Firstly, what is a long probation period? 3 months is considered average amongst the majority of the UK workforce, but for industries (like law) that rely on fee-earners to generate billings data… 6 months is considered an average amount of time. Some companies even have a year’s probation period… although it is more common for an employee to have their probation period extended to a year depending on performance.

Pros and Cons:

There seems to be more pros than cons when it comes to the company benefiting from a longer probation period. The company benefit from a huge amount of security, more control over dismissal procedures, and they can pay less on benefits and bonuses during a probation period. The cons might include losing staff at short notice who had been ‘pigeon-holed’ for success; whether they are poached or leave on their own accord. They may also struggle to attract ‘good’ staff if they are competing with similar companies who offer a shorter probation period.

There are also huge pros for the employee, including a time period in which to assess whether the company are a suitable match. This might relate to the culture, work-life balance, team and general practicalities of the role including travel, expenditure and personal circumstances etc.. However, it does seem that there are more cons for the employee than the employer. Mainly speaking, the employee must manage a period of uncertainty and the threat of redundancy at short notice, which can be very stressful depending on the individuals monthly financial commitments. There is also the undue stress from the pressure to achieve in a new environment, which, without the sufficient support and mentoring, can result in anxiety and it may produce an unrealistic portrayal of the individual’s general productivity which could create problems down the line.

‘Red Flags’:

Some employees can see a long probation period as a ‘red flag’ as there is an argument that a long probation period suggests that the employer has problems with staff retention… It is proven that a nurturing and supportive working environment is a massive contributor to staff retention rates, so does a long probation period suggest that prolonged exposure to the company may reveal some ‘not so encouraging’ revelations that make staff want to look elsewhere? Or perhaps their HR and interview processes are not refined or mature enough to make an accurate assessment before the start of employment, which doesn’t bode well for general HR related development and care during the duration of a candidate’s employment.

Support and Mentoring:

So how long should it take for a member of staff to prove themselves and their general fit for the team? Some argue that even in fee-earning roles, 3 months is plenty of time to make calculated judgements about the quality of work and effort an employee contributes to the business. So why are so many companies enforcing 6 months of probation? Many employers believe that half a year will provide enough time to gather performance related data to make a more defined assessment of the candidate’s performance… but does this statistic driven approach really instil confidence in the work force? Surely every employee should be taken into account on a case-by-case basis and every member of staff faces different challenges that may not represent their long term contribution to the company. It is argued that a direct line manager should be able to make an accurate assessment based on daily contact and monitoring of the staff member, and if the company have a supportive and nurturing environment then it is their responsibility to ensure that an enthusiastic and driven employee is given the bespoke tools and encouragement they need to succeed.

So, although a probation period may protect an employer and employee from an unsuitable ‘match’, is a long probation period the sign of a good employer, or perhaps a ‘not so good’ employer. What are your thoughts?


If you’re looking to explore your career options and if you’d benefit from a confidential chat to assess the market, please get in touch!

Stephanie Sawers
Legal Recruitment Specialist

t: 01392 716 992

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