This guidance is for managers handling the probationary period for new members of staff recruited from outside the University
What is this guidance for?
This guidance relates to the management of the probationary period for all new appointments within the support and academic-related staff groups in cases where the new staff member has been recruited from outside the University.
There are separate arrangements for Associate Professors
The probation process for Departmental Lecturers should be checked with departmental HR staff.
Statutory Professors are appointed direct to retirement and do not have a probationary period.
Who is this guidance for?
This guidance is for line managers and HR staff.
Line managers and departmental HR staff should consult their HR Business Partner if specific queries arise.
Why is this guidance in place?
This guidance is intended to ensure that all new staff are managed in a way which is consistent with good practice and employment law, so as to enable them to reach an acceptable standard in the performance of their role and complete their probationary period satisfactorily.
This guidance has been written for those managing employees during their probationary period.
However, many of the same principles will apply when managing employees who start a new role within the University but who are not on probation (‘internal movers’ or sometimes known as ‘transfers’) – all the steps set out below would be best practice but with one key difference: where any concerns arise about an employee who is not on probation, the normal disciplinary processes should be followed (for support staff or for academic related staff ).
A flowchart for internal movers is available on the right hand side of the page.
Induction guidance for new starters is also available.
The probationary procedure has no direct connection with salary, promotion, job grading or discipline, for which separate procedures exist. The review(s) will inform decisions on whether to confirm the appointment, extend the probationary period or, exceptionally, not confirm the appointment.
Purpose of probation
The purpose of the probationary period is to ensure that a new employee is able to gain a full understanding of the requirements of the post and to achieve a satisfactory level of performance, within a reasonable period of time, in the early part of their career with the University. It is also intended to help identify any training and support that is needed for the employee. Probationary periods are specified in contracts when an employee joins the University:
- The probationary period for University support staff is normally 6 months
- The probationary period for academic-related staff is normally 1 year
For roles which are much more complex, substantially different and/or more senior than those held by the new employee with their previous employer, a longer time (up to 1 year for support staff and up to 2 years for academic-related staff) may be implemented to provide sufficient time to assess whether the new employee is able to fulfil the requirements of the post.
The length of the probationary period for employees on a fixed-term contract will depend on the length of the contract, and it should not normally exceed half of the fixed employment period. Please seek any further advice from the appropriate HR Business Partner.
Who should have a probationary period?
- All new support and academic-related staff who have been recruited from outside the University (i.e. who were not employed by the Chancellor, Master and Scholars of the University of Oxford in their previous role) should have a probationary period.
- If an internal mover (i.e. somebody who was previously employed by the Chancellor, Master and Scholars of the University of Oxford) has not completed their probationary period in the previous post at the date the new job offer is made, advice should be sought from the appropriate HR Business Partner about the options for probation in the new role. Options will include keeping the remaining portion of the probationary period of the old role to be set as the probationary period for the new role or, where the new role is significantly different, or where the probationary period in the previous role was due to have been extended, and extended probationary period may be set.
- Internal movers (including on promotion) should not have a probationary period. If there are exceptional circumstances that suggest that an appointment of an internal candidate to a new role would only take place with a new probationary period, then advice should be sought from the appropriate HR Business Partner.
- Staff members moving internally who have successfully completed a probationary period should be given support for adjusting to the requirements of the new role, including an induction programme – see the flowchart and further guidance [New to Oxford | People and Organisational Development].
Notice period during probation
The required notice period during probation (original or extended) will normally be:
- 1 week for support staff (grades 1-5)
- 1 month for academic-related staff (grades 6-10)
Interface with the University’s Personal Development Review (PDR) scheme
Staff in their probationary period do not take part in the normal ongoing PDR process as they are subject to the probationary review process set out in Tab 3. However, once they have satisfactorily completed their probationary period they move on to the PDR process with regular 1 to 1 meetings with their line manager and an annual PDR discussion. Part of the final probationary review meeting can be used to set PDR objectives for the coming 12 months.
- Section 3.2 of the relevant staff handbook
- Induction guidance
Please note that the exact process may vary by specific staff groups:
- There is specific guidance on managing the probationary period for Heads of Administration andd Finance (and equivalent roles, for example, Departmental Administrator etc.)
- Guidance for managing probation for staff in UAS is available from UAS HR Business Partners
- For Academic posts, Associate Professorships have an initial period of office of up to 5 years. Statutory Professors are appointed direct to retirement and do not have a probationary period
A flowchart for the probationary period is available on the right hand side of the page.
