All you need to know about the good old trial period

Jeanne Onda
11 May 2021

Dreaded, underused and often forgotten... 😪

On 5 May, we held an open discussion on the fundamentals of our beloved TRIAL PERIOD with the Refty. It was an opportunity for our experts Manon Plommet-Le Bihan (Talent Acquisition Manager, in charge of new employee integration at Prestashop) and Arnaud Weiss (CEO and HR Expert at Axel) to share with us all the tips, thoughts and mistakes not to be made around the probation period.

The fundamentals of a successful trial period 🧪

The preparation

It may sound basic, but the foundation is preparation. It is critical to formalise the process of welcoming new employees so that nothing is left to chance: from the procedures for signing the employment contract, to the delivery of the IT equipment, to the meeting of the recruit with the members of his team, everything must be meticulous. Why? Because despite what you might think, the arrival of a new employee involves a large number of players (HR, IT manager, general services manager, manager, etc.) who share a large number of tasks. All these people need a clear process, laid down in black and white, to which they can systematically refer in order to carry out their respective tasks in time. The worst thing would be to give the newcomer a bad first impression by forgetting to order his computer, not having created the system accesses he needs, or that the reception does not know who he is when he arrives for his first day. 

The first day

In order to give yourself the best chance of success for your new employee, it is essential that you take care of the welcome you give him/her. Be aware that a disappointing first day has a 70% influence on the employee's decision to break the trial period. Think carefully about what the recruitment has cost you, the loss of time and money that a second recruitment could represent... Ensuring the first day is decisive.

To keep things very concrete, here is a list of simple levers to implement, either face-to-face or remotely, to guarantee a good first day and thus start your new employee's trial period on a sound footing: 

  • - Ensure that the new employee has an appointment with someone (ideally their manager) at a specific time on the morning of their arrival. The aim is to let them know that they are expected. In 2021, we still hear far too many stories of new employees who show up for their first day of work and feel that they are arriving unannounced and/or in everyone's way;
  • - Plan a little attention for the arrival of the employee: a team breakfast, for example, which can also be done by video and is very nice. The idea is mainly to show that you are happy to welcome the employee and that you want to mark the occasion;
  • - Accompanying the recruit throughout the day: especially in telework, a new employee can very quickly feel left to his own devices, not knowing what to do or who to ask. It is very important to proactively reach out to them throughout the day to make sure everything is going well. Starting a new job is stressful enough, so don't add to the stress by leaving the newcomer on their own. Note that new employees will often not dare to ask questions out of shyness, fear of embarrassing them, fear of asking a "stupid question"... This is why they should be approached systematically and ensure that they have a clear picture of who they are dealing with and how to contact them if necessary;
  • - Appoint a Buddy: for each recruit, appoint a Buddy, a Godfather... You can call it what you like. The main thing is to put the new employee in touch with a colleague who will be able to guide him or her from the very first day and facilitate integration into the company. 

💡 Tips: name Buddy people who have just completed their probationary period. They themselves joined the company a few months ago and will be full of enthusiasm and goodwill to introduce your new recruits to it.

On average, a new recruit will tell 47 people about his or her first day at work. Don't forget that taking care of the day of arrival is also taking care of your employer brand.

Be transparent

A successful first day is good, but you have to keep it up over time to motivate a talent to commit to you beyond the trial period. Your goal is to make them feel as comfortable as possible, as quickly as possible. 

Very often the word 'probationary period' is NEVER mentioned, as if it were taboo. The new employee, the manager, the local HR, the colleagues... everyone knows that the trial period is underway but no one seems to want to talk about it. This is a mistake. In order to approach this subject calmly, it is important to consider and present the trial period as a withdrawal period available to the employer but also (and even more importantly) to the employee himself. By explaining it in this way, discussing the trial period with the new employee from the very first days becomes much easier. You have to make it clear that you (employer) are also on probation and that you will do your best to convince the employee to make a long-term professional commitment to you. 

Be transparent and give your new recruit a lot of visibility, both on the deadlines that await him/her and on the objectives you wish to set: an HR review at the end of his/her first month, a mid-trial meeting with his/her manager, the writing of a feedback report in the third month, or the achievement of X objective at the end of his/her trial period. Having a clear and precise timetable in mind will help your new employee to feel more comfortable, more quickly and to better understand what you expect of him/her. 

💡 Tips: It is noticeable that very often the new employee is not even informed about the end (and therefore the success) of his trial period. There is nothing worse than being condemned to remain in the dark when it comes to your trial period. To avoid these situations, remember to systematically put a reminder in your calendar (or use Axel to automate these reminders) so that you don't forget to tell the employee that he or she has successfully completed the trial period and so that he or she can sleep soundly :-)

Performance indicators for the trial period

Certain KPIs(Key Performance Indicators) will help you to evaluate your management of probationary periods, a key moment in the life of the employee.

1) The first key indicator is retention during the probationary period. Set up your HRIS to track two distinct curves: 

  • - Employee-initiated terminations of probationary periods ; 
  • - Termination of the trial period at the initiative of the employer.

It is important to distinguish between these two data to diagnose the problem and take appropriate corrective action. The first curve, if it drops, will help you understand that your onboarding process can be improved because new recruits tend to break their probationary period more often. The second curve will help you to assess whether the problem lies in your recruitment process.

2) The second indicator that you should definitely monitor is what English speakers and start-up people call Time-to-Productivity. There are two ways to measure this indicator: ask the new recruit to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 the level of autonomy he or she feels each week. The evolution of the score over the weeks will allow you to better understand the pace at which they are becoming more competent. You can do exactly the same thing by asking the manager to rate the new employee's level of autonomy. And why not even combine the two! This can be interesting to see if there are any discrepancies between the perception of the new employee and that of his/her manager.  

3) The third and final KPI we suggest you keep an eye on is the NPS (Net Promoter Score). This indicator is designed to measure the level of commitment and motivation of your employees. It is very interesting to plan to send a survey in two parts (in the middle and then at the end of the trial period) to collect the general feeling of your new recruit. How do they feel? Is the job true to what they were sold during the recruitment phase? Do they see themselves still working for you in 2 years time? Would they recommend your company to someone they know? Analysis of the answers will potentially allow you to pinpoint an employee who has flown under the radar and is not in the best position to complete their trial period.


So remember, to turn your employees' probationary period into a success every time: 

  • - Put your process in black and white, down to the last detail. This is the key to ensuring that nothing is missed and that all stakeholders in the onboarding process are held accountable;
  • - You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Take special care of the employee's first day experience to leave him/her with an indelible (good) memory of his/her arrival;
  • - Be transparent about your expectations (in terms of objectives in particular) and give them visibility on the major events that will punctuate their trial period as well as the keys to making it a success; 
  • - Choose the KPIs you are most interested in based on your specific challenges and track them over time to ensure you are recruiting the right people and integrating them properly.

We hope that this article has given you some ideas and levers that you can use to manage probation even better in your organisation. Subscribe to our Newsletter to read our weekly articles and to be kept informed of the HR events we organise each month.