After Brexit Vote, HR Leaders Must Focus on Practical Considerations
By Gareth Jarman, Director, HR Advisory, Radius
The UK electorate has spoken, and after a transition period Britain will leave the European Union. Politicians on both sides of the channel must now not only start to develop new policies, they must also set a reasonable tone amidst Brexit-related passions. UK and EU business leaders must similarly manage change in their respective organizations during this uncertain period.
In my last post I noted that businesses operating in the UK will not actually see much change over the coming two years at least. And depending on how EU-UK negotiations go in regulatory areas such as cross-border financial transactions and immigration, a post-Brexit UK might not be very different than our current situation.
That said, the Brexit referendum was a close vote that has already led to market volatility, political upheaval — Prime Minister David Cameron has of course resigned as a result — and a measure of post-Brexit social unrest, including a reported rise in hate crimes and anti-racism protests. In short, Brexit continues to divide the UK populace and is a contentious issue inside and outside the EU. Business leaders with UK operations must acknowledge this climate and know that it could have practical ramifications for their respective organizations. In this post I’ll list some of these immediate Brexit ramifications and mention some related considerations you should be aware of when developing strategies to effectively manage your business.
Social Media Considerations
In the wake of the referendum, I have been surprised by the readiness of people to directly express their views on the subject through social media. Given the near 50-50 voting results, any partisan views shared with an online social network — which will almost invariably include colleagues, customers and employers — may adversely affect working relationships. Employers and employees must also be mindful of social users’ inadvertent reach online, which extends far beyond their designated networks. And whether a user generates a response or not, posting such comments has the potential to negatively affect a business’ reputation, productivity and future potential.
Having worked through the last recession in internal HR roles, I saw cases of disgruntled employees and former employees taking to the social airwaves to express their discontent. Social media is a useful tool for our modern world, but we are still in the formative stages of understanding its full impact. Given this uncertainty, and the reach of social media, HR leaders should develop clear electronic communication and social media policies to mitigate related risks, including setting clear standards employees must abide by. Nobody wishes to curb what employees do outside of work, but it is good practice to remind employees about their obligations for civil and respectful communication, where the company’s reputation might be inadvertently tarnished.
Managing People After a Contentious Vote
Employees are of course not automatons, and allowing for a spectrum of views is essential both for democracies and for companies that want to develop greater employee engagement. We all know that true engagement can vastly increase productivity and reduce presenteeism. But how do you manage allowing for varying individual viewpoints in a situation such as we have now, in which Brexit has invoked such widespread, strong and mixed emotions? I’ll leave you with a few suggestions.
Direction Setting and Communication. Business leaders must remember in times of political and regulatory change that commerce is also driven by opportunity, entrepreneurialism and leadership. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote and subsequent market volatility, businesses should reassure their employees that life will not change overnight and that business should continue as normal. Over the next two years, as regulatory changes are developed and implemented, leaders must change company policies and procedures in order to maximize benefits and lower risks. It is good practice for business leadership to keep employees aware of these potential changes.
Informing Managers and Providing Extensive HR Support. It is during times of change that natural leaders come to the fore. Providing a calming influence to those employees affected by the Brexit vote and who have concerns about the future can provide a needed stabilizing influence. Managers should be equipped to talk to employees and address any fears. Businesses must provide managers with information to allay employee fears and provide additional support if necessary, such as the ability to refer the employee to an HR expert on the subject. Providing this kind of additional support is particularly important if employer relations issues occur as a consequence.
Employees may wish to obtain guidance on a range of issues, from stress and wellbeing to the availability of additional in-work benefits and support, to the status of visa and/or passport applications, and more. Using such occupational health services as counselling and employee assistance programs, as well as ensuring that your own HR team members are available to provide guidance, can be really beneficial for settling employee concerns and ensuring that your workforce is equipped to cope with ongoing changes wrought by Brexit.