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Organisations across the world face a period of uncertainty, following the UK vote to leave the European Union. As politicians decide if and when to invoke Article 50, initiating the formal exit from the EU, HR professionals are planning their strategy to handle an extended period of turbulence.

While many large organisations prepared for the potential business impact ahead of the referendum, few focused heavily on the people issues. However, the repercussions of the vote on human resources are wide-ranging. Employees may fear that their employer is going to relocate or that changing market conditions may result in them losing their job altogether. UK companies with employees who are European citizens should have contingency plans in case these employees are deemed ineligible to work in the UK. Conversely, some employees with EU nationality may respond to the instability by seeking employment elsewhere.

While it is still early days it’s important for HR professionals and leadership teams to prepare for the people impact of Brexit and to communicate clearly with employees in these uncertain times. Here is a checklist to help you structure your organisation’s response to Brexit:

Communicate

  • Talk to your employees. Everyone, irrespective of their nationality, is feeling anxious about how this might affect their job security. Make sure people know HR is available to listen to concerns and provide up-to-date information.
  • Proactively communicate with managers about developments surrounding Brexit, the ongoing relationship with Europe, how it might impact the company and the organisation’s response to any of the planned scenarios. Even when there is no news or developments, keep the communication lines going
  • Coach and educate line managers to discuss this issue with employees and to share concerns to the HR team. Managers interact with their staff during the working day and it may be more natural for them to discuss this issue, and as needed, involve the required HR professional. In collaboration with HR, line managers will be best placed to pitch the language and mode of communication appropriately to individuals in their team consistently. Encourage line managers to collate issues and concerns and report them to HR so that action can be taken to respond as needed. Where line managers manage large groups of employees, for example on the shop floor, it may be helpful if they can identify a few of their staff who can act as champions and help keep the lines of communication open in both directions.
  • Be proactive and explain decisions, to ensure that employee engagement and productivity is not impeded. Don’t leave long silences, which employees may take as a bad sign. Keep communicating even if just to say there is no news at present.
  • Devise ways to help employees deal with elevated stress levels. Ideally, offer employees the opportunity to discuss their concerns with a neutral third party from outside of the organisation through the form of employee assistance programs who have trained counsellors available. For, some organisations, offering stress-busting activities ranging from yoga to sport may be appropriate.

Be prepared – succession planning for business as usual

  • Identify and create a taskforce of individuals who will work on the people issues that stem from the Brexit vote. These stakeholders should include a representative cross-section of line managers, legal advisers (internal or external) and financial managers, not least as they would be able to help cost the various options and indicate what is feasible for the organisation.
  • Review succession plans. Forward-thinking organisations will already have built succession strategy that include creating talent pools of employees undertaking development towards critical roles. There is always a possibility that senior staff will leave the organisation with little notice and robust succession plans will address this risk.
  • Use employee data and maximise HR systems to inform decision-making. If and when the UK does leave the EU, there is a possibility that some employees may no longer be eligible for employment in your workforce. As a starting point, consider how many employees this may affect and identify individuals of EU nationality who are in critical roles. It may not be possible to retain all these people in the long term, but to avoid stoking anxiety it is best to avoid asking employees to confirm ‘right to work’ information just now.
  • Source expert advice. HR should seek the answers to some pressing questions. If non-British employees in your workforce need to be sponsored for visas, what is the company policy likely to be? Which roles will the organisation be more inclined to sponsor visas for? It may be necessary to consult with a legal expert to ensure you have all the required information to support these decisions.
  • Review your recruitment strategies in what is likely to be a tougher market for quality talent. A solid focus on employee engagement and retention is vital at a time when high potentials may consider leaving your organisation because of perceived job insecurity.

The repercussions of the vote for the UK to leave the European Union look set to last months and possibly years. Preparing the groundwork for change, whatever form it takes, is just good business sense enabling HR to support a flexible and agile international workforce whatever the future holds.