A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend from Sweden about people changing jobs and how it impacted their lives and what are the challenges with the current labor situation in various countries and places - how much unemployment rates impacts movement etc.
In the middle of the conversation he looks at me and says "Monika, trial period is non-existing in today's Sweden for senior positions. Any way, what will you find out in 3 months about a person - nothing." I must have looked chocked cause his wife added "you cant expect people to leave a good job without any security".
The conversation took another turn, but these lines stayed with me and the more I think about them, the more sense they make. Now a few weeks later, I just feel stupid that I had not realized or thought of this before - all the experiences that I had recalled while writing my book "Put Your People First and the rest will follow" clearly should have pointed me this way, but for the last 3 years not once had it dawned on me that this was the direction to take.
Let me share with you two stories, that should have made me gone Ahhh here is something that we always have done, but should really have some question marks around why to have trial period:
A few years back I hired a new Front Office Manager. She was great with the team and her peers, but she was always jumpy and nervous around me. It drove me slowly crazy that every time she saw me, she asked if I was happy with her and if she lived up to my expectations. After she had been employed for 1.5 months I asked her flat out why she was so nervous around me, did I do something that stressed her? Her answer was "I really like it here and just want you to be happy so that you confirm my position after my three months trial period". The week after I went to my HR managers office and asked her to cancel the remaining trial period, as I needed a Front Office manager that felt secure and happy and didn't wasted her time worrying about my happiness.
Later the same year one of our employees were finishing her degree and looked for a new challenge. She had applied for a few positions in different industries and when I asked her about it, she said she was nervous about leaving as she was the provider in her household and what if they let her go within the trial period, then she would be without a job and no way of supporting her family. Without thinking much I offered her three months leave without pay to go and try another job, with the security that she could return to us, if she did not like it or if they didn't like her.
So, can we scrap the trial period all together? What would happen if we did?
Well, you could argue that it would make it complicated for both employer and employee if either realized that it was not a fit, right? I think, not necessarily. If you have an open and honest conversation this can be resolve. No one wants to hold on to a person or hold on to a job that does not fit. That honest conversation would have to become a major player and fairness and trust as the cornerstones. Possible? Of course! Naive? Maybe you say. However it would require something new that managers and leaders are maybe not equipped to handle; conflict handling.
Spend much more time on recruitment? Well, maybe or maybe not. Very interesting research shows that you are not more likely to hire the right candidate if you go by your first 5 minute gut feeling or if you make the candidate go through personality test, lots of interviews and assessment centers. Sometimes you are just not lucky to have found the right person. Will you find out within the first 90 days if you were wrong? Probably not. I hired a person almost 2 years ago that I really liked, my fellow colleagues that met the person liked him too. After 7 months I started to notice behaviors/habits that didn't fit with the position. We had a talk and learned he was not happy either, so we agreed to part ways in a fair way for all parties - disregarding the statutory rights of the employee at this point. Why? Because we both agreed that this was the best way forward through trusting conversations.
There must be some protection for the employer you might argue?
OK, lets say employers needs to protect themselves; what could be the alternative here? How can we protect the employers right to end the relation within the first 90 days if employee does not perform. Well hang on that is the whole point - perform. Majority of the people who take a job wants to do that job, right? So, if you remove the stress of "showing yourself", "having to perform" maybe you actually get the employee that actually performs much faster, as you have removed stress factors of "performance". And as a small added point if you have a "slacker" you will most likely not catch them in the first 90 days anyway, as most people can hold a high note for this period. How many times have you seen people be full of energy for the first 3 months, to slow down (maybe from being exhausted of "proving themselves") and be like everyone else in energy level or even lower for a while before falling into "normal" mood.
During trial period several companies distinguish the employee as a "non full-fledged" member . A friend of mine was going through a tedious recruitment process recently. After 5 interviews, 2 requested mystery shopper visit with suggested actions and 2 personality tests later he was called in to meet the GM again. He was at this point fairly feed up with the process and asked about the salary package to which the GM responded "I am looking for a candidate who is not drive by money, but by passion for the job and the company" to which my friend responded "so make me excited about the job and the company". The GM answered "I am the one interviewing for a candidate, so I don't have to make you excited". What???? Additionally to this amazing conversation my friend was shown the list of benefits like free fitness access for team members (Euro 5.00 during trial period), free food in canteen (Euro 3.00 during trial period). The savings for the company is minimal, in comparison with impact on the employee integration feelings. These small things could likely lead to slower integration in the team, stressful reminders that you don't belong "yet", causing less productivity and less inclusive work environments.
I did a leadership workshop for a group of government employees recently and they explained that the public servants have six months trial period, because three months is too short to determine if someone is a good fit and once employed they are in principle employed for life. Imagine you are the breadwinner in a family of many children and your partners is stay-at-home, you need to bring a paycheck every month so imagine the stress you will have for half a year. The thought of "what if I'm let go tomorrow" can chew away at anyone during this period.
Would it not be better to be more focused during interviewing to ensure both sides are happy, include a couple of test work days/ week (make sure you pay hourly wage) for all candidates that you are considering. Then talk to all that interacted with the person during the test days to get a well rounded picture of the person. This is very common practice in larger companies like Google, Zappos and progressive IT companies worldwide.
Removing the trial period will reduce stress and improve feelings of belongings which should lead to quicker adaptation and performance. Do you agree?
My passions are managing and improving the results of hotels through employee centered processes. My motto: "Put your employees first and the rest will follow. Don't just say it - show it through the actions that you take".