Every organisation, regardless of size, should have an induction programme to orientate new employees and provide important information. The length and nature of such a programme is dependent on the type of role and the amount of information to be imparted. The organisation has to be careful not to overburden employees initially with too much information. Different methods of imparting information can help to make it more interesting and easier to take in, for example interactive discussions, buddy systems and a variety of presenters.
A good induction programme needs to cover certain key aspects:
- orientation – both to physical surroundings and to the nature of the organisation and its history
- understanding of policies and procedures, such as health and safety, grievance and disciplinary, harassment and bullying, payroll issues, general housekeeping
- understanding of points of contact for questions or concerns
- understanding of key tasks, duties, the support provided and the goals for the induction period.
Employers should carry out a formal induction process for a number of important reasons:
- it reduces anxiety and enables the employee to settle down in the job more easily and rapidly
- it helps the newcomer develop a loyalty with working colleagues and with the employer
- it forms the basis for mutual respect between the employee and the employer and is the foundation of good human relations, developing in the employee a pride in the organisation
- it confirms the general terms and conditions and ensures that the employee is made fully aware of the standards required of them;
- it ensures that all the relevant paperwork is collected from the employee
- it gives the employer the written proof that new employees are aware of the rules and procedures and of their obligations under the working time legislation; and
- it ensures that employers comply with the relevant statutory obligations in respect of safety regulations and safe systems of working.
All staff, full and part-time, contractors, transferred staff, etc. need an induction programme. This may consist of a one-to-one session or a more formal classroom approach, depending on the numbers involved and the feasibility of having people away from their positions together. It is important to provide induction as close as possible to the start date of the employee. It is also important to keep a record of induction topics and the date of completion, signed by the employee.
Although planning an induction programme can be time consuming on the first occasion, the same routine can be used repeatedly in the future when little time will be required to update it. Try to add variety into the programme so that people do not spend long periods being talked at or are not easily bored. Clearly, any activity involving risk should be preceded by appropriate health and safety training.
One person may carry it out themselves or delegate all or some of it to others. Some induction subjects are common to all starters whilst some will only apply to that job in that department. Inevitably, induction will have to be carried out over a period of time and will almost certainly involve more than one person. It is therefore vital that it is properly planned in a sensible order and recorded as completed, including the signature and date of the newcomer confirming the induction or elements of it that have been completed.
New starters should be provided with their training programme, an understanding of why they are being taught those subjects and the value to them as an individual to learn them.
The onus lies with the employer to ensure that employees receive equal access to training as well as adequate training to do their job. Furthermore, it is a requirement that certain health and safety training is provided to employees on joining an organisation, e.g. health and safety legislation requires the employer to provide training to employees before commencing work with display screen equipment. It is also a requirement that all employees involved in any lifting be provided with manual handling training. Other health and safety training requirements would depend on the position that the new employee will undertake.
The appropriate level of training will be dependent on the nature of the job, the complexity of the tasks and the employees’ previous level of experience in a similar role. A flexible approach is most beneficial, with training plans being agreed for each individual or each group performing similar tasks.
Training employees is seen to be a strong motivational factor and should, therefore, be approached as a long-term objective, rather than just for the new hires. It is also important to have records of training in the event that there is a performance or disciplinary issue in the future.
Application forms, interviews and the taking up of references guarantee employers with an employee whose credentials illustrate that they will be able to perform the job successfully. At this stage, however, there has been no prolonged chance to test capabilities. An initial probationary period of employment is therefore useful because it gives employers the opportunity to monitor the new employee’s performance, with a structured set of reviews, within a set period of time. Employers will then be able to make the informed decision, after this set period of time, whether the employee has proved suitable.
Employers should make the employee aware, by including it in their contractual documentation, that they join the company on an initial probationary period and that they will be assessed during this period. They should also be made aware that if they do not perform to a satisfactory standard during their probationary period, their employment may be terminated.
Probationary periods that are too short in length do not provide enough time for appropriate monitoring, nor enough time for the employee to improve, should that be necessary. A longer probationary period means employers have a broader and fairer example of work performance to assess so a period of three months is generally considered appropriate although this will depend on your organisation’s particular circumstances.
Unless the probationary clause specifically subjects the probationary employee to different or modified rules, the employer may still have to adhere to any contractual disciplinary procedures in dismissing the employee.
It is common that notice periods for an employee during their probationary period are shorter than for other employees.
Care should be taken to ensure that service, when coupled with notice entitlement, does not exceed one year. Otherwise the employee will be entitled to the protection of the Unfair Dismissals Acts, 1977-2015.
It should be noted that an employee is entitled to the protection of the Employment Equality Acts, 1998-2015 even if they do not have one year’s service with the employer. Accordingly if an employee is dismissed in circumstances amounting to discriminatory dismissal at any time the employer may face a liability under the equality legislation.
Where a probationary period is in place, an employee has a right to expect that their performance will be reviewed during this period, that any problems with their performance will be pointed out to them, and that they will be given the opportunity to improve. The existence of a probationary period which is not applied in practice will weaken an employer's defence in a dismissal case.
Regular reviews of performance during the probationary period ensure that new employees are aware of, and are assisted to meet, the required standards. A documented performance evaluation at the end of the probation period enables both the employer and the new employee to review the situation to date and assess suitability and mutual compatibility.
The key principles underpinning a probationary process are:
• The employee is made aware if there is a problem
• The employee is given the chance to state their case
• It is explained to the employee what improvement is needed, if any, and in what time-frame
• The employee is aware of the consequences if the improvement is not forthcoming
• The employer gives the employee reasonable opportunity to improve.
Probation periods can be extended if the employer believes that the employee can perform to the required standard given a little more time. They can also be extended in cases where the employee has been absent for a valid reason (e.g. serious illness). However, the extension should ideally be for no more than an additional three months. Once an employee has over 12 months’ service, they are covered by the Unfair Dismissals Acts, 1977–2015.