stay engaged and motivated when they see a commitment to fairness and development.

“Probation isn’t designed to give organisations an easy way to dismiss someone who isn’t performing well. Remember, you can set the employee, and your organisation, up for long-term success during the probation period, so treat it accordingly!”

Liam Barton, Senior HR Consultant, Insight HR.

Consequences of Poor Management

Failing to manage underperformance during probation can have several negative impacts:

  • Decreased Productivity: Unaddressed underperformance can lower team productivity and morale. It can create additional workloads for other team members, leading to frustration and burnout.
  • Legal Risks: Improper handling of probation terminations can lead to legal disputes and claims of unfair dismissal. This can result in costly litigation and damage to the company’s reputation.
  • Reputation Damage: Poor performance management can harm the company’s reputation, making it harder to attract and retain talent. Negative experiences during probation can spread through word-of-mouth or online reviews, deterring potential candidates.


Managing underperformance during probation periods is a delicate but essential task for HR professionals. By setting clear expectations, providing regular feedback, and offering the necessary support, you can help new hires succeed and ensure your organisation maintains high performance standards. Remember, handling probation correctly not only benefits the individual employee but also contributes to the overall health and success of your organization.

Do you want to ensure you’re processes, policies and procedures are compliant and effective? Do you want the safety of knowing you are supported by experts who can advise on, not only your obligations, but also your goals and best practices?

Then, let us help.

We offer customized, consistent, and customer-focused HR support, ensuring that your organisation is well-equipped to handle any HR challenges that come your way.

So, whether it’s reviewing policies, updating contracts and handbooks, managing workplace investigations, providing in-person or online training, or providing on-demand advice via our HR support line, the team here at Insight HR will give you the support you need, when it you need it most, and for as long as you need it.

Book a call with the team, contact us via email at or pick up the phone and dial 0567701060 to learn more about how we can support your HR needs and help your organisation thrive.

In case you missed it earlier…

Join the Insight HR team and our special guest, Cian Moriarty, Partner, Employment & Immigration at Philip Lee LLP, on Wednesday 24th of July at 11:15am, when we will be taking a closer look at the tricky topic of managing performance on probationary periods – the risks, the obligations, and everything in between!

Register for this free webinar, right here!

Share with your network!