Brexit: It’s good to talk

By Anthony Bruce

It’s always good to talk but there are occasions where it’s an absolute necessity. The post-referendum era is one of those occasions. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of good communication between organisations and their stakeholders over the coming months – and that places huge responsibility on HR.

The immediate priority for most organisations has been to reassure employees, particularly those, such as UK citizens working in the EU and EU nationals working in the UK, who may be directly affected by the decision to leave the EU.

But many other groups will be affected too: nationals from countries with a different formal relationship with the EU such as Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland, for example, who will be more difficult to identify. Similarly, some employees may not be directly affected but have a partner who could be. Different people will have different priorities and concerns – careful communication that targets the needs of each section of the workforce will be essential.

But communication doesn’t begin and end with employees. The post-referendum communication plan needs to sit in a wider context, taking into account the needs of all stakeholders – executives (and their families if necessary), the board, shareholders, regulators, customers, suppliers and other third parties – and engaging them in the Brexit process. This plan shouldn’t be static, but should adapt as the organisation’s Brexit strategy unfolds and priorities evolve.

So what to say? All stakeholders need reassurance that nothing will change immediately, but that the organisation is prepared for what’s ahead. The tone should be purposeful and focused on the opportunities ahead – but it’s essential to give employees in particular permission to raise concerns and voice their anxieties.

Every organisation will be affected in different ways by Brexit, depending on their sector and specific circumstances. For some, Brexit will be positive because of the potential to remove regulation or improve their competitive position. Others, such as those in retail, hospitality and other sectors that rely heavily on European nationals in their workforce, will have to spend a lot of time explaining to stakeholders how they’ll deal with the change.

And there are wider implications to think about, that touch on the broader role of business in society. The referendum result has thrown some key political debates to the fore – such as the trust gap between the political and business ‘elite’ and ’the man on the street’, as well as stark regional divides. As a result, the fairness debate is already becoming more prominent, and that has implications for executive pay practices. The review of remuneration policy due to take place in 2017 is likely to occur in a toxic environment for executive pay. It’s essential that companies get ahead of the issue, with a concrete agenda for dealing with the issue of pay fairness and a communication strategy with stakeholders that addresses the issues head on.

 

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