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Brexit seen as another workforce disruption by UK companies

UK HR and reward execs say they view Brexit as 'another disruption', not a 'fundamental challenge'

More than half (59%) of HR executives surveyed in the UK say Brexit is just another disruption to be navigated as part of the normal course of business, while only 26% see it as a fundamental challenge to the way they operate, according to the latest Willis Towers Watson survey. Companies in financial services and leisure, retail and distribution are most likely to see the change as fundamental.

Willis Towers Watson’s survey - the second in a series, based on responses from senior HR and reward executives from 86 mainly large multinationals companies – comes as the UK government invokes article 50 to start the two-year exit negotiations. With the outcome of those talks highly uncertain, the survey highlighted that HR professional’s concern about the impact on talent retention and workforce planning remains high.

More than half of HR leaders at UK-headquartered organisations (58%) said they expected the impact to their business in the UK to be significant, a similar proportion to the first survey, conducted in July 2016 immediately following the referendum. Concern among firms elsewhere in the EU has eased: only 45% expected a significant Brexit impact compared with 71% last year.

Tamsin Sridhara, Director of Willis Towers Watson’s Talent and Rewards practice GB comments:  “The previous survey highlighted the immediate staff concerns for many were mobility across Europe, retention of key skills and staff engagement. Since then most companies have and are completing their assessment of key risk areas for staff but most have not yet taken specific actions.”

For 36% of companies, attracting and retaining EU nationals with specific skills in the UK has become more of a priority as a result of the referendum. A growing concern is the need to attract and retain a sufficient number of staff within the UK to meet business needs, expressed by 32% this time versus 20% last July.

Tamsin Sridhara, says: “Attracting and retaining specific talent groups remains a key issue for companies post Brexit, this affects not only high-profile categories such as scientists and technologists but also operational workers where demand outstrips supply such as HGV drivers in the retail sector and multilingual staff in customer service centres. The increased anxiety around the ability to attract and retain staff has coincided with the Government’s renewed commitment to exercise greater control over immigration, post-Brexit, which may have contributed to this change.”

In terms of talent-related activities, 24% have assessed the type and number of staff they needed in the UK and 29% were in the process of doing so; and to fulfil those needs, 6% have reviewed their talent resourcing and their pipeline in the UK and 43% were in the process of doing that.

Tamsin Sridhara concludes: “We remain in very early days. The survey tells us that more companies are now seeing Brexit in terms of yet another business disruption that has to be navigated and their message to staff is “business as usual”. There are some, particularly in financial services and leisure, retail and distribution, who see the challenge as more fundamental and it is here that contingency planning is more advanced.”