Guest Blog by Chris McCullough, CEO and co-founder, Rotageek
Unpaid trial shifts might be common practice, but they have no place in 2018. There might sometimes be good intentions – an opportunity for employers to get a measure of how a new hire might slot into their business, and for candidates to decide if they want to work for that company. Yet there are increasing concerns that this practice is being used to exploit job hunters to get free labour.
In March, a private members bill which sought to make unpaid trials illegal got its second hearing, where the government talked it out of parliament. Whilst that bill has no chance of becoming law, it is important to consider that increasing numbers of MPs and lawyers support a blanket ban on this unpaid work. So how common is this practice, why is it now falling out of favour, and what should businesses do?
There is evidence that unpaid trial shifts are more common in certain sectors, such as retail and hospitality, but this has become ‘standard practice’ for many job seekers. Even from talking to my team around the office, there’s plenty of horror stories of this toxic hiring culture. From a hiring process ending abruptly following a trial, or numerous ‘trail shifts’, to businesses using trials to fill staffing gaps.
Trial shifts can be a useful technique, whether it’s getting candidates to interact with customers or seeing how they approach real-world tasks, but the reality is that if candidates are effectively working as a staff member, they should be paid as such. Trial shifts should not be used to cover gaps in overtime. Not only should the business manage staff scheduling more effectively, but expecting a new recruit to perform in a trail shift when the organisation is short staffed is unlikely to yield any helpful information about their aptitude and ability. Shift gaps can be more effectively filled by interactive staffing tools that can maximise the chances of existing workers picking up shifts.
Read and react to the national mood
This particular bill might have failed, but there are signs that the tide is turning on this practice. Even if there are no further efforts to legislate against this, businesses must pay attention to fact that two thirds of people think trial shifts are unfair.
If businesses want to attract and retain the best workers, they must get ahead of the times and stop using this tactic. Not paying workers for trial shifts can get any employment off to a bad start, or make employers lose the respect of their existing staff. What’s more, if employers fail to make candidates feel valued from the get go, they risk losing them to businesses who get ahead of the game. Job hunters are right to demand pay for real work, so businesses don’t need legislation to push them into revising their hiring practices.
Weigh up your options
There are many alternative ways businesses can assess candidates without getting them to work for free – from short role-playing exercises to developing effective interview questions. If businesses still feel these trial shifts are integral to the hiring process, they must view the associated price tag as part of the cost of recruitment. Effectively, if this is the selection tool used then it must be costed and funded as part of a recruitment budget. This is work, not a favour.
It’s an old cliché, but employees really are a brand’s greatest asset. The accounts that are emerging of unpaid trial shifts show that workers and candidates hold onto memories of being treated badly.
This is why it is essential that businesses respect potential hires from the second they submit a CV or respond to a job ad. People are what power businesses – so if a work trial is seen as a useful recruitment tool, pay people for it.