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In some ways I am reluctant to add to the enormous coverage and analysis of the UK’s future withdrawal from the European Union. And of the HR and people implications. There’s plenty of it. Brexit this; Brexit that; Brexit the other.

And yet here I am writing away and one of the reasons is the aforementioned f-word.


I am not the only observer thinking ‘we haven’t actually left yet – nothing has actually changed’ however the mood out there seems a little previous at times. Some advisors and consultants running slightly ahead of themselves. I understand the desire to be ahead of the pack and yet find it a little surprising to see so many articles celebrating the ‘minimal economic impact’ or saying ‘the doom-mongers were wrong’ when nothing has actually changed yet and, despite May’s speech at Lancaster House, we cannot know what Brexit will actually entail.

Pragmatic advice needs to emerge and here is my modest attempt. For there are actually various things that a business or HR leader can do, right now, relating to their people & HR agenda:

1: Understand employee demographics

If you don’t already then it’s time to understand your workforce demographics. How many people are from other EU countries? And from where do you tend to hire?

2: Reassure your teams

We are experiencing a shift towards the rather ominously titled “Hard Brexit’ (possibly our Government posturing pre-negotiations or possibly genuine intent). But it seems highly unlikely that we are going to end up removing nationals from other EU countries from the UK. No guarantees but it’s unlikely. So reassure your colleagues on this and on another matter…..

I already have direct and indirect experience of incidents where British employees have made distasteful comments about or to colleagues from elsewhere in the EU. So maybe you can reassure your workforce that any behaviour which treats others with lack of respect (or worse) will not be tolerated.

3: Get your job offers right

The day after the referendum result I advised a client that the one thing they might do with immediate effect was ensure that all job offers were subject to eligibility to work in the UK.

Given it is a pan-European business, I also suggested that they check that the same applied in other EU countries (eligibility to work in the local country that is).

This might sound obvious but do you know whether every offer – including intra-company secondments – enforces this point?

Their offers did not.

4: Check in with future graduate hires

Graduate recruitment pipelines can run many months or years ahead of arrival dates. Just look at the legal sector – busy interviewing for their 2018 intake right now.

Some might be unnerved. If they are joining from elsewhere in the EU they might even be rethinking their plans given everything that is being said about what Brexit might mean. Be proactive and re-engage with all your future hires.

5: Assess your talent development programmes

International businesses offer many secondment opportunities both to develop and retain their top talent but also as a way of flexible resourcing. In changing times any HR professional worth their salt will be pondering their resourcing ‘mix’ but don’t forget this angle. If it becomes harder to move around and work elsewhere in the EU (still an ‘if’ of course) what does that mean for your talent plans?

So, yes, feelings are running high. The uncertainty is troubling for many. But it’s the role of an HRD or business leader coolly to focus on what can practically be done right now as opposed to what is in the realms of speculation. Much of what we read and hear is the latter but I hope that the above ideas are more the former.

What do you think? What have I missed?

And finally a thought from a wise chap called Brian Greene (a theoretical physicist I believe)…..

“Exploring the unknown requires tolerating uncertainty.”

Thanks Mr Greene. I think that’s what we are doing and that’s precisely what it requires.