What should HR being doing?
Richard Veal says “it is imperative that HR helps calm down organisations and provides regular messages and updates as they start to evaluate the repercussions for business here and abroad”. This means that HR departments need to be in a listening mode, providing regular and updated communications with high visibility through maintaining an open door policy. Ben Wilmott, head of Public Policy at the CIPD and Penny Tamkin, director of Employer Research at the Institute of Employment Studies both confirm that they have inundated with members calling to ask “what are organisations saying to their workforce?” Ben’s advice has been “that there needs to be a message of reassurance at this stage. Nothing has fundamentally changed yet and it could take up to two years, possibly longer”.
Tim Thomas of the Engineering Employers Federation goes further “EU nationals particularly will want reassurance – responsible employers have provided this quickly by telling them that they are valued workers, that nothing will change quickly and that their employment is secure. In terms of subsequent developments for the UK labour market, it is our expectation that all those workers in the UK before the point at which the UK leaves, (2 years, at least, in the future) will retain their current acquired rights which, in plain English, means the right to live, work and provide services in the UK. There is therefore no need to do anything quickly.”
With no clear exit strategy, the reality of course is that it is difficult for business leaders to saying anything which is really tangible. However early indications from CIPD, IES and EEF members is that they are adopting a ‘wait and see’ stance – rather than immediate knee jerk decisions. What we do know though is that business does not like uncertainty and will clearly factor perceived risks into planning. This means that any reaction is likely to come further down the line.
My guess is that there will be no significant changes in the next six months. The new Conservative Government under Theresa May should announce a number of infrastructure or public sector deals to signal Britain is open for business but many of these have been long in queue anyway.
So here are three actions that HR needs to do now:
1. Ensure leaders and HR communicate face to face regularly and honestly to their workers to maintain positive engagement. The workforce needs reassurance that it is highly valued and is the important source of competitive advantage. Penny Tamkin of the IES points to the danger is that middle management in particular might feel isolated as the first point of workforce questions yet they are a crucial source of upward feedback. HR needs to ensure senior and middle management stay on task by being available, visible and actively listening to establish key themes and the strength of feelings.
2. In particular it is important to reinforce corporate values especially around respect and diversity. EU workers in the UK and UK Nationals in Europe will be nervous that the chosen country of work might not feel quite so welcoming as before. In this period of uncertainty, anger, frustration and victimisation might surface. This will be an emotional time and employees will need both time and space especially if EU workers in the UK feel less welcome than before. Similarly UK nationals abroad might also feel more anxious about the future.
3. Undertake workforce analytics. It is imperative that organisations identify critical roles and their key talents so they have a clear picture of their current workforce. Notably HR needs to identify the extent and potential impact of key groups analysing the workforce by age and length of service, by skill / competency categories and by location. Younger knowledge workers often in their first job as a graduate or an intern may feel particularly vulnerable. Some have already been told to consider relocation or redundancy. This may have further consequences for partners or family relationships. But others might see these as future career opportunities. Reactions will therefore depend on personal circumstances but again individuals will need time. Now Britain has got back to work, some of the initial, myopic reactions have calmed but the economic waters are still choppy and will remain so for some time.