How to help your business weather Brexit

There is plenty HR professionals can do to prepare for leaving the EU, no matter which scenario eventually unfolds, writes Julie Provino

With Brexit remaining a constant on the news agenda, the one thing that’s certain is we currently live in uncertain times, both politically and economically. So how can we prepare to support our businesses when the future is so hard to predict?   

Since 2016, Brexit has caused a great deal of noise, drama, and political and economic debate with the result that today, there’s a sense of complete apathy when we start to think about it. But whichever scenario the next couple of months brings, it is employers’ duty to “stay on track” and keep ourselves up to date, as well as informing employees who may be affected.

There are many more resources and a wealth of practical guidance to explain how the HR profession can prepare for the potential challenges posed by Brexit. A quick Google search, a friendly employment law seminar, or guidance from the CIPD will all provide you with up to date information. And there’s plenty more you can do besides:

Support your existing employees

If you haven’t reviewed your policies and practices in terms of how Brexit will potentially affect your employees, there is still time. Compile a list of who may be affected, identify what skills they bring to your business and start building a people strategy. Should the worst happen, you will need a plan that’s failsafe.

Once you’ve identified potentially affected employees, reach out to them. Find out their circumstances and whether they have already applied for the EU settlement scheme. 

When you’re communicating with these employees, it’s important to keep the dialogue clear and open, encouraging transparency. Keep online FAQs running, hold town hall meetings, HR clinics and so forth –these will all contribute towards lowering potential stress and help you build the right people planning process. 

There are more than one million European citizens working in the UK. Most of them can apply for European Temporary Leave to Remain, or in many cases for British citizenship. It’s easy to support employees through this process by providing them with guidance and help with applications. But the expectation is that there will be some backlog, so encourage them to apply now.

New immigration rules are due to be put in place for EU, EEA and Swiss employees coming to the UK – these are currently scheduled from 31 December 2020, though the effects will differ should the UK undergo a no deal Brexit.

Rethink recruitment

Since the initial days after the EU referendum back in 2016, the UK has recorded a dramatic fall in EU nationals joining the UK workforce. Polls say 44 per cent of employers have since had trouble hiring new staff, while 34 per cent of employers are struggling to retain staff – which has resulted in significant salary increases in specific sectors. 

It’s now time to review your market practices and potentially reconsider how your employee benefits programmes may be tweaked to further improve your relationship with your staff as well as potential hires. 

Review immigration practices

We’ve been given an insight into the application scheme for the EU settlement programme, and an approximate date for new immigration laws to come into place, politics notwithstanding, but we cannot predict what hurdles will affect any of these application processes. Although two thirds of UK organisations claim they will continue to employ European citizens post-Brexit, many are effectively on standby. Again, this is an opportunity to review your immigration practices as well as your recruitment channels.

Today, we still need to plan for an uncertain future. However, what we do know is that the HR community will need to move at full speed to draft new policies that will guide staff as well as management and leadership teams on how leaving the EU applies to their organisation. Now is not the time to consider significant change over the coming months. 

Julie Provino is an international HR leader, founder of VeryHR and author of How to Get What You Want in 7 Weeks