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Probation and Performance in the Australian Public Service

Please note - this is an archived publication.

A better practice guide to support employees and managers to get the most out of the probationary period


Recommendation 7.4 of Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration (March 2000) noted that in order to improve outcomes, the APS needed to strengthen the performance framework.

In response, the Commission has been working in collaboration with universities and agencies on the Strengthen the Performance Framework Project to explore how this can be achieved.

The Project has undertaken a number of case studies in APS agencies to develop a set of APS wide principles and practices for high performance. A key area emerging from the studies was the management of probation. Participants highlighted probation as an area which required extra focus, particularly in terms of establishing behavioural and performance expectations within the APS, probation is key.

Integral to strengthening the performance framework, the Public Service Amendment Act 2013 received Royal Assent on 14 February. The amendments include a revised set of APS Values and a new APS Employment Principle which requires effective performance from every APS employee.

The amendments to the Act provide a strong basis for establishing clear behavioural and performance expectations for all APS employees. These expectations can be clarified and reinforced during the probationary period.

As the APS faces a period of continuing fiscal constraint, all agencies and their employees are under pressure to achieve more with less and to improve on the level of productivity and efficiency.

Key to achieving this is ensuring that our people have clear role and performance expectations and ongoing, regular feedback on their performance. The best time to establish this clearly is during the probation period.

This guide has been developed as a practical tool to assist new employees, managers and human resource practitioners get the most out of probation.

The purpose of probation

Probation, when set as a condition of engagement, is a critical part of the recruitment and selection process for APS employees. Setting clear probation objectives ensures that a new APS employee knows what is expected of them, and how they can meet these expectations.

Probation is the key period for managers to establish performance expectations and for employees to clarify the support and feedback that is required to meet agreed performance expectations. It is the first part of performance management in the APS.

Probation provides a practical means to:

  • allow the new employee to determine for themselves if they fit with the agency;
  • provide an opportunity for the employee to adjust to working in the respective agency and the wider APS generally;
  • assess a new employee’s suitability for employment in the respective agency and the wider APS;
  • determine that the employee’s performance, and conduct, are satisfactory; and
  • identify any shortcomings and implement remedies.

There are critical responsibilities for both managers and employees during the probation period in order to make it an effective and meaningful period for all parties.

Proactive management of probation will have ‘win-win’ outcomes for employees and managers.

Employees: This is the time to ensure that you are set up well for high performance. You need support, feedback and clarity to meet performance expectations and probation is the time to set it up. If you don’t get clarity – ask for it!

Managers: Probation is the time for managers to set clear behavioural and performance expectations for employees new to the APS.

Human resource practitioners: You have a role to play in supporting line managers actively manage the probationary period by providing clear policy and processes.

Legislative and policy framework – important documents

Probation must be managed in accordance with the APS Values and Code of Conduct, procedural fairness considerations and the legislative framework relating to APS employment, including the Public Service Act 1999 (the Act) and the Fair Work Act 2009 (‘FWA’): Relevant information can be located at -

Probation principles

The length of the probation period is at the discretion of the agency. Generally three to six months is considered a reasonable period in which to properly test person / job fit. In some cases, for example where a period of training is required prior to performing in the role (i.e. in the case of a traineeship or cadetship) a longer period may be required.

The period of probation should be used to ensure that an employee is aware of, and able to comply with, the APS Values and Employment Principles as an essential element underpinning their engagement in the APS. Probationers should be advised that an employee’s failure to comply with the APS Values, Code of Conduct and Employment Principles, at any time during their career, may result in sanctions being imposed. Managers should recognise the probation period as an opportunity to test whether recruitment has achieved right job person fit. They should also see probation as a crucial period for supporting a new starter so that they are well-equipped to perform well in role.

Managers should be realistic with their expectations of new starters and ensure the provision of the necessary information, resources, feedback and support they need to perform well in their roles. Any issues should be addressed early through ongoing feedback.

Don’t delay in addressing issues – probation is the time to ensure that employees can perform effectively in their roles.

Timing is crucial - don't delay in addressing the issues - probation is the time to ensure that employees can perform effectively in their roles.

Last reviewed: 
12 June 2018