Employee Probation – Give it a try?

People often ask how I get the ideas for my blog posts. I usually say it is a mixture of things I do or discover on projects and articles and tweets that I just happen to catch in my Twitter stream. Today was just such a day. I came across an article promoting the use of employee probation.

I ended up thinking long and hard about the idea of employee probation and I wondered, “did the concept of probation start where I thought it did?”

Altar of Google

So I prayed at the altar of Google and this is what I found:

“Probation is a court ordered sanction. The goal being to retain some control over the offenders while allowing them to remain in the community. The concept of probation has its origins in England. After centuries of rigid and harsh punishment for the commitment of crimes, the English courts sought a way to grant leniency to less serious offenders. The idea of judicial reprieve, the practice under English common law whereby a judge could suspend the imposition or execution of a sentence on condition of good behavior on the part of the offender, became common. Judicial reprieve required the offender to maintain this good behavior for a specified period of time. If he was successful, he could apply to the Crown for a pardon. “

So to summarize, probation is a concept that is applied to someone who has been found guilty to retain control over them while determining whether they can demonstrate good behaviour. If they can demonstrate good behaviour, they can be granted a pardon to join society,

Wow. Is this really a term we should still use in the workforce? The name itself has a concept of hierarchy inherent in it. It assumes the employee is “guilty” and may not be a fit. It assumes that the company is above the employee and has control over the employee and their future at the company. It especially places the experienced employee at a disadvantage as they could have left a comfortable career and the new employer can essentially change his/her mind without any impact. (other than having to find another person)


Don’t get me wrong, I think there should be a period of “dating” to ensure a new employee and employer are a good match. Perhaps we need to lose the term probation and make the “dating” period more equitable. If an experienced employee is leaving a job to go to another company, there should be more responsibility on the company so that the company can’t just unilaterally declare “It’s you, not me”

I know my current company, Protegra, operates in this way and takes the hiring, on-boarding, and potential culture fit of employees very diligently and seriously. When I read some articles though, I wonder if the market in general still has a long way to go.


Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

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