In a previous bulletin article back in October 2016 I outlined several key questions that had been posed to us following the Brexit vote. These included:

  • What are people’s concerns relating to the future of their work since the referendum?
  • What communication have they had from their employer since the referendum relating to Brexit and what reassurance has this provided?
  • How confident are workers that their employment is secure, do they feel that their business will benefit or be harmed by Brexit?
  • Do they fear outsourcing abroad?
  • What aspects of Brexit are UK workers most concerned about and what would they like to see the government and business leaders doing more of to reassure them?

Arguably, these questions have remained unanswered.

Organisations appear to be unsure of what to tell their staff fearing that a lack of clarity or certainty might make their people question their leadership capability. However, staff all over the UK tell us that they do not expect clarity or certainty but want to know that their leaders are thinking about the strategic implications of a deal or even a no deal. They want to know that their organisations have a Plan A, a Plan B and even a Plan C if necessary even if those are dependent on assumptions that might change as more detail is provided by government. As one person stated, “If we know what the worst is, we can deal with it.” As it is, the communication vacuum is being filled by rumours based on the negative perspective rather than fact.

There are ways this communication gap can be filled quickly. Organisations could consider a fortnightly (or monthly) Brexit session for staff forums and trade unions where factual communication could be filtered through to all employees. Frequently answered questions could be updated regularly. Not everyone will read them or believe them but I suspect that will be the small percentage of people who believe in grand conspiracies. If 95% of employees choose to be informed and take that information on board, that is the best we can hope for.

I believe organisations can be helped to make sure that employees receive clear communication from their leaders and are made to feel properly involved in any important decisions that will be taken about the future of their organisation. Our coaching and training course covers several key interventions:

  • Helping senior managers to clarify their messages
  • Helping managers to communicate the different options and dilemmas facing them
  • Keeping staff informed even when there is nothing new to relay
  • Ensuring the facts are communicated and the myths are dismissed
  • How to re-assure staff that the organisation will support them
  • How to use Social media to separate fact from fiction

Regardless of specific circumstances, UK workers can remain engaged with their organisation even under the most testing conditions. Uncertain times re-enforce the need for a strong strategic narrative and organisations need to tell staff what their plans are. A reluctance from managers to share such information is understandable but this is a time for leaders to show confidence and strength in their planning. This requires knowledgeable and confident leaders supported by skilled line managers. Without that confidence, the strategic narrative does not translate to operational levels and employees are kept in the dark.

It is equally important that the employee voice is informed enough to contribute to solutions rather than a means of simply highlighting problems. This is why it is important to repeat the facts rather than assume everyone has taken in the messages first time. Repetition is not reassurance but it is vital in trying to secure as shared an understanding amongst people as possible.

There is a strong argument that uncertainty amongst workers spreads and grows at an unmanageable rate resulting in reduced confidence in their business, knee-jerk decisions about their future and an unnecessary loss of talent. This is often caused by rumour and a reluctance from staff to ask the questions that would dispel those rumours.

People do not expect reassurance when none can be given and cynicism is often disproportionately represented through the various channels for voice, from formal representative structures through to social media. Uncertain times require a higher level of clarity around all communications whether they are top-down or bottom-up. It is imperative that mangers “tell it like is” and that voice represents the engaged as well as the disengaged.

If we start doing this now, it may not be too late.


Derek Luckhurst is Training and Development Director at the IPA

For more advice and information about how the IPA could help you engage with your workforce through Brexit and beyond, please contact:

[email protected]

07780 697024