Julie Provino: How HR can help businesses survive Brexit

The business world is about to change in an unprecedented way. For four long years, “Brexit” has been the elephant in the boardroom, the punchline of jokes at the coffee machine and the number one cause of heated discussions everywhere else. However, we must face the fact that a major deadline – actually, the latest in a long list of major deadlines – is fast approaching!

Whatever happens in the coming months, one thing’s certain: we’re in for a very bumpy ride. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Brexit also presents an excellent opportunity for HR departments to prove they’re ready and willing to step up to the challenge and provide the necessary guidance and leadership. It’s all about adopting a pragmatic approach that will bring resilience to the rest of the organisation. But how can HR provide the focused support that businesses require when there’s still so much uncertainty?


There are 2.37 million EU nationals working in the UK. That’s 2.37 million people directly affected by Brexit who are – more than likely – concerned about their future. Unsurprisingly, the UK has seen a significant decline in immigration since 2016 with many businesses finding it harder to source and retain skilled workers. But Brexit is so much more than just a staffing issue. It’s a ticking time bomb that potentially has huge political ramifications. And with only weeks to go, who knows what’s really in store?

That’s why it’s time for HR to build a watertight people plan and communicate clearly and directly to all affected staff. So, what do we currently know? We know who our skilled workers are and which skills are required for the next 3-5 years. This is enough to plan. Engage in a dialogue with each affected individual. Discuss their plans, reassure them and provide support – that’s the important part. There’s ample information out there on the EU Settlement scheme to support anyone interested in applying. This information can easily be shared and discussed with your staff who, at this crucial time, really need support from their employer.

Brexit will also have a major impact on employees travelling in and out of the UK. Forward-thinking organisations are planning to halt flights on and around October 31st. There are guidance notes covering this, and many HR departments are busy building contingency plans with management. New immigration rules are set to be in place for 2021. In the meantime, it’s vital for the HR community to keep informed and gather as much relevant information as possible.

HR systems and practices

If you think your organisation will only be impacted in terms of staffing and immigration, you need to delve deeper into these issues.

Over the last four years, immigration in the UK has reduced significantly. Today, 44 per cent of businesses are reporting increased concerns when it comes to sourcing the right staff with the right skills for the job. At the same time, 34 per cent say they are experiencing increased issues in terms of retaining staff. All this, along with the current and expected currency fluctuations, points towards changing market salaries. Put simply, skilled workforces will demand higher salaries. So, the war for talent is back on! It’s time to speak to our recruitment channels, find out exactly what’s going on in our markets, review figures and gain a better understanding of our entire end to end recruitment process. When Brexit finally happens, what will our recruitment and retention strategy be?

Many organisations are also reviewing their benefits packages. Some are even offering legal and immigration advice to employees and their families. What may seem like an extravagance now, may end up being a powerful retention strategy. Employees must be able to trust their employers to help them weather the coming years. Having a trusted partner who provides reassurance, guidance and ensures a wholesome approach to staff and their families during these uncertain times is crucial. Furthermore, some organisations are considering bringing in financial wellbeing packages alongside wellness programmes. This can have a massive impact in terms of increasing engagement for employees. Benefits, as we all know, need to respond to our organisational demographics – it isn’t just about providing a medical and a pension plan. It can be so much more.

In addition, our legal system is about to enter what I’d call a twilight zone. Clearly, we’ll still be bound by the current directives that the UK has implemented since the EU’s inception. But there’s so much more to be discussed. For instance, our European Court of justice will no longer hear our cases. Will our data still be processed in the EU or would it need to move to the UK? How about our confidentiality and non-compete clauses? The world of free movement and commonalities is about to change – not end. The best approach is to attend all those law updates and build a network of experts around us who will provide additional insight regarding what will be on the agenda for our employment lawyers post October 31st.


In times of turmoil, leaders and managers tend to look to HR for guidance and insider information, especially when it comes to the overall health of the organisation. At the end of the day, we’re sometimes seen as the barometers of an organisation.

What’s it looking like at your organisation? Is the panic gauge going through the roof, or do you have a calm and pragmatic strategy in place to weather the storm? Now’s the time for HR departments to step up and act as a guiding light of resilience and calm.

It’s all about providing effective leadership during uncertain times.