by Neil Harris
You’ve been offered a job and have accepted it. Your contract of employment has been prepared and you are ready to start work. The employment contract could, of course, be more complex than a simple document of offer and acceptance. It may be a long, complicated contract, and if so you should read it carefully to be sure that you are prepared to go along with all its terms and conditions.
Making a start
A date is fixed for you to begin work, joining instructions follow and you duly arrive. What happens next? You will most certainly be ‘on probation’ for the first few months; usually six months, but often as low as three or as high as twelve months. It is relatively easy for an employer to dismiss an employee before they have completed twelve months of service and it becomes much more difficult afterwards, so it is essential that you do the job well and develop good relationships with your colleagues.
A probation period is a two way process. It ensures that you have made the right choice and that you fit in with the culture of the organisation. It also gives your employer the opportunity to assess your performance and ensure you meet the requirements of the role.
Having a job description which clearly states what is expected of you, and against which your performance can be measured, makes life much easier for everyone. It is important to know when and how you will be appraised and the criteria against which such judgements will be made. Your performance, attendance and punctuality will certainly be assessed so do try to optimise these.
Conditions of employment
Some things you can take for granted. Your employers must provide all those things that are legally necessary. This includes providing you with an agreed period of notice if your job comes to an end. They must also attend to your health and safety at work, provide the equipment you need and support to enable you to undertake your duties. Your salary and any expenses reasonably incurred in pursuit of your duties must be paid and arrangements for statutory sick pay and maternity leave pay when required should be in place. Large organisations often have a staff handbook. If there is one, read it early on so that you quickly come to grips with what is expected of you.
At the outset the best employers provide new recruits with an induction programme. It should introduce you to the culture, policies and procedures of the organisation and confirm your responsibilities. Quickly discover whom you will need to contact and have a working relationship with on an organisational level, not just your immediate work colleagues. This may require you to visit other departments or different sites within your employer’s organisation to meet those who will be your closest contacts.
Employers who regularly take on recruits sometimes offer induction workshops. If you have just missed one of these and the next one will not come around for several months it may be necessary to take action to learn more about the company before then. Try to meet regularly with your manager to discuss what they expect of you and how they see you progressing. Don’t just rely on induction workshops that are designed for many employees doing very different jobs.
You should be given information about the values and culture of the organisation. What is its recent history? What products and services does it provide? Who are its main competitors? How is the organisation structured in terms of departments and hierarchy? Who does your manager report to and what is the line of responsibility?
There is a lot more to employment than just fulfilling contracts. Colleagues will be watching how you adapt, and your willingness to assist. What are their ways of doing things? What do various people expect from you in your role, and how does it relate to the work your colleagues are doing? Your teamwork skills can be demonstrated by fitting in with established break arrangements so that a workstation or area is not left unstaffed.Or, you may be able to help by doing something when your colleagues are under excessive work pressures. It is wise to dress in a way that fits in with their environment. Punctuality is valuable, but you shouldn’t be someone who arrives at the last minute and leaves at the earliest opportunity.
Integrating into the team
Over the first few weeks observe the relationships between your colleagues. Which ones are close friends, and which have difficulties in their relationships? Avoid taking sides and doing anything which will aggravate disagreements or decrease morale. If opportunities arise for social contact, such as events after work, taking them will increase your integration into the team.
If you have an idea for change, perhaps to improve the efficiency of some operation, first discuss it privately with a close colleague. It may be something that has been tried many times before and did not work or it might be a development colleagues strongly object to. Discover people’s views before making any public announcements of your scheme.
The skills you bring from your previous experience may not be completely in line with what you require for this one. Your new job may demand a different set of skills which it will be necessary to develop. No job is cast in stone. Circumstances change and organisations must change with them. So consider your need for training and discuss it with your manager. The organisation you have joined may have a training department that regularly runs courses which relate directly to the skills you need. Discover these. Alternatively you could be provided with a mentor who will discuss with you how to get ahead and ways in which the organisation is changing.
Becoming a permanent member of staff
Most new employees pass their probation with flying colours. No one wants to go to the expense and time wasted in advertising your job and going through the entire recruitment process again. So provide a good performance and soon you will be a permanent member of staff.