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A guide to dealing with Brexit uncertainty

7 min read

26 May 2017

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU has begun with the trigger of article 50. No other country has left the EU so we don't know how things will play out – hence all the Brexit uncertainty.

Since the results of the referendum vote were announced, companies have made various statements about job cuts, relocations, profit warnings as well as new UK investments. There’s also a lot of Brexit uncertainty around job security and freedom of movement.

One of the biggest potential struggles concerns non-British talent, whether they will be able to continue working in the UK under the same conditions or if companies could face future hiring difficulties and even resulting skills gaps, particularly when it comes to language skills. Perhaps contrary to universal belief, not all business is conducted in English.

This, coupled with a multitude of positive and negative, impacts creates a difficult environment for leaders to manage their workforce. The truth is, no-one can predict the future, but we can prepare for Brexit uncertainty.

Here are my tips for supporting your workforce through the Brexit uncertainty, whatever the outcome.

Communication and transparency

The UK government has not indicated any major changes for employment legislation but either way, HR must be transparent and ensure it has a clear overview of the composition of the workforce and any potential immigration issues. This can be achieved through conducting a full workforce audit, for example.

Leaders must also keep communication lines open so that employees and stakeholders feel some element of comfort. Any clarity you can give your workforce, particularly those from the EU, will help avoid knee-jerk reactions, such as moving to a company that may feel “safer”.

Communication needs to be a two-way conversation, with leaders effectively communicating any changes in company policy and inviting Brexit questions from the workforce – there may not always be a good answer, but it will help surface what’s on their mind. If necessary, the company can also invest in counselling to help EU workers – offering guidance for residency or citizenship applications or simply providing them with a support network.

Upskill your workforce

There’s a lot of Brexit uncertainty around EU workers and whether it means businesses cannot be reliant on external hires from across the channel to bring in new skills and expertise. Companies need to develop workers from within to plug any potential skills gaps. But even without a Brexit, the direction of a business could change, so whatever may happen you need to upskill your workforce fast.

The best way to prepare yourselves is to instil a culture of continuous improvement and development – teach your employees to learn. This turns learning into a positive habit that can be done efficiently and effectively. The trick is to make it relevant, keep it simple and empower your employees to develop themselves. Use technology to give employees better access to learning. If your employees possess the skill of learning, it can safeguard your business against future skills gaps, whatever the changes that may occur.

Up your game on employee engagement

Similarly, you need to ensure you retain your staff. If there is significant movement in the job market you need to make sure your attractiveness as an employer is at an all-time high. For this, engaging employees is key.

We all know salary isn’t the only motivator for employees. Leaders must have a good strategy around training opportunities, work life balance, consistent feedback and recognition for great work. When done right, you can improve productivity, morale and overall engagement. The key is to create a positive working environment – giving employees a way to collaborate as well as the freedom to express themselves.

Focus on internal mobility

Our recent research with IDC highlighted internal mobility is one of the biggest contributors to employee happiness – and with Brexit uncertainty still going strong, it is becoming an even more important factor. So leaders need to be sufficiently prepared and offer employees options for changing departments and offices within a business, creating a more open and flexible attitude towards job roles and career development.

You must ensure to properly promote internal vacancies so employees are aware of internal opportunities and the adoption of a single, collated platform for tracking employee performance and employee development will help identify suitable internal candidates. Utilising the same platform across all locations will aid international mobility so that workers can move to subsidiaries either in or closer to their home country.

In the end, if workers do need to move, it does not necessarily mean it will change the nature of their work or job role. For many industries, it is possible to  install and enable systems for remote-working, incorporate new means of communication and social tools and facilitate collaboration across multiple locations. The physical location or presence of employees does not need to have any impact on the business.

Getting these foundations right will help leaders to navigate the uncertain road ahead. As Benjamin Franklin said: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”. There will no doubt be more unexpected twists and turns in this Brexit story. The recent announcement of a snap election in June was unexpected and another example of uncertainty along the road to Brexit and beyond. The only thing we know for certain is that nothing is certain.

Vincent Belliveau is executive vice president and general manager of Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at Cornerstone OnDemand

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