Plugging the Brexit brain drain with reward and recognition


by Jamie King, Director of Global Reward, Xexec

It’s no secret that the UK economy relies heavily on EU workers (14% of FTSE 100 Directors are EU nationals), yet evidence is mounting that this important segment of the workforce is feeling increasingly insecure following the EU referendum. A recent survey from KPMG found that 35% of EU workers are considering leaving, with 8% having already made up their minds to go. Another survey, by OnePoll, found that the desirability of Britain as a place to live and work had fallen for nearly half of EU workers.

But, what do employee reward and recognition programmes have to do with all of this?

Crucially, KPMG’s report also found that Britain’s offer on citizens’ rights had failed to shift perceptions amongst EU workers. Even if their rights are guaranteed, many are still considering leaving.

So, how can the UK persuade this crucial segment of the workforce to stay put? Whilst employers don’t have any direct input into the politics of the Brexit negotiations, what they can do is  – by taking a serious look at their employee reward and recognition strategy – work to ensure that the EU nationals within their organisations feel valued, motivated and engaged for the long term.

There are many different aspects to employee recognition, but one key focus should be learning and development (L&D). Giving employees L&D opportunities is one of the most effective ways of supporting their long-term engagement in your business and, particularly for the millennial generation, this is now something of an expectation. This is particularly relevant when you consider that it’s younger, better qualified workers that are more likely to consider leaving the UK (according the KPMG). Uncertainty is one of the major issues for many EU workers in the UK, so providing an L&D framework that supports your team’s career progression should be a major priority. In addition to having a clear strategy around L&D, employers should be savvy in the way that they offer these opportunities. Employee recognition schemes that offer L&D awards, for example, are an effective way of emphasising the link between performance, recognition and career development.

As a side note, L&D has many positive benefits for your business’s collective skill set and could become increasingly important if employers have to focus on training up home-grown talent to meet a future skills gap.

In terms of reward, there are plethora of options for employers looking to foster long-term engagement, from making salaries go further with a comprehensive employee discounts package, to supporting staff’s physical and mental well-being both in and out of the workplace. Many employers are re-writing the rulebook when it comes to what benefits they offer their staff and things like flexible working are becoming the norm (research from Cass Business School and Cranfield School of Management recently confirmed the view that homeworkers and partial homeworkers are happier and more engaged). In addition to engaging and retaining existing employees, a business’s reward strategy has a fundamental role to play in attracting the best talent.

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Clearly there is a major political aspect to all of this yet, it is evident that, whatever the outcome of the negotiations – and despite UK Government guarantees – many EU workers are still considering their options. So, my message for employers is loud and clear: you have a major role to play in preventing this huge loss of talent and now is the time to act!

Download our guide to developing an effective reward and recognition strategy today.