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  • Jim Fanshawe

Brexit - How businesses address the people element.

There is much talk, and rightly so, about skills gaps and workforce shortages amongst business at the moment. These are areas of real concern and unfortunately Brexit is not going to make the situation any better. In this edition I will look at how to go about assessing the impact Brexit will have on your people, how you can help them and some considerations for the future. A review of your current workforce and future recruitment needs should be an important part of your overall Brexit preparedness project.

Setting the scene

7% of people in work in the UK are from the EU (2.2 million) (source: Office for National Statistics). In the East of England, according to an EEF Manufacturers Association survey, in the East of England 10% of the workforce are from the EU and 5% Non EU, with 85% UK. The good news is that progress has been made on the rights of people currently living in the EU and the UK.

I was invited to speak at a Brexit conference in London recently by Symposium (an HR events organisation). Although my piece was about addressing Brexit impact overall for a business the main focus of the conference was on HR. It really brought it home to me that although they have many concerns, a lot of businesses are using this time to positively communicate with their staff and offer support and guidance to them as a responsible employer. The other point that came out strongly was that firms are going to have to be more innovative in thinking about where and how they attract the best talent. With a positive proactive approach it is possible to successfully navigate the HR related issues arising from Brexit.

As free movement comes to an end how will this affect your operations? So where do you start?

Firstly gather information. Although it may sound obvious many firms, especially the larger ones, do struggle with this. The things to ask yourself include:

  • How many EU nationals do you currently employ in the UK?

  • What roles are they in?

  • What date did they commence their UK residence?

  • Are your personnel files up to date? Why not consider a bring your ID to work day (not just for EU citizens) to help you bring your files up to date?

  • What rights do your EU National employees currently hold (Settled Status, temporary permission to stay, permanent residence document to be converted to settled status)

  • Can you afford to (or do you want to) pay for Settled Status Application fee (c. £65) for your employees. (Check with your tax consultant in relation to Benefit In Kind implications).

Once you have gathered the information you need to give you a full understanding of the scale and status of your EU nationals living in the UK, you will be able to understand the issue you are working with.

As with so many things in business and life, communication is key.

When you have decided upon the approach your business wants to take consider creating a Communications Plan to your employees. Does the size of your company and the HR department warrant having an in-house Brexit team for your workforce?

Your communications plan can be in a variety of formats from newsletters, one-to-one meetings, internal intranet, letters to affected employees. One way that some firms have chosen to start the proceedings is through a Brexit survey to their employees. This has many benefits including:

  • Gives employees an opportunity to have their say and give feedback on their issues

  • Lets you know what your employees expect from you during the Brexit process

  • Informs you how successful and appropriate your employee communication is

  • Find out how Brexit is impacting your employees’ thoughts about their future with you.

The approach you will take in these communications is obviously dependent on you and your business. Some suggestions to guide you may be useful.

Firstly offer reassurance. This is an issue which is central to the lives and lifestyles of the people concerned. The UK and EU have agreed a lot in relation to people’s rights so give a reassuring message to your employees that they will be able to find a positive solution and that eligibility criteria for settled status is not too rigorous.

Be transparent to what Brexit means to your business

Try if possible to take a personal approach to those affected. Although broad brush and somewhat generalising, some interesting comparisons between Generation X and Generation Y can be useful to bear in mind. Typically Generation X are 34-54 years, have families, more settled, dependent on job, less risk-averse, want a plan for how Brexit will affect them. Whereas Generation Y are 20-35 years, more flexible employees, happy to wait and see how Brexit will affect them, more accustomed to change and expects it in the workplace and may be easier to retain. You know your staff though so try to personalise your message to them.

Inform your employees that you are reading updates around settled status but also encourage your workforce to do likewise. Tell them that whilst you can’t legally do the settled status application for your employees or assist them in the actual application process you can show them where all the relevant information is.

Remember also that Brexit will be impacting the families of your workforce. Note that close family members with a pre-existing relationship can join EU citizens in the UK even during the transition period if there is one. Remember the transition period only comes into force if a withdrawal agreement is reached.

The Settled Status Scheme

This is the mechanism for enabling EU citizens to remain in the UK if eligible. EU citizens who have been in the UK for five years will be able to apply for "settled status" (living and working in the UK indefinitely). Applicants will have to answer three simple questions if they want to continue living in the UK after Brexit. They will need to prove their identity, confirm that they have no convictions and that they currently live in the UK. Other details of the scheme are:

  • It will be fully open by March 2019

  • It will operate online and cost £65 for adults and £32.50 for under 16s.

  • It’ll be free to apply if:

  • you already have valid indefinite leave to remain or a valid permanent residence document

  • you’re applying to move from pre-settled status to settled status

  • you’re a child in local authority care

  • Those who do not have five years residence by 2020, can apply for stay until they have the full 5 years, at which point they can seek settled status

The UK has a Common Travel Area arrangement with Republic of Ireland, so Irish citizens residing in the UK will not need to apply for settled status. The UK government is currently negotiating with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland and they intend to open the Settled Status Application to nationals of these countries too.

Business then also need to think about future recruitment needs.

If EU staff are going to be harder to acquire firms need to think innovatively here. For example it is worth considering Ex-pat communities and look more to the Republic of Ireland for employees. In addition consider more apprenticeship / graduate programmes to develop UK talent, increase training of existing staff and put more focus on retaining elder staff with specialist skills.

Companies should also be reviewing mobility of staff between EU offices and if this is a regular occurrence then put contingency plans in place to enable this to continue.

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