Following last week’s vote for Brexit this will be a difficult time for many UK businesses. It is vital that employees are receiving clear and reassuring leadership and feel properly involved in any important decisions being taken. The UK government should also take steps to reassure employees that the rights at work which they currently enjoy will not be undermined in leaving the EU. The IPA stands ready to assist employers in improving employee involvement and engagement during the turbulent times ahead.

Following last week’s vote for Brexit and the accompanying uncertainty for the UK economy it brings, this will be a difficult time for many UK businesses. This sense of uncertainty and anxiety will be shared not only by business leaders, but also by employees in a great many workforces across the country. Now, more than ever, it is important to make sure that employees are receiving clear and reassuring leadership and communication and feel properly involved in any important decisions that are taken about the future of their organisation. A failure to properly engage with employees during this critical period could have serious repercussions, with them feeling cut adrift in a sea of uncertainty, leading to lower productivity, higher turnover and absenteeism and further compounding the risks and problems faced by the organisation.

The next government will need to take immediate steps to provide reassurance and support to UK businesses and the UK workforce alike. In particular it is vital that the government either commits to retaining the current protections for employees provided by Social Europe, or outlines a clear framework for how it plans to replace them in UK law. The areas where the EU has strengthened individual workplace rights over the previous four decades include; stronger rights for women and working parents, guarantees over working time and holidays, protection against discrimination, equal treatment for ‘atypical’ workers and regulations such as TUPE which offer protection for employees being transferred to a different employer or those facing redundancy. In addition, the EU has been fundamental in extending and enshrining health and safety regulations in the UK. Finally, the EU has strengthened rights surrounding collective voice at work via the Information and Consultation Directive and the right to request European Works Councils in large multinationals operating across EU member states.

We can expect in the coming days and months to hear calls from some quarters to repatriate and, ultimately, consider the repeal of some of these regulations on the grounds of reducing ‘red tape’ that supposedly burdens small businesses in the UK. The Working Time Directive, TUPE and anti-discrimination legislation are areas considered to be at particular risk of repeal or watering down. However, as the IPA has argued previously on the question of EU employment regulation, “repatriation is fraught with difficulties and there is no reason to believe that the UK would be able to retain full access to the single market without applying the same rules. There is little compelling evidence to suggest that repatriating control over employment protection would lead to a significant boost in productivity. And although the impact of repatriating social and employment law is inherently unknowable, there is a clear risk that it could lead to a diminution of employment rights which would harm working people.” 

Rather than acting so as to threaten the rights of working people, both the current caretaker government and the new government, when it takes office, should act to provide reassurance to employees that, regardless of whether they continue to come from EU law or are replaced with new variants in UK law, the individual and collective rights which they currently enjoy will not ultimately be undermined. Indeed, measures should be taken to boost employee voice; both within their individual workplaces so as to give employees confidence in and influence over the direction their organizations are going to take through these challenging times, and also on the national level so that employees collectively, through organisations such as the TUC, are given a proper role in influencing the national debate over the months ahead about the future direction of our country as a whole. 

The IPA, as the UK’s leading organisation delivering partnership, consultation and employee engagement in the workplace, is dedicated to providing support, guidance and training to employers and employee representatives alike, to ensure the foundations are in place to support employee engagement whatever the future may bring. The IPA will also be conducting a key research project into ‘Leadership during Turbulent Times’, to explore how capable leaders can successfully guide their organisations through stressful periods. We will also be looking at the future of the workplace through two major research projects; one looking at the relationship between technology, automation and employee influence and engagement over their introduction into the workplace, the other looking at the rise of non-traditional working such as self-employment, agency staffing and remote working, and what can be done to improve the engagement and involvement of and protect the rights of these groups.

If you are interested in more information about how the IPA could support your organisation in the weeks and months ahead, either through training and consultancy services or through your participation in our research study into successful leadership, please get in touch via [email protected] or call us on 0207 759 1000.

Patrick Brione is the Head of Policy and Research at the IPA. If you would like to discuss IPA's research programme, you can get in touch with Patrick via: [email protected]