Brexit: Big freeze, big change or big nothing?

  • March 16, 2018

Brexit is certainly the hot topic of the moment. The immediate shock of the vote to leave, and subsequent crashing of the pound, has left many concerned about the economy and what impact the decision will have on their own roles and lifestyles.

With the true long-term impact of the vote yet to be seen, there were some initial knee-jerk announcements made by commercial businesses about possible downsizing and potential relocation of roles. This, coupled with the media warnings of a forthcoming long and enduring recession in light of the uncertainty in the market, meant many were left wondering how the UK would survive outside of the European Union.

In truth, no one really knows what the future will hold: this is a new situation for the UK, as well as the European as a whole. Already there are rumours that the actual exit could be delayed until late 2019 and reports on the performance of the economy have not been as bad as initially forecast; despite the construction sector seeing a downturn, the UK is still showing growth (albeit at a slower rate).

Longer term, tough times are still being forecast, but for the immediate future many companies seem to be holding fast and continuing with business as usual. The McGregor Boyall Brexit Report 2016 surveyed all sectors and found that 65% of respondents said the decision to leave the EU had not impacted their immediate hiring plans and 76% stated it was business as usual.

Only six per cent stated that they would need to relocate roles to Europe as a result of the leave vote. That being said, only ten per cent of organisations have a contingency plan in place to support their business through the exit, and for HR professionals this means there will be some really interesting implications for their roles in the future.

This could impact a number of areas:

  • Should free movement within Europe be restricted, HR and talent acquisition specialists will need to put in place contingency plans to be able to attract talent from other locations, or find other creative solutions to build talent pools. What these plans could look like however, will be impacted by any legislation the government puts in place to support the movement of talent from other countries, as well as potential training strategies businesses will need to develop their own talent pools.
  • Employee engagement and retention will become even more critical should free movement be halted. It will become vital to retain top talent, so talent management and strong internal career development, employee benefits and wellbeing will become core minimum skill requirements.
  • Organisational design, change and transformation will be skill sets in increased demand as organisations work to define new structures and realign business verticals to support growth and operations as the new market begins to take shape.  
  • As the government wishes to encourage growth, particularly in the digital technology space, HR professionals who work as consultants, or who specialise in supporting new start-up businesses from a human capital perspective, will be in increasingly high demand.
  • Employee relations specialists with extensive knowledge of international employment law will also be in high demand to support organisations and guide them through the changes as new legislation comes in.

These ever-changing times present interesting challenges and demands for the HR profession, meaning having astute and commercially-minded individuals will be essential to the success of a business. Ultimately the message is that the outlook is uncertain, and no one really knows what the future is going to look like, but in the meantime most organisations are working on the premise of business as usual.

For businesses, ascertaining success or failure will be about ensuring their organisations are as flexible and adaptable as possible in order to be able to react quickly as the changes start to take shape.