One of my colleagues recently shared a Brexit anecdote with me where a young lad who he coaches at football remarked “how should I know what to do about Brexit when the experts themselves don’t know what to do!”. Luca (aged 9 years and three quarters) isn’t wrong there. The HR industry is plagued by Brexit-related questions about how we manage the UK’s ‘divorce’ from a people perspective. And in ten years of running our HR Think Tank Series community, never has a topic been in such high demand!
In our third Brexit-focused Think Tank, hosted by TripAdvisor, we looked specifically at what HR professionals can do to attract and retain EU national talent, whilst ensuring you don’t alienate other employees in the process. During this Think Tank, we were fortunate enough to be joined by Jonathan Hearn (Legal Director at DLA Piper) who shared his expertise around the two key scenarios that faced us back in November 2018:
Scenario 1: That the transitional deal (provisionally agreed with EU negotiators) is signed.
Scenario 2: No deal is signed and the UK leaves the EU without a deal in place.
As we know the first scenario proved fruitless and the government suffered a huge defeat on 15th January when the House of Commons voted against the Prime Minister’s (PM) Brexit Deal (432 votes ‘against’ vs. 202 votes ‘for’) . Having lost the ‘meaningful vote’, the PM returned to the Commons on 21st January to present a ‘Plan B’ which, as it stands, will be put to the vote on 29th January.
One of the fundamental changes put forward by the PM concerns her decision to scrap the £65 fee that EU citizens were due to pay to secure the right to continue living in the UK after Brexit. This fee was a key point of discussion during the Think Tank; specifically regarding whether employers should fund employees’ applications for pre-settled or settled status, and ultimately what message it would send to staff if they chose not to. We’ll know very soon whether this is agreed as part of negotiations, which could end up making at least one part of HR’s role in managing Brexit a little more straight forward!
However, when considering the other implications of Brexit from a people perspective the challenges remain largely the same for both scenarios. Based on the discussions held during our Think Tank and Jonathan’s advice, here are…
Six key points to bear in mind when preparing your business for Brexit
1. If the government chooses not to scrap the £65 application fee for pre-settled or settled status, will your business fund applications or expect employees to pick up the cost? What message does this send to employees about your desire to retain them if you’re unable or unwilling to finance their settlement status?
2. Don’t forget that many current employment laws will remain and be unaffected by Brexit! As it currently stands there is likely to be virtually no change to some elements of employment law (discrimination, shared parental leave, unfair dismissal etc.). However, there is likely to be changes to immigration rules because of the end of the free movement, as well as collective redundancy law and agency workers, for instance. It’s important to understand and plan for which laws are going to impact your employees.
3. A solid communications plan is a must. Communication should be an ongoing process and not just geared around ‘major updates’ (particularly when they might evoke negative feelings from those affected).
Knowledge is power! Once there is clarity around Brexit and what it means for the business and workforce, use this information to attract and retain talent by having a clear stance on how the business supports EU nationals. Businesses should be more vocal to employees to help them feel welcome. It’s advisable to focus communications around inclusion and ensure that everyone receives the same message (don’t discriminate based on nationality!).
4. Internal ‘Brexit Working Groups’ are great ways to show alliance and ensure that high priority issues are receiving the ‘air-time’ they require. These groups should be inclusive and representative of the broader employee population, as opposed to just being formed of EU nationals. Frequent meetings with positive, up beat and encouraging agendas are advised; it’s too easy to be negative and to fail to seek out opportunities!
5. One of the key challenges that many employers might face is retaining members of staff directly impacted by Brexit. It’s possible that EU national employees might feel a sense of rejection by the UK and choose to move away as a consequence. It’s therefore really important to promote an inclusive environment and culture to ensure they feel valued and apart of the business, in spite of the current political landscape.
6. Talent attraction was one of the key points discussed at the Think Tank and the impact that Brexit is likely to have on it. Given that the Brexit agenda will result in restricted rights for non-UK nationals following our departure from the EU, we might well see an influx of applications before we officially leave! How can we leverage this to our advantage and ensure that talent attraction and talent pooling remains at the forefront of our agenda?
- Whether a deal is agreed or not, there should (in theory!) be minimal impact on your current employees due to the proposed pre-settlement and settlement transitions.
- Set up your communication plans now, don’t wait! Make the communication regular and not just for big (negative or ‘scary’) announcements. The communications plan should be to the wider business and to everyone. Don’t discriminate based on nationality.
- Brexit should be viewed as a strategic opportunity for HR and Recruitment! As advisors to the business, look for the key opportunities for your client groups. For example from a talent perspective; attracting people to the UK.