Brexodus?

There is a theory that it is people that build businesses, and certainly many of us know this to be true. What then, are UK businesses to do while facing Brexit and all the uncertainties that this will bring for their workforces? As of December 2018, there were around 2.2 million EU nationals working in the UK, at least half of who we can assume, were or are living on tenterhooks to see what their future will hold. 

One of the most uncertain areas in the entire Brexit discussion is that of employment. This is evident in RSM’s latest Brexit Monitor survey of over 300 middle market business leaders, who listed job security and sources of workers as the most concerning impact on their business if or when the UK leaves the EU. 

Theconstruction sector is far more likely than any other to have reviewed immigration and employment legislation. It seems then that financial services are more likely to report adjusting customer contracts, while technology, media and telecoms (TMT) are taking measures to increase efficiency.

The problems facing employers trying to retain talent is a factor that has been reflected throughout the seven quarterly surveys conducted by YouGov over an 18-month period. 12 per cent saw retaining talent as a problem in the first survey. Fast forward to RSM’s latest findings and sentiment has more than doubled to 27 per cent. 

It is also seen as a major problem across the sectors. Those in TMT and construction are more likely to report this as problematic than before, while it has also become more acute in the Midlands, the South and Scotland. 

To combat this, RSM’s partner and head of HR services Steve Sweetlove asks

are businesses now burying their heads in the sand and simply throwing money at the problem? Better financial rewards and promotions are on the rise, but competitive benefit packages and culture communication has slipped. This shows that it’s perhaps seen as less important than ever before. This can certainly be attributed in some ways to the different ploys employees are using to try and hold onto their staff.

RSM has found that around a third of London firms have reviewed immigration legislation, increased local recruitment or reviewed the government’s technical notices, while two-fifths have reviewed their existing EU workers’ status and taken measures to increase productivity. For around half of the sectors surveyed, the number of EU nationals employed has stayed around the same. For two-in-five construction firms it has even increased. However, a third of leaders in the North West say that the number of EU workers employed in their overall workforce has decreased.

It appears the UK is taking an ostrich-like approach to staff retention at this point, with overall 52 per cent of businesses keeping the same amount of EU nationals since the referendum in June 2016. 

Construction again has risen from the ashes with a 40 per cent increase in EU nationals on the payroll, the biggest intake by far. Yet 38 per cent of companies have found it harder to attract and then retain EU nationals and 34 per cent have found it harder to retain them, which is hardly surprising given the unsettling fact that no one knows quite what will happen next. Financial services and construction have found it very hard to both attract and retain, while TMT has reported a different story. 

On the flipside, around two-fifths of businesses believe the immigration white paper published by the Government would have a more beneficial impact on their business than current policy. Construction feels this most keenly, while the Consumer sector the least. For manufacturers and the consumer sector, both report it would make no difference.

Interestingly, Steve Sweetlove notes

London is being seen as the most proactive area when it comes to retaining or dealing with workers. Around a third of London firms have reviewed immigration legislation, increased local recruitment or reviewed the government’s technical notices, while two-fifths have reviewed their existing EU workers’ status and taken measures to increase productivity.

As well, half in the capital think a new point policy would have a positive impact, as would a 52 per cent of firms in the South.

While changes to UK immigration policy will have a profound effect, businesses should be thinking about how they will continue to recruit and retain the right people to maintain continuity. 

For further information on how to navigate Brexit and the challenges and opportunities it might bring for employers visit our Brexit page and our Brexit checklist.


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