Policy guidance on the use and management of probationary periods

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

New staff who are appointed to a post within the University are appointed on a probationary basis. The normal probationary periods are 12 months for academic and senior staff, and 6 months for all other posts. These may be varied in specific cases by agreement between the Dean/Director and the HR Business Partnership Team.

During this period the line manager and the employee should objectively assess whether the employee is appropriately matched to the role and whether the employee is able to provide the expected level of performance, skills, and conduct in relation to the job. Any developmental needs that were identified in the selection process must be addressed as soon as possible in this period, through an appropriate development plan, setting of clear work objectives, and regular monitoring and feedback.

Effective management of the probationary programme

Line managers should structure a probationary programme so that the employee is clear about the expected level of performance, type of conduct and quality and quantity of outputs.  It should make provision for effective assessment and review of the employee’s performance, suitability for the role and training and developmental needs, and ensure proper feedback and discussion with the employee.

The HR Directorate will send an automatic email to the line manager, reminding them to hold a Personal Development and Review (PDR) meeting with a new employee when they have been in post for 2 weeks.  This initial PDR meeting should be used to set objectives that will ensure the effective induction of the member of staff into the university, workplace, team and job role, and should be reviewed face to face at regular intervals during the probationary period and through the normal PDR process.

The probationary programme should include:

  • completion of the induction process and forms
  • regular monitoring of the employee’s performance and induction through progress meetings
  • identification of issues, discussion and action planning at the earliest opportunity
  • regular constructive feedback
  • supervisory guidance and support and
  • timely provision of necessary training and coaching, especially the mandatory training courses required for the optimum performance of the role.

The HR Business Partnership Team will advise and provide support and guidance, to the line manager who is responsible for ensuring that appropriate induction and probationary processes are carried out in accordance with these guidelines.

The probationary period must be carefully planned, with a clear programme and action plan that is discussed and agreed with the employee.  Above all, the employee should be clear about what is expected of them in the role to which they have been appointed.

A programme should include:

  • clear job outputs, i.e. what the employee will be expected to achieve during or by the end of their probationary period;
  • clear standards of performance that are required with regard to the duties on the job description;
  • clear measurements or standards against which the employee’s performance will be assessed;
  • any agreed development activities such as training courses, mentoring, work shadowing and
  • a description of relevant standards of behaviour in relation to liaison with colleagues or clients for example.

Training plan

The probationary period should also make provision for a training plan which sets out the additional development that the employee is expected to undertake in order to be fully effective in the role. 

A training plan may include:

  • training for specific job tasks;
  • relevant organisational procedures, for example, H&S, DSE, induction course, PDR;
  • general University policies and procedures;
  • job specific knowledge such as software, or technical knowledge;
  • the University Induction Check List and
  • plans for attendance at  mandatory or other training courses.

Training should be structured in timely stages so that the employee is able to work towards competent performance by the end of their probation period.

Progress meetings

Regular progress meetings between the line manager and the employee are a necessary part of the probationary period and should provide a time in which the employee’s performance and progress can be discussed and reviewed; feedback is best provided on a “little and often” basis.  Less frequent meetings can result in important issues being overlooked or in a delay in the resolution of issues relating to the requirements and responsibilities of the post.

Progress meetings should be used to highlight areas in which the employee is doing well. Where there are problems the meeting should explain clearly where and how an employee is falling below the required levels, and to discuss the reasons for this. These meetings should be conducted as a dialogue and the employee should be encouraged to ask questions, to raise concerns about aspects of their employment and to seek advice. These meetings should be followed up with a short note of the topics covered and agreed outcomes.

Keeping records

Probationary progress meetings need to be fully and clearly documented to provide an accurate record of what has been discussed covering areas of concern, and noting areas where the employee is performing well and where guidance has been provided on required improvements in any areas of concern. The manager should provide a copy of the record made after each meeting to the employee.

Final review

The HR Business Partnership Team will send the line manager the documentation that is used to confirm an appointment at the end of a probationary period.  A final review meeting must be held before the final date of the period. This meeting should be used to:

  • identify and discuss any areas where the employee requires further training and development;
  • discuss how they feel about their job role in general and
  • explain how performance will be managed in the future.

If the employee’s level of performance is satisfactory, the line manager should complete the documentation and send it to the HR Business Partnership Team for confirmation of the appointment.

If the employee’s performance has not been up to the standard required the line manager should discuss the matter with the HR Business Partnership Team providing evidence of the standards that have been set, of the performance, the training that has been provided, the conversations and progress review meetings that have taken place.