Appropriate induction should always be given to new employees. This should include a clear indication of performance expectations, set through targeted objectives, and a timescale for probation reviews. This should be clearly communicated to the employee in a face-to-face meeting and followed up in writing, so the document can form the basis of review meetings.
The manager should:
- Clarify for the employee
- the skills/competences which are required
- the standard of work expected (quality and quantity)
- any deadlines to be met
- expected behaviour/conduct (including timekeeping and attendance)
- any training needs
- Explain how objectives will be monitored and measured and how frequently this will be done
- Set dates for review meetings.
A sample form for setting objectives (PRO1) is available on the right hand side of the page.
Consideration should be given to any reasonable adjustments which may be required for employees with a disability or health issues. Advice can be sought from the appropriate HR Business Partner or the staff Disability Advisor. The University’s Occupational Health Service may also be able to advise; any referral should be via the local HR contact.
The progress of a probationary employee should be reviewed and discussed regularly in meetings between the employee and their manager (for example, ideally weekly in the first instance then fortnightly or monthly). A sample review form (PRO2) is available on the right hand side of the page.
Preparing for review meetings:
- set aside adequate time to prepare for the meeting
- using the job advert and job description, review the employee’s performance against the duties and requirements of the post and consider:
- any areas in which the employee is performing to a satisfactory standard or above
- any areas in which the employee needs further support, development or training
- any areas in which the employee is not performing to a satisfactory standard
- review progress against objectives set in any previous review meetings
- gather any feedback against the job description from colleagues who work with the employee
- ask the employee for their views on how they perceive the job is going
- review their performance against the duties and requirements of the post and their progress against objectives set previously
- give positive feedback where this is merited
- give constructive feedback about any areas where improvement is needed, taking care to explain why particular issues are problematic and to clarify what is required to reach an acceptable standard
- set objectives for the coming period
- identify and agree any support, development or training needs
- produce a record of the meeting, including a review of work performance against agreed objectives and a note of objectives set for the coming period and give a copy to the employee
- follow up any identified support, development or training needs
- follow up any problems which have been identified: see if there are concerns about work or conduct
In order to ensure good record keeping and maintain accuracy of employees’ records, it is advisable to record key details and dates of the probation for every new employee in People XD.
Line managers should keep a written record of review meetings with the employee as outlined above and give a copy to the employee. These records should be kept securely on the employee’s file.
See the How-To guidance for how to update employees’ probation information and monitoring probation due dates in People XD.
A formal review should normally be carried out halfway through the probationary period to review performance and progress against objectives over the whole of the probationary period so far, not just since the last review meeting. The review will inform decisions at the end of the probationary period about whether to confirm the appointment, extend the probationary period or, exceptionally, to dismiss the employee.
A formal written record of the meeting should be kept on the employee’s file.
If the progress of the employee is exceeding expectations, it may be appropriate to review the objectives for the remainder of the probationary period to ensure these are still appropriate for the level of the role.
If the progress of the employee is falling short of expectations, see If there are concerns about work or conduct.
There should always be a final formal review before the end of the probationary period, covering the same areas as the regular reviews but assessing performance and progress against objectives over the whole of the probationary period since the start of employment.
If following the final review, performance of the probationary employee is deemed satisfactory, the employee can be confirmed in post. This should be officially communicated to the employee by issuing the confirmation in post letter PRO4 which is on the right hand side of the page (via People XD).
An ongoing personal development review process should be followed thereafter, with regular 1 to 1 meetings between the manager and staff member and an annual PDR meeting. Part of the final probationary review meeting can be used to set the staff member’s PDR objectives for the coming 12 months.
If concerns about work or conduct arise at any stage in the probationary period they should be brought to the attention of the employee as soon as possible and should not be left until the formal mid-probation or final probation review meeting. Whenever possible, they should be resolved with the employee through discussion. Advice on dealing with probationary issues should always be sought from the relevant HR Business Partner at an early stage.
Guidance on initial discussion about concerns regarding work or conduct during probation
Often an improvement in conduct or performance can be achieved by simply clarifying what standard of conduct/performance is required, why it is important and by explaining the possible consequences of not meeting the standard, for example, the need for more formal action. This process ensures that the employee clearly understands what is expected of them in order to achieve a satisfactory improvement and ultimately to pass the probationary period successfully.
Prior to any discussion taking place, any relevant feedback and examples should be gathered.
The objectives of the discussion are as follows.
- Remind the employee of the expected standards of work and/or conduct based on their job description and objectives set to date.
