What happens when you go through the recruitment process with a new employee, but then things don’t really seem to be working as you expected?

Imagine you’ve recently hired a new starter, and you’re starting to wonder, is this the right person for us? What do you do next?

In this post, I will reference some information related to the Fair Work Act in Australia, which is general information and not tailored to your circumstances. It should not be relied on or used as an alternative to legal advice. Amplify HR is not a legal firm, and I am not a lawyer, which means this is not legal advice; it’s general information on an employment-related topic.

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It Cuts Both Ways

If you’re wondering if your new recruit is working out, It’s important to consider whether they’re feeling the same thing. As an example, I’ll share a story from many years ago when I first started in the workplace: the story of the first and only time I’ve been sacked. The reason I’m going to tell you this story is to explain how I’ve reflected on that experience over the years. 

When I finished school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I found different roles in retail, and in one of these, I was hired as a junior. The rest of the team was very close-knit; they’d been together for a long time. A husband and wife owned the store and got along really well with the rest of the staff. 

From the start, I felt like an unwelcome outsider. That may have been because they hired me for maternity leave coverage, and the person on leave was planning to come back. 

I felt like a bit of an interloper, and I didn’t feel that I received adequate training when I was there. I always felt that I was at a bit of a loss. I didn’t really know what to do. Customers were getting frustrated and angry, and I was so young that I wasn’t openly asking for help. 

After a couple of weeks, one of the owners pulled me into the office and gave me an envelope of cash to pay out my notice. (It was so long ago when we used to get paid in cash!) I had no idea what he was talking about and it took me a while to realise that he was firing me. 

The reason I’m sharing this story is that it’s something that I’ve reflected on over the years. I don’t feel that I was a terrible employee, I feel that I would have been trainable. But I also felt that I never had a chance.

There were probably issues on both sides. The owners didn’t necessarily want a new person, they just felt they had to cover the maternity leave. And I always felt that I wasn’t actually wanted. Right from the start, there was a little bit of conflict happening there, an undertone of unease. I was not confident enough to ask for help and training, and it wasn’t being provided to me. 

I was not confident enough to ask for help and training, and it wasn’t being provided to me.‘

Looking Deeper

If a person isn’t working out, it’s important to consider if there is a reason outside of that person’s performance, both for ethical and risk-mitigation issues, which I’ll discuss below. 

I discussed onboarding and the importance of this in Episode Six of the Find Grow Keep podcast, Getting new hires up to speed quickly, along with four key principles of onboarding. One of those was having staged check-ins with new employees. That means every single day over the first week, and every single week over the first month.

If you’re noticing warning signs during that period, then you can discuss those with the employee and where they’re not meeting those expectations. In my example, a check-in meeting would have given me the opportunity to say, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m 17 and I’ve never worked in a retail store before! I need a lot more help’.

If you’re noticing things, you can bring them up with the employee, and hopefully they’re noticing things and will also bring that up. That’s where you can say, ‘are we actually meeting your expectations?’ You can work on any additional training or support needed. And then you give it another few weeks.

For the first month, depending on the job, you may not have a lot of indicators about how well someone is doing. If it’s a particularly complicated role, it may take longer than that. If it’s not a particularly complicated role, they should be up and running within that first month. Hopefully, you have an idea about how long it takes to come up to speed from hiring other people. 

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Mid-Probation Review

At three months, it’s time to evaluate the new employee’s performance. Twelve weeks of full-time work is quite a lot, and even if it’s part-time, 12 weeks is enough to get a pretty clear picture. At this point, you need to do a mid-probation review. 

At three months, it’s time to evaluate the new employee’s performance’

Some organisations still have a three-month probation, but you can have up to six months because the Fair Work Act provides for a ‘minimum employment period’ of six months for most businesses. It’s 12 months for businesses of under 15 employees. Within that period, new employees are unable to make unfair dismissal claims. 

If you have a six-month probation period, which is quite common and what we recommend, at month three, you will be conducting a mid-probation review. This will evaluate the performance and behaviour of the employee.

But it’s very much a two-way process. You should also be asking for the employee’s feedback. Use set questions, such as:

  • Are you satisfied with your understanding of what’s expected in the role?
  • Are you satisfied with the communication of decisions and other issues that affect you?
  • Are you satisfied with communication about the company’s direction?
  • Are you satisfied with the nature and the content of the work and your workload? 
  • What do you think’s gone well over the last three months?
  • What challenges have you had? 
  • What support do you need, or further training? 

You can have the employee complete this in a form or an online system, and have the manager provide similar feedback. It ensures you are clear on what they think is going well, and what needs more focus, and what outcomes they’re looking for. 

The important part is not the form, it is the conversation you have next. The employee and the manager sit down and have an open discussion to talk about what’s going well and what not going so well.

The important part is not the form, it is the conversation you have next.’

Because the topic of this post is things that aren’t working, let’s look at how you manage the problem areas. You can discuss these with the employee and agree on the things that need to improve, and how you are going to support those improvements. You also need to confirm a date for your next meeting. 

Ethics & Risk

There’s an ethical component to this, you want the person to be aware of any brewing issues. You don’t want it to be a surprise to them, if you terminate their employment in their probation period. It also mitigates the risk of what’s called a general protections claim. 

Although they can’t take an unfair dismissal claim within that probation period, they can take a general protections claim. That’s where someone says you have taken adverse action against them that contravenes their workplace rights, and that’s why you terminated them. For example, if they made a complaint about their manager and you terminated their employment because of that complaint. 

If you’re having regular check-ins, and the mid-probation review, you’ll reduce your risks related to a general protections claim. If you do receive a claim you can point to the record of conversations you’ve had with the employee and show that the termination was not related to the employee’s workplace right, it was actually because of the performance or the behaviour of the employee.

But let’s not forget the human element as well. None of us wants to be pulled into a room and told that we no longer have a job and for that to come as a complete surprise. So if you’re taking those steps, and making sure the employee is aware of any issues as you go along, then hopefully, they’ll come to the conclusion as you – that the role is not right for them.

That was certainly the case with me, I clearly did not extend a career in the retail industry. But I learned a lot from the experience, and here I am talking about it over 20 years later. 

Second Chances

The other thing that I often see is business owners giving people a lot of chances. It is very important to give people chances, to understand the context, such as:

  • What’s going on for them? 
  • Do they need more training? 
  • Do they understand what’s expected of them? 
  • Is there anything happening in the workplace that’s preventing them from performing the way that they should be? 

However, there comes a point where you have to reflect on whether this is actually the right job, or the right company, for that person.

Where you have behavioural concerns, it’s important to remember that when an employee starts a new job, they are displaying the best version of themselves. So if you have behavioural concerns around an employee within those first few months, and you find they’re not fitting into the culture, you may find this is something that is not going to change easily with that person. 

An open conversation about this can be quite helpful. You can ask them how they find the workplace culture. I’ve heard feedback from employees saying ‘I just find this workplace too fast-paced’ and the opposite can happen as well, ‘this place is so slow I’m bored’. 

Sometimes that can start a conversation around the pace of the organisation and the employee may have a chance to reflect on how they fit within it. It’s important to emphasise that a difference in preferred pace doesn’t mean that someone can’t do that job, that they’re incompetent. It just means the job or the company is not a good fit. The same job at a different company might be a perfect fit. 

If you’d like more information on the critical onboarding period, I can point you to Episode Six of the Find Grow Keep podcast, Getting new hires up to speed quickly where we talked about the four key principles of successful onboarding, and also to my post Standardise Onboarding with these 3 Simple Tools

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