Line managers are expected to identify as early as possible in the probationary period where there are concerns about performance or capability, and to discuss these with the employee and with the HR Business Partnership Team. Such discussions should not be delayed until the later part of the probationary period.

Extending a probationary period

If an employee’s performance is deemed to have been unsatisfactory at the end of the probationary period, or the employee or the manager has been absent from the workplace for an extended period during the probationary period, the line manager may wish to recommend an extension to the probationary period.

Extending a probationary period will normally only be appropriate where it is felt that the provision of further time is likely to enable the employee to reach the required level of performance.

A probationary period can only be extended in consultation with the HR Business Partnership Team and with the agreement of the relevant Dean/Director.

Where an employee successfully completes an extended probationary period and has not been appointed at the top of their grade; their first increment will be with effect from the date that their probationary period has been formally signed off as being achieved. For example if a support staff employee has their six month probationary period extended to nine months, then the first increment will be given after nine months, not six.

Where an employee’s period of probation is to be extended, the line manager must set out the terms of the extension in writing (copy to HR for the personal file) stating:

  • the length of the extension and the date when the probation period will end;
  • the reason for the extension with supporting evidence and the expectation that the employee will be able to reach the required standard by the end of the extended probation period;
  • the performance standards and objectives that must be achieved by the end of the extended probation period (an action plan);
  • any support or further training that is to be provided during the extension period and
  • that if the employee does not fully meet the required standards by the end of the extended period of probation, his or her employment may be terminated.

Terminating a probationary period

Where a line manager does not wish to confirm an appointment, they should consult the HR Business Partnership Team at least six weeks before the end of the probationary period.  There will be a discussion between the line manager and the HR Business Partnership Team taking account of the written evidence of the support and training the employee has been given, the standards that have been communicated to them, performance levels, and copies of the notes generated and sent to the employee after each Progress Meeting.

If it is agreed that the evidence supplied supports a case for not confirming the appointment and not extending the probationary period, the line manager will write a report recommending that the employment should be terminated. This should be submitted via the Dean/Director to the Vice-Chancellor (or nominated deputy).

The employee will be verbally informed by their line manager that this recommendation is being made and this will be confirmed in writing with a copy of the report to the member of staff by the HR Business Partnership Team. In that letter the employee will be invited to make a representation to the Vice-Chancellor (or nominated deputy), either in writing or orally within 5 working days.  Any representation meeting between the VC and the employee will take place within 10 days of the employee notifying that they wish to make a representation.

The Vice-Chancellor or the nominated deputy will receive the full set of documentation together with any written or verbal representations from the employee. The Vice-Chancellor may seek supplementary information from any of the parties, and any such information shall also be communicated to the employee and the HR Directorate.

If the recommendation for dismissal is approved, the employee will be notified and informed of the right of appeal.

Right of appeal against non confirmation in post

Employees whose appointment is not confirmed through this procedure have the right of appeal against the decision and may be accompanied at that appeal by a friend, employee or a trade union representative.

Any appeal must be made in writing to the Director of HR within 10 working days of the date of the letter confirming the VC’s decision to dismiss; the appeal must state the grounds on which it is being made. 

The dismissal will remain in effect pending any appeal timetable. An appeal against a decision by the VC or the nominated deputy to dismiss will be heard by an Appeals Committee.  The Appeal Committee will compose of: 

  • one Independent Governor of the University appointed by the Director of HR,
  • one member of the University’s Executive Board, nominated by the Director of HR, who has not previously been involved in the case. 

Decisions made on appeal shall be final and the member of staff will be informed in writing of that decision within 5 days of the appeal hearing date.

The Appeals committee will hear any appeal within 20 working days of the appeal being lodged, unless otherwise agreed in writing between the parties.

Application to Existing Employees of the University

Staff already employed within the University may change post through an application process or through redeployment, for example. 

Current employees who change their role within the organisation, for whatever reason, will be provided with the same level of support  to help them to move successfully into the new role. This support will include a structured programme, as set out above, with regular monitoring of performance, appropriate support and training,  training plan, progress meetings, and full supporting documentation( as detailed in this guidance document). The employee’s continuity of service will not be affected by the change of role. Where redeployment is involved there will be a trial period for both the employee and the University, as detailed in the Handling Redundancies and Redeployment Policy.  

If the employee does not reach the required standard in the new post the University’s capability procedure should be implemented rather than the non-confirmation procedure set out above.


Updated Jan 2012 (JSC 111202/05)