How To handle Trial Shifts: A Simple Guide For Employers

Manager giving instructions to employees for their trial shift

In this article, we will explore the concept of a trial shift, its role in the recruitment process, and provide detailed guidance on how employers can effectively utilize trial shifts to assess potential employees.

What is a trial shift?

A trial shift is a short-term work trial used by employers to evaluate a potential employee's skills, suitability, and fit within the team. This practice allows the prospective employer to observe the individual's ability to perform tasks associated with the job role in a real environment.

Typically lasting a few hours to one day, a trial shift provides a practical way to assess a candidate beyond the interview stage.

During a trial shift, the potential employee is given tasks that reflect the duties they would perform if hired. This hands-on approach helps employers determine if the candidate possesses the necessary skills and fits well with other team members.

Common industries for trial shifts

Trial shifts are particularly common in industries where practical skills and immediate customer interaction are crucial.

Hospitality industry: In the hospitality industry, trial shifts are frequently used to assess candidates for roles such as waitstaff, bartenders, and kitchen staff. These positions require specific skills, such as handling customer requests, working under pressure, and collaborating with other team members. A trial shift helps employers see how well a candidate can handle the rapidly moving environment and interact with customers.

Retail sector: The retail sector also relies heavily on trial shifts to evaluate potential employees. Roles in this industry often require direct customer interaction, sales skills, and the ability to manage tasks like stocking shelves or operating a cash register. Trial shifts allow employers to observe how candidates manage these responsibilities and engage with customers.

Service industry: Other service industries, such as cleaning services, beauty salons, and call centers, also use trial shifts. These jobs often demand specific skills and the ability to deliver high-quality service consistently. A trial shift provides a great chance for employers to assess whether the candidate can meet these expectations.

Benefits of trial shifts for employers

Trial shifts provide several key benefits that help employers make informed hiring decisions.

Evaluating skills and fit

Employers can assess various skills during a trial shift, such as:

Technical skills: For roles requiring specific technical abilities, a trial shift allows the employer to see these skills in action. For instance, in the hospitality industry, a trial shift can reveal a candidate's proficiency in customer service and food handling.

Soft skills: Trial shifts help employers gauge a candidate's communication, teamwork, and problem-solving abilities. Observing interactions with other employees and customers can indicate whether the individual is a good fit for the company culture.

Adaptability: Employers can see how well a candidate adapts to new environments and unexpected situations. This is particularly valuable in dynamic roles where flexibility is essential.

Reducing hiring risks

Here’s how trial shifts help reduce hiring risks:

  • Real-time performance assessment: A trial shift provides a real-time evaluation of a candidate's performance in the actual work environment. This helps employers identify any potential shortcomings or mismatches early on.

  • Cost-effective decision-making: Conducting trial shifts can be more cost-effective than hiring and training a new employee who may not be a good fit. It allows employers to make informed decisions without committing to a full employment contract initially.

  • Employee confidence: Candidates who perform well during trial shifts are more likely to be confident and comfortable in their roles, leading to better job performance and satisfaction. This can result in lower turnover and a more stable workforce.

  • Legal and ethical considerations: Employers must ensure that trial shifts comply with employment law, including payment practices and fair treatment. By adhering to legal standards, employers can avoid potential legal disputes and maintain a positive reputation.

Legal considerations

Understanding the legal aspects of trial shifts is crucial to ensure compliance and fairness.

Paid vs. unpaid trial shifts

When it comes to trial shifts, the distinction between paid and unpaid work is vital. Employment law mandates that workers should generally be paid at least the national minimum wage for the hours they work, including trial shifts. This ensures that potential employees are fairly compensated for their time and effort.

However, there are some circumstances under which unpaid trial shifts might be considered legal, often referred to as "unpaid work trials." According to government guidance, unpaid trial shifts are permissible only under very exceptional circumstances, such as when the trial period continues for a brief duration and does not exceed what is reasonably necessary to evaluate the individual's ability for the job. These trials should last only a few hours and must be part of the recruitment process rather than a means to obtain free labour.

For instance, a trial shift lasting longer than a few hours or extending beyond one day should typically be paid, as the trial length exceeds what can be justified as an assessment period.

Avoiding exploitation

To conduct trial shifts ethically and legally, employers should follow these guidelines:

Clear communication: Clearly inform candidates about the nature and duration of the trial shift, including whether it will be paid or unpaid. Transparency helps set accurate expectations and prevents misunderstandings.

Fair compensation: If the trial shift involves actual work that benefits the business, it should be paid at least the national minimum wage. This practice is not only a legal requirement but also demonstrates respect for the candidate's time and effort.

Limited duration: Keep the trial period short and to the point. An unpaid trial shift should last no more than a few hours, sufficient to assess the candidate's suitability for the job without crossing into exploitation.

Document agreements: Provide written documentation outlining the terms of the trial shift, including payment details, tasks to be performed, and the trial's duration. This documentation helps protect both the employer and the potential employee.

Ethical practices: Avoid using trial shifts as a way to get free labour. The primary goal should be to evaluate the candidate's skills and fit for the job role. Exploiting trial shifts for cost-saving purposes can damage the company's reputation and lead to legal repercussions.

Follow-up: After the trial shift, give the candidate timely feedback and communicate the outcome clearly. If the job is offered, ensure that all employment terms are agreed upon and documented.

How to structure a trial shift

Properly structuring a trial shift ensures that it effectively evaluates the candidate's suitability for the job.

