As we wait to see what effects Brexit will have on the economy, trade and free movement, the question for you as an employer is how to keep the hearts and minds of your team.
“The risk for companies that don’t handle this well is not so much that employees will leave – they could simply be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, of course. It’s more that people become disengaged and distracted,” says Peter Reilly, co-author of Preparing for Brexit Through Workforce Planning1 and Principal Associate with the Institute of Employment Studies.
“As a result, productivity may suffer and your business may lose the all-important dynamism and drive of your employees. We’re seeing this already mirrored at the executive level, where people are holding back from making investments.
“We’re naturally focusing on Brexit, but these issues apply just as much to other changes that are having an impact on businesses – what’s going on with the High Street, for example. The difference, perhaps, with Brexit is that we have serial uncertainty. Week-to-week, almost day-to-day, we’re reminded that something is about to happen, but no-one knows what.”
Employees, he says, are looking for answers that allow them to make decisions about their lives.
Positives from a crisis
Reilly compares the situation to 2008/9 when companies were affected by the financial crisis. Then, he says, companies such as KPMG and Rover gained kudos with their staff and in the wider labour market for the flexibility they showed.
“There were positives that came out of that situation because they handled it so well,” he adds. “The challenge now, though, is to sustain that approach for the length of time we’ve had since the 2016 referendum and without a clear resolution of the problem in sight.”
Reilly suggests that you need to continually show that you understand the anxieties of your people. You may not have answers, but you’re ready to openly share what information you do have.
We’re going to have to engage employees in a thoughtful way because they’re the ones who are going to have to deliver the agility and innovation.David MacLeod, co-chair, Employee Engagement Task Force
Why engagement matters
When your people are informed and engaged, they tend to be better at focusing their attention on your customers, hitting performance targets and collaborating more effectively.
And the UK needs the most engaged employees in Europe if business is to succeed post-Brexit. So says David MacLeod, who led the Government Task Force on employee engagement.2
“That means just doing surveys is not enough,” he says. “We’re going to have to engage employees in a thoughtful way because they’re the ones who are going to have to deliver the agility and innovation.”
In practical terms, this means introducing – or enhancing – the four ‘enablers’ identified by Engage For Success, a voluntary organisation promoting the benefits of employee engagement. MacLeod, who co-chairs the organisation, says these steps were important before the Brexit vote and apply even more now.
Engage for success – the four steps
- You have a strong strategic story – everyone understands what the story of your organisation is, what your aspirations are for the future and what part they can play in creating that.
- You have engaging managers – the standard of management has to rise so that everyone feels well managed.
- Your employees have a voice – everyone’s voice matters and employees are listened to throughout the organisation.
- You show integrity – the values a company says it has are reflected in how colleagues and managers actually act.
Gallup’s report State of the Global Workplace3 found that employees trusted their managers more when they believed they had their best interests at heart. So, while you might not be able to give concrete assurances about changes – whether Brexit-related or not – your staff should be able to count on how you and the business will respond.
Research also revealed that if you have frequent contact with employees – communicating key information and helping team members see how they play a part in your business success – this helped maintain a sense of stability even in uncertain times.
“It’s a mistake to stop communicating just because there’s no news,” says Peter Reilly. “And we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of good management. Communication isn’t all at the top level – managers should make themselves available so that staff can share their specific concerns. It’s a chance to build trust and empathy and to dispel any misconceptions.”
Meet the engaged employee
- Trust, integrity and two-way commitment and communication are the keys to engaging employees.
- Get these right and you should be able to see a measurable rise in performance, productivity and the sense of well-being staff get at work.
- Engaged employees feel valued and happy, so they give their best.
- They’re committed to the company’s goals and values, and they contribute to its success.