As Brexit negotiations commence, HR teams have an invaluable role to play in helping the businesses within which they work to positively navigate the challenges presented by our EU withdrawal.
For most international companies, Brexit makes it necessary to revise long term business strategies – with changes being far greater for companies closely connected to the EU.
Consequently, any changes need to then be reflected in HR specific strategies and planning.
These changes mark a critical time for reassessing the skills needed by the HR team to drive the Brexit transition through. The HR skill set needed pre-Brexit in many companies may now be different – or heightened, to the skills set needed post-Brexit.
Many skills, such as listening and communication, become heightened and other areas present a shortfall; making training an essential need in the immediate future.
Using case studies to help expound the case for additional / enhanced skills needed, we list the three areas we see as key considerations for HR.
Establishing and maintaining purposeful open communication channels with staff is critical to reassuring and informing them during imminent transitions.
Communication: Case Study
Business A is deeply connected to Europe and relies heavily on European staff and suppliers to conduct its business. The uncertain outcomes of Brexit negotiations create a difficult predicament for staff which may result in:
- Increased staff attrition as EU nationals look to move to positions with greater long-term security elsewhere in Europe. While looking for alternative roles, they are likely to be less motivated and preoccupied with an immediate sense of need to determine their next move.
- Morale is an emotional contagion and a drop in morale will almost certainly impact that of UK staff members. UK staff members may also start worrying about the financial viability of Business A as it loses access to the EU resource pool and becomes less able to recruit the skills it needs to maintain business productivity; again potentially leading to increased attrition or a fall in productivity.
- Location uncertainty for UK staff who are based in the UK, yet required to travel extensively within the EU for work purposes. Staff may now be wondering if their roles will be relocated outside of the UK.
- Rumours as to the impacts of Brexit on the business and whether or not it will relocate are circulating and, in some cases, staff members are becoming highly emotional about the situation.
It is essential that HR skills have the skills to:
- Anticipate the emotional impact of Brexit on staff and be there to listen, direct and advise.
- Reassure staff regarding their value to the business success and the need for them to help drive the success of the new business challenges ahead.
- Communicate in an insightful way and with the intention of focusing staff on what is happening in the here and now, what the business is doing to proactively embrace the new challenges and motivating them to think positively about the new opportunities Brexit might bring.
It is essential that HR staff understand Brexit and its potential impact on the business while also planning meaningful communications as Brexit negotiations progress.
Understanding Brexit: Case Study
Business B is a non-EU located bank, selling to Europe via a UK base which consists of EU and British staff. Staff are concerned their jobs may be impacted by a potential loss of freedom of movement, that the bank may relocate its presence to the EU, or that EU staff may have to apply for citizenship to remain.
The business is working to anticipate potential business impacts while also reviewing processes to ensure that systems will be compliant in the event of regulatory change.
It is essential that HR team members can:
- Fully understand what is happening in respect to Brexit and be able to converse competently at all levels of the business
- Understand the negotiation timetable and potential impacts on the business and have the skills and knowledge to anticipate impacts on areas such as recruitment, training, retention, talent management, international mobility and compliance
It is essential that HR draw on the best analytical skills of their team when profiling their workforce.
The HR team generally need to retain an analytical approach throughout our exit from the EU. Losing sight of the detail and implication of workforce changes could result in significant long term problems.
Understand your Workforce: Case Study
Business C is a language services company which is highly dependent on staff from Europe with the linguistic capabilities to engage with a large European client pool. It also depends on the attraction of talent via programmes such as the Erasmus project – many of whom become permanent employees post programme completion.
It is essential that the HR team:
- Understand the demographics of the staff base. How many are European nationals? What roles do they carry out? What do they bring to the business in terms of skills? What languages do they speak? Which high profile clients do they interface with? Which staff members are highly talented and who would impact the business the most if they were to leave? What do any European funded initiatives such as the Erasmus programme contribute to the organisation?
- Carry out detailed contingency planning – if EU staff members with languages exit, then how will language skills be backfilled? Do the business start carrying out language / related skills training with UK staff nationals? If highly talented European staff members leave, then how will the talent be backfilled? What support should be offered to high potential European staff to retain them? Will you have to pay more to highly talented staff from Europe to retain them? How will this affect your employment costs? How will you attract European talent in the absence of programmes such as Erasmus?
The three areas outlined above are indicative only.
As our exit from the EU progresses, there’s no doubt that agreements will throw to light additional challenges for HR teams and a more focused application of existing skills, additional training or the introduction of new systems.
Clearly, we need to be flexible and ready for anything as Brexit continues. Will this process shape our roles going forward? Undoubtedly, yes!