How to Reassure Employees About Brexit

September 30, 2019

Contributor: Mary Baker

Fewer U.K. employees are job hunting as Brexit worries continue, and EU citizens based in the U.K. are the most nervous. HR can and should tackle the concerns head on.

Optimism about the U.K.’s near-term business conditions and long-term economic prospects declined among U.K. employees in 2Q19, prompting fewer employees to actively look for a new job. 

The U.K. employee confidence index dropped 6% in 2Q19 to 44.6, significantly below the international average of 51.6, according to the 2Q19 Gartner Global Talent Monitor (GTM). Employees’ perceptions of job availability and quality also declined, contributing to a drop of nearly 8% in active job-seeking behavior among U.K. employees. Only 14% of U.K. employees actively sought a new job in 2Q19 — 17% less than in the prior quarter and 29% less than the year before. 

“ The average U.K.-based employee spends about 25 minutes daily thinking about Brexit — which amounts to about 2 hours a week”

“Due to the economic uncertainty surrounding Brexit, a once-optimistic U.K. labor market now seems to be running out of gas,” says Brian Kropp, Distinguished Vice President, Gartner. “As opportunities, rewards and bright business prospects are thought to be fleeting, we may see a global decline in the near future.”

Read more: What Employment Indicators Can Signal About the Economy

EU citizens especially rattled by Brexit

Gartner research shows that the average U.K.-based employee spends about 25 minutes daily thinking about Brexit — which amounts to about 2 hours a week. “That’s about 1 day a month in lost productivity due to Brexit anxiety,” says Marcus Uzubalis, Gartner Director, Advisory.

Still, only 4% of U.K. citizens surveyed in July reported that they expected Brexit to affect their promotion opportunities negatively (down from a high of 33% in mid-April). EU citizens, by contrast, report far higher levels of concern. For instance, EU citizens are more than twice as likely than U.K. citizens to report that Brexit will negatively impact their ability to find a new job (30% versus 12%). 

Fully half of EU citizens surveyed in July reported that Brexit would adversely affect their ability to travel across borders as needed, and many are growing increasingly concerned that Brexit will negatively impact their personal finances. 

Calming Brexit fears

Brexit represents a serious risk to employee performance, engagement and personal wellness — with no signs of waning in the near future. As Gartner research shows that work quality and discretionary effort decrease during times of disruptive change and uncertainty, managers must help to mitigate these risks.

“Managers play a vital role in helping their employees navigate Brexit uncertainty, especially since some employee segments, such as EU citizens, are affected differently than others,” Uzubalis says “They should employ several different strategies, including promoting dialogue, focusing on objectives and encouraging innovation.”

The key for managers is to sense and respond to employee needs through open dialogue and by taking proactive steps to shore up engagement. Three specific steps to take are:

  1. Generate dialogue to identify and respond to Brexit-related anxieties. Craft communications that paint a realistic picture of both the positive and negative implications of organizational change. Talk about sensitive subjects arising from Brexit, including job security and job prospects, overall staffing impact and political tension in the workplace. Create opportunities for two-way dialogue between employees and organizational leadership to provide an opportunity for employees to process what the change means for them.
  2. Promote innovation to sustain engagement. Managers tend to become more risk-averse in uncertain times, but it’s precisely during these times of change and disruption that innovation and risk-taking become even more important for employee engagement and organizational success. Create safe spaces for employee innovation and risk-taking. Clearly communicate the organization’s desire for innovation, and the risk-taking associated with it. Define structured experiences or projects where high-potential employees can tackle high-risk projects in a high-support environment.
  3. Recognize employees’ accomplishments under difficult circumstances. Recognition can take many forms other than monetary rewards, including public acknowledgment, tokens of appreciation, development opportunities and low-cost perks. Link recognition to organizational goals. Communicate what the employee did to earn the recognition. Ensure that recognition occurs close to the event/behavior the manager is recognizing.

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