Organisations still aren’t planning for Brexit

The uncertainty of the current situation means contingency planning is vitally important, says David Enser

It may or may not surprise you that many companies are still not taking Brexit preparations seriously enough.

We talked to members of the RES Forum in November and received 59 responses from global companies to a survey, most of them headquartered in EMEA but also in the Americas and APAC. 

The majority of respondents (51 per cent) said that within their organisations, preliminary planning relating to potential Brexit outcomes had been carried out, but no action has been taken as yet. A further 20 per cent had carried out full planning but no action had been taken and a worrying 20 per cent said their organisations were still ‘watching and waiting’.

An overwhelming majority of 81 per cent said they had not moved or considered moving staff out of the UK as a result of Brexit, but a further 15 per cent said they were making plans in the event it became necessary. Alarmingly, one respondent said their organisation had already done so on a pre-emptive basis.

Only 63 per cent of responding companies had undertaken a full audit of staff to ascertain which of their employees (both Brits working in Europe and EU citizens working in the UK) would be affected by potential changes to immigration laws. 

When asked what planning or actions organisations were taking, respondents gave a range of answers including workforce planning, adding guaranteed repatriation clauses into expat employment contracts for those moving to the UK, roadshows and microsites, tax and social security planning and contingency planning including relocating offices outside the UK.

No change in hiring and talent 

Not one of the organisations has made changes to their hiring and talent development policies in the light of Brexit. This may be because new rules are as yet so uncertain, or it may be because employers are uncertain of the legal implications of what could be deemed discrimination. However, 17 per cent reported a reduction in candidate numbers for positions based in the UK, or an increase in those considering Brexit when applying, with one respondent noting that Brexit had “not had a positive impact on brand UK”.

Only 12 per cent are planning in terms of business traveller populations. This group of employees is already a well-publicised compliance risk for companies so, in the light of Brexit and potential changes to the law, this is of significant importance and companies do not appear to be taking it seriously.

Only three respondents saw any positive benefits of Brexit for their organisation, relating to a possible change in immigration law, but of course as yet there are no guarantees.

The perception within the forum is that big businesses are somewhat better prepared than their small and medium-sized counterparts. Organisations appear to be, at least in part, considering potential implications of what Brexit may bring. However, with such continued high levels of uncertainty for businesses and their people, it’s unsurprising our survey demonstrates businesses continue to be unable to plan in any level of detail.

Official advice from the EU and the UK is that companies should prepare for a no deal Brexit. This will be costly and time consuming, but our message is to prepare for every eventuality, hoping the final outcome is something better than whatever your company deems to be the worst-case scenario. Information on how to prepare can be found on the European Commission and UK government websites.

Businesses must not take comfort from that fact their competitors are not planning either. With such a high level of uncertainty, businesses that can at least demonstrate some level of forward thinking and contingency planning today, both in general and in relation to global mobility issues specifically, will surely weather the storm that is to come better that those who wait until the rain has already started.

David Enser is head of cross border employment and reward innovation at the RES Forum, an international global mobility forum and community for in-house HR professionals