Are you among a growing number of businesses concerned by the impact Brexit could have on their workforce? If you are, there are steps you can be taking now to minimise the risk.
Ahead of joining an expert panel at the Kent Vision LIVE Big Brexit Lunch, we asked Catherine Daw, Head of Employment and HR at Brachers, to share her advice on how you can prepare for what is widely believed to become a more competitive labour market in the years to come.
The impact of Brexit rarely strays far from the headlines and the effect on the labour market remains a hot topic for debate. With the current predictions for the employment market post-Brexit looking fairly ominous, how real is the problem we are facing and what can employers do to future-proof their workforce?
Do we have a problem and is Brexit to blame?
According to the Office for National Statistics in the UK Workforce, the unemployment figure in November 2017 stood at 1.44million, a record low for the country, and c3.5million non-UK nationals of which c2.38 million were EU nationals were in employment. However, it is easy to see why there is growing concern about a labour and skills shortage in the lead up to and post Brexit.
In January this year, the BBC reported that the NHS was ‘haemorrhaging’ nurses, with 33000 leaving each year. This has been mirrored more locally in Kent. Kent Online reported last year that more than 400 staff had left their jobs in local hospitals post-referendum and that there were 670 unfilled jobs in hospitals as of July 2017. Brexit may have had a part to play in this; since the referendum, according to figures from NHS Digital, the NHS has seen the number of EU leavers outnumbering joiners, the reverse scenario to previous years.
So is Brexit to blame? Well… yes and no.
Brexit has created two broad issues. Firstly, it has contributed to the devaluation of the pound compared to the euro – in 2015 each pound earned was worth almost 20% more than it is today. So working in the UK is 20% less enticing on that simple economic measure for EU citizens, in the euro, than it was a couple of years ago.
Secondly, the perception is that Brexit has made the UK more unwelcoming to EU labour.
However, other factors such as increasing economic growth, particularly in the eastern EU nations, and improved earnings potential in those nations are believed to be contributing to more EU Nationals opting not to come to the UK.
That said, the overall number of EU workers in the UK has increased since the Brexit vote.
So what can you, as an employer, do about it?
Most commentators believe Brexit is going to have an impact on the availability of labour, both skilled and unskilled in the UK. With this in mind, there are steps that businesses can take to address these potential shortages and future-proof their workforce.
Retain key staff. Keeping hold of the skilled, trained, experienced and reliable people you already have is key. Employee satisfaction is paramount to this. Employee surveys consistently reveal that this not simply a question of money. Creating an environment where your employees feel valued, listened to, engaged and free from discrimination bullying and harassment promotes employee retention. Addressing issues within your workplace culture and behaviour can be more important to engendering employee satisfaction, productivity and loyalty than a pay rise.
Nurture development and growth. It is often cited that there is a correlation between the opportunity for employees to enhance their personal development and their satisfaction and loyalty to their employer. One approach to simultaneously enhancing employee satisfaction and addressing the skills gap is of course to train your own staff. This can range from basic skills training or apprenticeships to MBAs.
Look creatively at your recruitment methods. Whilst retaining current staff is important, attracting new skills is just as valuable. It might be time to rethink your approach to recruitment. ONS statistics show there are 10.5 million retired people in the UK, some 6.2 million part-time women and 2.2 million part-time men and 8.6 million economically inactive people between the ages of 16 and 64. This represents a large potential pool of talent, experience and skills if you can find the way to attract even a fraction of this resource back into work or from part time to full-time work.
Improve your ‘flex appeal.’ A recent Exodus Study by Investors in People found that nearly a third of employees would like to have a more flexible working environment and that most respondents considered this as more important than a 3% pay rise. Enabling remote working, flexible working or flexible hours is one way you can meet the evolving demands of your employees and improve staff retention.
Develop an effective wellbeing strategy. This should encompass both physical and mental wellbeing. An effective strategy will cover health, work, values and principles, collective/society issues and personal growth. Employers could adopt initiatives such as employee assistance programmes, discounted gym membership or health screenings. Strategies need to be holistic and consider a wide range of aspects to wellbeing. A survey by REBA on employee wellbeing found that 88% of their respondents were looking to incorporate sleep into their wellbeing strategy; which brings a whole new meaning to ‘sleeping on the job!’
Protect your investment. There are legal means that an employer can implement to protect the investment made in upskilling their staff. This could be incorporating contractual clauses that allow you to recoup training costs and investment should the employee leave within a specified time or implementing deferred remuneration structures, share option schemes and other long term performance rewards to encourage employee motivation and retention over short term gain. At a fundamental level, all employers should ensure they have carefully constructed legal agreements and contracts with their staff that protect both parties in the event of a dispute.
As with most aspects of the country’s decision to leave the EU, the true impact of Brexit on the UK workforce remains to be seen and, given the current machinations over a transitional period, may be several years off in terms of their full impact. However, for businesses to continue to grow and succeed pre and post our departure, implementing the steps above will lay the groundwork for future-proofing their workforce irrespective of the outcome that lies ahead.