Duration and schedule

Here are some guidelines for scheduling trial shifts effectively:

Short durations: For many businesses, especially in the service and hospitality industries, a trial shift lasting 3-4 hours is sufficient to assess the candidate's skills and fit. This timeframe allows the potential employee to showcase their abilities in real-world situations without the trial length exceeding reasonable limits.

Full shifts: In some cases, a full-day trial shift might be necessary, particularly for roles with more complex tasks or those requiring interaction with other team members across different shifts. However, it's essential to ensure that the trial period continues only as long as needed to make an informed decision.

Flexible scheduling: Coordinate with the candidate to find a suitable time for the trial shift. This approach not only shows respect for the candidate's availability but also allows you to assess their punctuality and reliability.

Task assignment

Consider these tips for task assignment:

  • Relevant tasks: Assign tasks that are central to the job role. For example, in a retail setting, tasks might include operating the cash register, assisting customers, and stocking shelves. In the hospitality industry, tasks could involve serving customers, taking orders, and maintaining cleanliness.

  • Variety: Include a mix of tasks to evaluate different aspects of the candidate's skills. This approach helps determine if the individual can handle various responsibilities and adapt to changing demands.

  • Observation: Ensure that tasks are observable by the employer or a designated supervisor. This allows for accurate assessment and immediate feedback. For instance, in a kitchen setting, observing how the candidate handles food preparation and follows safety protocols is essential.

  • Realistic expectations: Set realistic expectations for the tasks assigned during the trial shift. The goal is to assess the candidate's capabilities, not to overwhelm them. Clear instructions and adequate support should be provided to help the candidate succeed.

  • Team interaction: Where applicable, include tasks that involve interaction with other employees. This helps evaluate the candidate's ability to work as part of a team and their interpersonal skills.

Preparing for a trial shift

engineer with new employee or apprentice, symbolising employee cross-training

Proper preparation is key to ensuring a successful and informative trial shift.

Clear communication

Clear communication is crucial when preparing for a trial shift. Employers must set clear expectations and responsibilities to ensure the candidate understands what is required.

  • Explain the purpose: Clearly explain to the candidate that the trial shift is part of the recruitment process and will help assess their suitability for the job role. This helps the candidate understand the importance of the trial shift and its impact on the hiring decision.

  • Define the tasks: Provide a detailed description of the tasks that will be performed during the trial shift. Make sure the candidate knows what specific duties they will be handling, such as interacting with customers, operating equipment, or collaborating with other team members.

  • Set expectations: Outline the standards and expectations for performance during the trial shift. This includes the level of quality expected in task execution, adherence to company policies, and appropriate dress code, such as smart casual attire if applicable.

  • Schedule details: Inform the candidate about the trial shift's duration and schedule. Clearly state the start and end times, and any breaks they will be entitled to. Flexibility in scheduling can help accommodate the candidate's availability.

  • Provide support: Let the candidate know who will be supervising them during the trial shift and who they can approach for help or questions. This ensures the candidate feels supported and can perform to the best of their abilities.

Necessary documentation

Preparing the necessary documentation in advance ensures that the trial shift is conducted legally and ethically.

Written agreement: Provide a written agreement outlining the terms of the trial shift. This should include details such as the duration, tasks to be performed, whether the shift is paid or unpaid, and the rate of pay if applicable. Both the employer and the potential employee should sign this agreement to confirm mutual understanding.

Legal compliance: Ensure that all aspects of the trial shift comply with employment law, particularly regarding the national minimum wage. If the trial shift is unpaid, clarify under what exceptional circumstances this is legally acceptable. Avoid any practices that could be seen as free labour or exploitation.

Common challenges and solutions

Employers may encounter various challenges during trial shifts, but these can be managed with effective strategies.

Dealing with nervous candidates

Many candidates may feel anxious during a trial shift. Here are some tips to help ease their nerves:

Warm welcome: Start the trial shift with a friendly introduction. Make the candidate feel welcome and comfortable.

Clear instructions: Provide clear and concise instructions for each task. This reduces uncertainty and helps the candidate understand what is expected.

Supportive environment: Assign a mentor or supervisor to guide the candidate throughout the shift. Having someone available for questions and support can greatly reduce anxiety.

Positive feedback: Offer positive feedback and encouragement. Recognizing the candidate's efforts can boost their confidence and performance.

Realistic expectations: Set realistic expectations for the trial shift. Let the candidate know that it’s normal to make mistakes and that the focus is on learning and assessment.

Managing multiple candidates

Managing multiple candidates during trial shifts can be challenging. Here are strategies to handle this effectively:

  • Staggered scheduling: Schedule trial shifts at different times to avoid overlapping. This allows you to give each candidate the attention they need.

  • Clear roles: Assign specific tasks and roles to each candidate to prevent confusion and ensure a smooth process.

  • Adequate supervision: Ensure there are enough supervisors or mentors to provide guidance and feedback to all candidates. This helps maintain a supportive environment.

  • Structured evaluation: Use a structured evaluation form to assess each candidate's performance. This ensures a fair comparison and helps identify the best fit for the job.

  • Efficient communication: Maintain clear and open communication with all candidates. Inform them about the schedule, tasks, and what to expect during the trial shift.

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Topic: Work Shift
Rinaily Bonifacio

Written by:

Rinaily Bonifacio

Rinaily is a renowned expert in the field of human resources with years of industry experience. With a passion for writing high-quality HR content, Rinaily brings a unique perspective to the challenges and opportunities of the modern workplace. As an experienced HR professional and content writer, She has contributed to leading publications in the field of HR.


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