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Unpaid workplace shifts – trial or tribulation?

Unpaid workplace shifts – trial or tribulation?

As a business owner, it can be difficult to find the right person for the job when you recruit.  After all, most people (the smart ones anyway) generally tend to be on their best behaviour at interview.  Just how can you tell who can talk the talk and who can actually walk the walk?

At Keeping HR Simple, we swear by using discovery days.  It’s an opportunity to invite a shortlisted candidate into your office to meet with you and your team and to spend time in the environment and with the people they’d be working with.  It’s a two way street also – a chance for them to get to know you when you’re not on your best interview behaviour!

So much so that we use discovery days as a key part of our own internal recruitment process.  Once we’ve carried out first stage interviews, we then invite a select few to come to our office to spend some time with us.  When I asked our two most recent recruits to comment on their experiences, here’s what they had to say:


I attended my discovery day with Keeping HR Simple, after my interview.  I was very excited to have made it to the next stage of the recruitment process and saw it as another opportunity to learn more about the company and also, a chance to gain a greater insight into what the day to day operations would look like.  I was looking forward to seeing the team and seeing how I might fit in.

It really helped me make my decisions when I was offered the role.  I could imagine myself working alongside my colleagues and seeing the role ‘live’ before I had started.  It definitely helped come that scary morning of day 1, as I knew where I would be sitting, how I would be working with and little things like where the loos were and where to make a drink.

I would highly recommend spending some time with the company if possible before you start.  The interview process should be a two-way process and the discovery day was my chance to feel more secure in my decision and confident about my future.


“The discovery day was key for me. Moving to a completely different environment in a new vocation the discovery day gave me a real life insight into the typical working day, not only in HR, but in the Keeping HR simple office.

In my search for a new role, the right environment was one of the most important factors. I was looking for a fun relaxed environment that supported, encouraged and empowered their staff, all of which was made apparent in my Discovery Day. I met all the colleagues I would be potentially working with and witnessed the different dynamics in room along with getting a good understanding on the different personalities – and I was pleased to discover that everyone loved cake as much as I do.

I would recommend that all companies have a discovery day as part of their recruitment process.”

However, our extremely useful discovery days could soon be banned because they’re unpaid.  The Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) Bill wants to put an end to trial shifts without pay.

Now, I absolutely agree that trial shifts should be paid if the person is being asked to deliver work from which the prospective employer stands to materially benefit. If I was running a restaurant and asked a chef to work an unpaid trial shift, the chances are that I’d be serving that person’s food (possibly!) and I’d therefore stand to make some money from my customer without actually paying the poor chef who’s effectively volunteering!

I believe there needs to be a clear distinction between a discovery day that’s all about a more detailed insight into a working environment and a team and an unpaid trial working shift where someone is actually being taken advantage of and working for free.  I’d like to see a time limit put on a work trial so it can’t go on for several days or even several weeks as can be the practice.

It’s alleged that unpaid trial shifts contribute to an estimated £3 billion in missing wages every year and that is entirely unacceptable.

No to taking advantage of people who want a job but let’s still say yes to giving a real insight into a working environment, a job and a team of people.  Without that, recruiting becomes a stab in the dark based on who can best “blag it” at interview and not based on actually finding the right person for the job.

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