What Brexit Taught Businesses About Listening

Posted by Peter Colley on 30-Jun-2016 12:19:30


After a tremendous build-up, the EU Referendum has come and gone and we are officially out of the European Union. Granted, the dismantling is not an immediate one, we still have several practices to put into place before we can officially begin our tenure as an independent nation.

But as the dust begins to settle, there are a few interesting points for consideration.

  • Is this the result we wanted?
  • How will UK businesses be affected by such a dramatic change?
  • Could anything have been done differently in the months leading up to the referendum?

Over the last few months, several mainstream businesses have been quite vocal in highlighting some of the challenges that may arise from leaving the EU. Merely days before the vote, over 1280 businesses signed a letter stating their support for the Remain side, stating that leaving would disrupt trading and put jobs at risk.

A survey carried out by the Institute of Directors (IoD) revealed that some if them were expecting to let staff go while a quarter were going to freeze recruitment practices. Two thirds felt that business would be affected by the change. Prior to the vote, it was reported that HSBC would move 1000 UK jobs to Paris.

However, the opinion on Leaving wasn’t entirely unanimous. Some employers such as Sir James Dyson and Tim Martin of JD Wetherspoon rebuked claims that Leaving would disrupt trading.

Smaller businesses haven’t really taken a major stance, but news outlets suggest they may have been more receptive to the idea of Leaving compared to the larger companies who have publicly noted their concerns.

And yet despite the concerns raised by UK businesses, we have still reached a vote to Leave. So, how did we get there? The possible reasons are vast. Maybe people were unfamiliar with the proposed changes. Maybe they weren’t immediately affected by the changes, or maybe there were other deciding factors in the final vote. Also, 72.2% of the voters provided their opinion. Could votes from the missing 27.8% have made any difference to the final decision?

Given the end result, this casts a shadow on communication.

Many employers were quite vocal about the changes, so;

  • How did they communicate that to their employees?
  • How many employers actually asked their employees their opinions, so as to gauge the “feelings in the camp”?
  • Did the employees share the same concerns as their employers?
  • Would an improved usage of internal business communication have predicted the result or have influenced a higher turnout than 72.2%?

These are questions for employers to mull over moving forward in a Brexit world.

The need to engage has never been greater 

Regardless of what people voted, what people knew, and what factors influenced those decisions, if the predictions made by employers are true, then UK businesses are in for a rough time. The fact that the UK has recently lost its triple-A credit rating could be seen as a foreboding sign of things to come. But, one of the most endangered elements is ironically the one that has not been directly addressed; employee engagement.

Over the last couple of years, employee engagement has been slowly growing in recognition, as an initiative used to support a positive working relationship between employers and employees. Now, the level of employee engagement in a company has varied from time to time, but if all of these proposed changes come to pass, it may become increasingly difficult to implement a much-needed practice in the workplace.

If anything, the referendum result has created a greater need for employee engagement than ever before. Prior experience has proven that an engaged employee is a productive employee. Businesses prosper because employees know that they are supported in the workplace, particularly if the available workforce shrinks post Brexit and employee retention becomes as or more important than recruitment.

Ironically, the need for employee engagement in the face of a workforce crisis was touched upon by Rainer Strack of the Boston Consulting Group. Strack appeared at TED 2014 and gave an inspiring and impassioned presentation about how despite the rise of technology replacing several jobs, this would in turn create new jobs, ensuring a constant and growing need for workers with particular skillsets continuing up to and beyond 2030. He saw the value of a positive employee/employer relationship and of employees themselves, aptly stating, “Employees are resources, are assets, not costs, not head counts, not machines.”

The time when employee engagement is most threatened is also the time when it is most needed, and gives employers the chance to react to these changes, working around them while ensuring that their workplaces can remain a prosperous and rewarding environment for their employees, especially as the UK moves forward into a daunting future for businesses.

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Topics: Employee engagement, Employee App, brexit