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Probationary documentation for assistant staff

1. Nature and purpose of probation

Probation is a formal arrangement at the start of an appointment, whereby individual members of staff demonstrate their suitability for a particular job within a set timescale and the Head of Institution or nominee, carry out induction, monitor and review performance, and provide guidance and training.

Potentially disciplinary matters will be dealt with in accordance with the relevant procedure.
 

2. Length of the probationary period

The length of the probationary period will depend on the level of responsibility of the post, and the Head of Institution or their nominee, will determine an appropriate period on the basis of the job description for the post. It will in all cases be not less than three months and normally not more than six months.

The Head of Institution or their nominee, on making the appointment will inform the Human Resources Division of the proposed probationary period.
 

3. Responsibilities during the probationary period

There are responsibilities for both parties during the probationary period. New members of staff will need to demonstrate that they have the capability to undertake the duties of the role to which they have been appointed. Heads of Institutions, or their nominee, will, in turn, need to be proactive in setting out the requirements of the job, monitoring progress, identifying areas where further training and development are needed, and ensuring its provision within an appropriate timescale.

The Human Resources Division will provide written guidance on the framework for assessing the various stages of the probationary period. This will include induction (see section 4.1) and regular progress reviews (see section 4.2) using proforma documentation for recording progress. Advice from the HR Consultant should be sought at an early stage if there are serious concerns about performance.

The Head of Institution or their nominee, will make an overall assessment of the individual's performance towards the end of the probationary period and, where this has been satisfactory, will confirm the appointment.

Where the Head of Institution or their nominee is not able to confirm that probation has been completed satisfactorily, s/he, after consulting the HR Committee/Director of Human Resources/HR Consultant, will decide what action is appropriate at the end of the probationary period. The range of actions available will be as follows:

  1. to extend the probation where more time is needed to assess performance, or
  2. to terminate the appointment where performance is unsatisfactory

 

4. How the probationary period will be managed in practice

4.1 Induction

It is important that the foundations for good working practices are established at the outset. Newly appointed staff will undergo a structured induction programme within the first few weeks of taking up appointment. A checklist of what to include in induction is available from the Human Resources Division.

The person most familiar with the requirements of the job (the line manager or immediate supervisor) will usually have delegated responsibility from the Head of Institution or their nominee for carrying out induction, monitoring performance, providing guidance on a day-to-day basis, and arranging for training to be provided as appropriate. Depending on the nature of the post, this may include:

  1. ensuring that member of staff knows and understands the main responsibilities of the post
  2. setting out which particular areas of work are to be given priority
  3. drawing attention to deadlines
  4. specifying the standards of work required
  5. highlighting any areas where particular care or sensitivity is needed
  6. ensuring that the member of staff has sufficient information and sources of immediate help and support to take forward the agreed tasks
  7. being available to give informal advice on an on-going basis
  8. assessing training and staff development needs based on the requirements of the job
  9. preparing a training action plan in consultation with the member of staff
  10. arranging for regular progress reviews

4.2 Formal assessment of performance

The purpose of assessments at various stages of probation is twofold. They are a means of demonstrating and building on progress made. They also ensure that, in the event of any problem arising, there are clear indications of the difficulties that have arisen and the steps taken to attempt to resolve them. The member of staff may, should s/he so wish, be accompanied by a trades union representative or another member of the assistant staff.

The format for the progress review will normally be as set out below. The level of detail will vary according to individual circumstances. Advice is available from the HR Consultant assigned to the department. Where performance and progress is clearly satisfactory the formal record is likely to be brief. A more detailed record will be made where specific improvements are needed.

