Who The Heck Invented The “Probationary Period”?


He (or she) should be taken out back and…. well, whatever you do when you take people out back… as long as you make it hurt at least a little.

Let me be the first to welcome you to our organization.  You’ve made it through our selection process and have demonstrated the skills and past experience that we find most valuable in the position for which we are hiring you.  We look forward with great anticipation in getting you involved as soon as possible and we will make every effort to accomodate your needs and provide the tools you will need to do the job effectively.  We hope you are as excited and optimistic in starting with us as we are in bringing you on.

Oh… by the way, just to make sure we made the right decision in hiring you, your first 90 days here are probationary; we can terminate you at any point within those 90 days for any reason.  So try not to mess up.

Again.. welcome to the company!!  Have a nice day.

Kinda sounds rediculous, doesn’t it?  Yet we all swallow that garbage like it’s a rite of passage to get hired.  The funny thing is… that 90 day “failsafe” for the company also includes no holiday pay and no selection of insurance.  Not sure I understand totally why.  I would guess it’s because of the paperwork; if a new hire were terminated inside the 90 day probationary period then the HR people wouldn’t have the time invested in doing what they are hired to do.

Forgive me, but it seems to me the starting of a new job should be an event full of promise and optimisim; welcome-to-the-club, we hired the right person!  The employee starts out fresh and the employer has a much needed position filled in order to make money.  A win-win for all!  Why is there a 90 day grace period by which the employer can terminate the new hire.. if, in fact, the employer did a good job assessing the employee’s referrals, resume, and face-to-face attributes?  Why is there any need to not welcome the new employee as a FULL employee, who YOU, as employer, has agreed to hire because they are the best qualified for the job, by giving them the insurance option from day one as well as all other pay and benefits?  More to the point… when most states have at-will employment why does ANY employer have to even suggest a 90 day probationary period?

If you recall, when you’ve been hired in the past and the company’s 90 day probationary plan was explained to you it’s often followed up with the “..of course, you as the employee, are free to terminate employment in the first 90 days also, if you find it necessary.”, as if that somehow “sweetened” up anything.  Remember, at-will employment allows for that too.  But even if we remove at-will laws from the mix here…  who is really fooling who with all this?

Well, one could “blame” paperwork; that the HR department (or an owner/manager of a small business) spends a lot of time (thusly money) processing new employees and if there’s a trend that many new employees fail to make the grade in the first 90 days you can easily let them go with little processing time invested.  One might use that same argument with insurance coverage; insurance companies love “probationary periods” because that helps to eliminate what insurance companies might call fraudulant, or “overzealous”, or spontaneous, initial claims.  Putting the distance of time between policy start and policy coverage effective dates likely, statistically, reduces some risk for insurance companies.

Look… again I invoke some common sense here.  I don’t know about you, but in my entire career, hiring and firing people… as a manager for someone else or owner for myself… I have never terminated anyone for not making the mark in the first 90 days… nor have I heard of it done where I have worked.  Now, I am sure it has happened other places at some time or another.  But are the numbers truly that supportive of businesses adopting a 90 day policy?  I personally think this 90 day thing was inspired by some larger corporations many years ago… maybe even during the Depression… because hiring agents.. owners, managers, etc… failed to do their jobs properly in screening applicants, thus placing the wrong people in the wrong jobs.  IF an employee fails to pass muster in the first 90 days then it’s very likely the fault of whomever screened that employee before being hired.  But even if that were the case, in an at-will state why does anyone even need a 90 day probationary period?

“Welcome to the team! We’ll all be watching you for the next 90 days!

Business should get rid of this archaic concept.  Do your hiring “due diligence” and if your business gets a lot of less-than-90-day terminations then maybe terminate the person doing the hiring.  An employee is an employee and deserves that respect from the first day.  If the day after he or she gets hired is a national holiday then pay them like you would any other trusted employee.  If the new employee needs “fine tuning” then make sure their supervisor or manager knows about training, providing feedback in a 30 day review process, and setting reasonable training goals.  You can always fire an employee.  It just makes no damn sense to hire them, and in the same sentence you are giving them their first diciplinary warning.

“Hey, don’t blame us for you messing up in your first 90 days!”

I wish someone would post a comment to me defending the probationary period because I just don’t see it relevent… if it ever was.

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3 thoughts on “Who The Heck Invented The “Probationary Period”?

  1. “…do you take [name] to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

    “I do. But give me three months just in case I don’t… you know, the paper work’s a nightmare.”

  2. Hello Doug, way too many hiring managers don’t know how to identify future successful employee so they put the burden on their new hires. Only the employer is on a position to know if an applicant will be successful if hired. The best applicants can do is guess and hope the hiring manager knows what he is doing.

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