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Recruiting? Which contract is best? Probation, Trial Period or Fixed Term.

You’ve made the decision to advertise a job, but you know that a critical issue in the appointment of whoever you choose is that they deliver the goods, otherwise their appointment may well be a waste of time and money.

What’s the Right Option for You?

Whichever the option, make sure your employment contract reflects reality! That aside, read on:


Having a probationary period for any appointment means you need to have proper, transparent processes in place that your staff and their managers are perfectly clear about, and able to follow. That means all parties are fully aware of what the process for monitoring probation are, how long the probationary period is, and what employees can expect to see throughout their probation period. There also needs to be a clear plan for managers to follow to ensure they can manage the whole process well.

This should generally involve a formal review structure where manager and employee review performance against plan, agree progress and put in place improvement plans where relevant.

Probation is generally used where staff are employed on longer term / permanent contracts with a view to ensuring they are a good fit. Staff employed with a probation period generally expect that so long as they keep their nose clean, and meet their minimum objectives, they’re in with a decent chance of staying longer term.

Trial Period

A trial period in employment implies that an individual’s performance is being closely monitored, i.e. they are actually ‘on trial’, and this will seem more of a challenge than completing a probation period.  From the employee’s perspective, they really have to prove themselves if they stand a chance of staying in the role longer term.  Many staff working within a trial period will in fact make every effort to go the extra mile to ensure they impress their employers as much as they can.

Their contract should either be a short term one which includes the trial period element, or a longer term contract which should state that the appointment will end on a specific date, unless they meet all their objectives and their conduct / performance is faultless.

Trial periods can be used where a candidate might not appear, during the selection process, to be the best fit for the role, but the employer is prepared to give them the opportunity to prove themselves without committing to longer term employment. To be fair to them they should be told that.

Fixed Term Contracts

Employment contracts with a defined start and end have a number of uses.

They should always be used where it is clear that a role is limited in duration, e.g. for a period of Maternity cover, or to oversee a specific project, or element of a project.

They can however also be used where employers again aren’t confident enough to commit to a permanent contract, for reasons relating either to the candidate concerned, or the definite longer term need for the work to continue.  As there is now legal protection for staff employed on Fixed Term Contracts, it is generally assumed that most fixed term contracts are for shorter periods than the 4 year ‘limit’ in the Fixed Term Worker regulations.

Fixed term contracts should of course also include Probation periods, and can include Trial Periods too as outlined above, so in some respects the employer can cover all bases in making sure they get the best from their employee.


In deciding which of these options are right for you, just make sure that you bear in mind:

  • Whether your potential candidates will share your view on the best option, and whether any option will deter the best candidates from applying or taking the job
  • How you present these options in the recruitment process in a way which doesn’t appear too negative or off-putting
  • You’ve really got to keep on top on managing whichever process you plump for, otherwise you’re as well hiring permanent staff from the outset!

If you want to discuss your options further, then why not why not call one of our HR experts  now.

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