  1. the line manager reviews with the member of staff the work done to date or since the last review, addressing competence in carrying out particular duties and capability to perform at a level that meets the operational requirements of the department
  2. the member of staff comments on progress to date and specify any areas in which further information or assistance is needed
  3. the line manager sets objectives for the next stage of work
  4. the line manager discusses training and staff development needs with the member of staff, taking the lead in identifying and agreeing a specific action plan

Progress reviews take place at appropriate intervals — it is suggested that these be weekly during the first month and then monthly if progress is satisfactory — to enable the member of staff to take on progressively more responsibility in accordance with the requirements of the job. The tone of the reviews should be constructive, giving positive feedback on what has been done well and helpful advice on how to make improvements and/or develop aspects of the job. However, where progress has been unsatisfactory, the line manager, in consultation with the Head of Institution or their nominee, will need to specify the nature of the concerns and the improvements needed, together with details of how these will be achieved. For example, this may involve making appropriate adjustments to the level of supervision, advice, and/or support given to the member of staff.

Each progress review is documented, however briefly, with copies signed and retained by the Head of institution or their nominee, line manager, and individual member of staff. If, at any stage, a third party contributes formally to the progress review this should be recorded and signed accordingly.

When the Head of Institution or their nominee, makes the final overall assessment of performance during probation, the decision to confirm appointment or take alternative action (see section 3.4 above) will be based on the progress review documentation.

If, exceptionally, during probation, the performance of the individual is clearly unsatisfactory and likely to remain so, the Head of the Institution or their nominee may decide, after consulting the Director of Human Resources on behalf of the HR Committee that the probationary period be curtailed to enable early termination of the appointment.

4.3 Mentoring

Where appropriate and feasible, new members of staff will be offered a mentor. The mentor will act as an impartial ‘sounding board’, not linked to the formal progress review process, and may contribute informally to the preparation of a training and staff development action plan.

5. What is the procedure at the end of probation?

Not less than 4 weeks before the date on which the probationary period is due to end, the Human Resources Division will send a reminder (Form PERA02/2) to Heads of Institutions or their nominee, to inform them of the need to plan for a final overall assessment of the performance of the member of staff.

Where performance during probation has been satisfactory, the Head of Institution or their nominee will notify the Human Resources Division (by completing and returning Form PERA02/2) that the appointment is confirmed and the central staff record will be amended accordingly. It will be for the Head of Institution or their nominee to inform the member of staff concerned that probation has been satisfactorily completed.

Where there have been concerns about the performance of the member of staff, these will have been raised and addressed in the regular progress reviews. Where the concerns have been addressed and the performance has reached a satisfactory level, the action will be as in 5.2 above.

In some instances progress towards successful completion of probation may have been hampered by circumstances beyond the control of all parties, for example where the member of staff has been absent from work for a substantial period during probation. Where this is the case and there is the prospect of a satisfactory outcome to probation, the Head of Institution or their nominee can extend the probationary period. At the end of that period, if progress reviews have been satisfactory, the action will be as in 5.2 above.

In the event that performance is judged not to be satisfactory, despite the remedial actions agreed at the progress reviews, the Head of Institution or their nominee, after consulting the Director of Human Resources on behalf of the HR Committee will inform the individual that s/he intends to terminate the appointment. Once a decision to dismiss has been made, the member of staff will be given notice (see 6 below).

If the appointment is terminated, the member of staff will have the right to appeal, in accordance with the disciplinary procedure set out in Rule H16. The member of staff will be notified in writing of the right to appeal at the time that formal notice of dismissal is given.

Note that the Human Resources Division will send a final reminder (Form PERA03/2) to the Head of Institution or nominated referee fourteen days prior to the probation end date if the appointment has not been confirmed by that point.

 

6. The period of notice required during the probationary period

The period of notice given by the member of staff or by the Head of Institution or their nominee following a decision to terminate the appointment during the probationary period under this scheme will be at least one week.

 

7. Monitoring performance once the probationary period is over

The appraisal process provides a formal means of carrying out continuing performance review. The first appraisal will take place at the end of the probationary period once a decision has been made to confirm appointment and will be part of an ongoing appraisal/review process. As this process is intended to be forward-looking, the appraiser will agree objectives and an action plan, in line with the strategic and operational needs of the institution, that will address longer-term personal training and development needs identified, after consulting the Director of Human Resources on behalf of the HR Committee.