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Helping employees deal with Brexit uncertainty

A recent survey from the CIPD, the HR professionals’ body, found that almost half (48%) of UK employers who employ EU nationals believe that Brexit has led to an increase in the number of those expressing insecurity about their jobs. UK nationals working in the EU are no doubt experiencing similar emotions. 

When employees feel insecure, they often become less motivated and productive. Equally worrying for employers is that with some employees no longer feeling welcome in their adopted countries, it could become increasingly difficult to retain those with key knowledge and skills.  

    Impact on individuals

    For many EU nationals working in Britain, the result of the referendum came as a shock. The reaction of Anouk de Jong (not her real name) is typical. Originally from the Netherlands, the HR executive has lived and worked in London for many years, enjoying what she describes as a very multinational way of life.  When she first heard the referendum result, she thought of immediately going back to mainland Europe.

    “But I’m not alone,” she says. “I have a son who was raised in Britain and is in the British education system, and I don’t want to move him into a different education system.”

    Almost three years after the referendum, de Jong and others in her position no longer fear being thrown out of the UK when it leaves the EU. She recently applied for “settled status” under the EU Settlement scheme, which gives EU citizens the right to continue to live and work in the UK. Yet, she is still not sure of her long-term future is in Britain. “For the moment my plan is to stay but when my son has finished his education, it’s something we will review,” she says.

    British nationals working in the remaining EU member states have also been affected. Oliver Wright, Global Service Delivery Manager at SD WORX has lived and worked in the Benelux countries for 20 years, first in the Netherlands and then in Belgium, where he met his wife. He recalls feeling “stunned” by the referendum result. “The fact that freedom of movement - the ability to travel, to work in different countries and to fall in love, as I did with my wife - may not be available to many people in the future is for me very sad,” he says.

    Wright applied for Belgium citizenship as an “insurance policy” shortly after hearing the referendum result, and now has dual nationality. So, he does not feel personally insecure. But he is concerned about the possible impact of Brexit on his team, which is split between Antwerp, Glasgow and Reading.  It could, for example, become harder to move roles from one of these cities to another, and to recruit EU nationals with specific knowledge and skills for jobs in the UK and vice versa.

    Employers, in Wright’s view, need to help their employees get ready for Brexit, “But the challenge is that it’s not very clear what to prepare for,” he adds.

      Keeping employees engaged

      Despite this lack of clarity, there is a lot employers can do to keep employees motivated and engaged as we head towards the UK’s postponed departure from the EU. Here are a few suggestions. 

      • Admit that you don’t know how Brexit will turn out but commit to sharing what you do know with employees. 
      • Make sure that line managers and HR team members are updated on the latest Brexit developments, so that they can answer at least some of the questions employees are likely to ask.
      • Listen to employees and try to understand their concerns. This will help make them feel valued – and less likely to want to return to their countries of origin.
      • Be as open and transparent as possible about the organisation’s plans and strategies for dealing with Brexit. Keeping the workforce in the dark will only fuel fear and insecurity.

        Facing Brexit with confidence

        Preparing for Brexit isn’t easy. But you need not struggle alone. SD Worx offers a range of HR and legal advice services to help your business deal with uncertainty and thrive as the Brexit story unfolds.

          Visit SD Worx to fast-track your preparations for Brexit