- Explain the areas of concern and why they are of concern. Outline to the employee the consequences (for the work of the team or section, for colleagues, for themselves) of the problem. For example if an employee regularly arrives very late they may miss important information for their work given at morning briefings, other colleagues may have to cover for them and so be prevented from doing their own work etc.
- Explore the employee's explanation and view(s) on the concern(s), to establish why there has been a shortfall in conduct or performance.
- Establish whether further support, development or training is required.
- Review current objectives and explain clearly is what expected in future in order for the employee to reach an acceptable standard of work or conduct.
- Set new objectives, with a timescale for the next review. These should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) for example, by the date of the next review be arriving on time on 90% of working days like other colleagues.
- Clarify that if there is not an improvement to a satisfactory standard (or if further issues arise) it may be necessary to consider matters more formally.
It is important that the manager makes and keeps a note of the meeting and writes to the employee afterwards to confirm the main points of discussion and the agreed actions and objectives. A template letter (PRO6) is available on the right hand side of the page. Sample templates in different formats for recording agreed actions (PRO3 and PRO4) are also available on the right hand side of the page.
If discussion does not resolve the matter
If discussion does not resolve matters or is not appropriate (for example, in the event of serious shortcomings), the University procedures for dealing with work or conduct issues should be followed. In summary, these involve:
- a formal meeting, at which the employee may be accompanied, by a union representative or by a colleague of their choice from within the University, to discuss the problem (a template invitation letter PRO7 is available on the right hand side of the page). The employee must be informed beforehand what the concerns are;
- where appropriate, a formal warning with a timed improvement plan (a template letter PRO8 is available on the right hand side of the page, as are sample templates for recording agreed actions (PRO3 and PRO4);
- a further review meeting at which the probationer may be accompanied;
- dismissal with appropriate notice if progress has not been satisfactory.
The details of the procedures varies according to staff group and are set out here: (i) academic-related staff on probation, and (ii) all University support staff on probation. Seek advice from the relevant HR Business Partner before taking any action under these procedures.
Extension of probationary period
The probationary period should be extended in cases where problems have been identified during the probationary period, which the line manager anticipates can be resolved with additional time, support and/or training, allowing the employee to then reach a satisfactory level of performance. This extension might be put in place after the final review meeting (but before the end of the existing probationary period) or at an earlier stage, when it becomes apparent that an extension is needed.
The manager should meet with the employee to discuss the problems that have been identified before deciding to extend the probation. An action plan (sample templates PRO3 and PRO4 are available on the right hand side of the page) should be agreed with the employee, and further advice should be sought from the appropriate HR Business Partner.
The employee should be informed in writing of the extension of the probationary period, which should not come as a surprise, as concerns should have been raised before the process to extend the probationary period takes place.
Extending the probationary period due to absence
Where the employee has not been able to attend work for the full length of the stated probationary period (for example, through sickness absence), or is absent at the anticipated final probationary review, the department may decide to extend the probationary period to allow for this.
In such cases the probationer may be unable to attend an interview and will be informed of the extension of their probationary period in writing, before the date on which their probation would otherwise have been due to expire. The reason(s) for the extension should be clearly explained in a letter, including specific targets given to the employee to be achieved by the new probation end date.
Dismissal during probation
In all cases where dismissal before the end of the probationary period is considered, advice should be sought from the HR Business Partner.
Consider what reasonable adjustments, if any, you may need to make to enable the employee to carry out their role successfully. See the advice on supporting staff with disabilities.
Advice can be sought from the appropriate HR Business Partner or the Staff Disability Advisor. The University’s Occupational Health Service may also be able to advise; any referral should be via the local HR contact.
We have a member of staff still in their probationary period who is about to take family leave. What should we do?
This depends on how far through the probationary period they are when they start their leave. If the leave is due to start near the end of the probationary period, it may be possible to bring forward the final review so as to be able to confirm them in post before they start their leave. If the leave is due to start earlier in the probationary period, so that the employee will not have had sufficient time in post to demonstrate that they can fulfil all the requirements of the post, the probationary period may be extended before it ends to allow them to complete it on their return from leave.
Resources and further information
- For academic-related staff
- For support staff
Dealing with work or conduct issues:
Specific procedures for:
- PRO1 Objective-setting form (DOC)
- PRO2 Probation review form (DOC)
- PRO3 Sample action plan (DOC)
- PRO4 Sample improvement plan (DOC)
For guidance on managing the PeopleXD systems changes please visit: