The impact of separatism on organisational culture

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The mood of separation prevails as we continue to experience consequences of Brexit up and down the country.

As we are regularly reminded in the media, the ongoing impact such monumental change is having on the likes of trade, fishing rights, and the economy as a whole, the impact on workplace culture remains largely unconsidered.

At the same time, diversity and inclusion are high on most organisation’s agendas. We have a fundamental clash between the increasingly separatist views permeating in society and the desire for creating a positive working culture centred on equality and diversity.

Whether you are in the leave or remain camp, it has been a divisive overall process. 

The vote caused a split in opinion across the UK and has also resulted in the re-ignition of other independence debates for devolved administrations. This too undoubtedly has an impact on culture in businesses as was seen during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum campaign

Right now, most EU workers will be in the process of applying for settled or pre-settled status ahead of the looming application deadline of 30 June 2021. It is something which HR managers should look out for and hold conversations with employees about their feelings on the subject so that they can offer support on navigating the application process.

You only have to rewind back a few years to remember how deeply hurt many Europeans living and working in the UK felt about the Brexit vote outcome. Those wounds will now be re-opened for a second time as they deal with the enforced red tape.

Many EU workers have already left the UK. As of January 2021, a reported 1.3 million already having moved on. Others will be planning to leave before the summer deadline and those keen to stay will be frantically looking at what they need to do to apply for settled status.

For the EU workers that decide to stay, the feelings of unwelcomeness of some years ago are unlikely to disappear simply because they have filled out a form that rubber stamps their ability to work here. 

Going through the application process could have a real impact on how satisfied these individuals are working in the UK, and there is a clear link between job satisfaction and company culture.

Development of people is another key factor contributing to the culture of an organisation. Managers may mistakenly choose not to advance or invest in the training and mentoring of EU staff based on a view that they may not stay. 

Apart from the obvious discriminatory issues, whether subconscious or not, there is potential such practices will create conflict between groups of workers such as EU workers or yes and no independence referendum voters.

It is expected that recruitment challenges will grow, too, particularly for industries that are most heavily reliant on EU workers. That said, and given the shrinking supply of skills and labour, it appears Brexit has not dampened employers’ overall interest in employing EU migrant workers.

There could, however, be a shortage of candidates from the EU as many have already left, while those staying are probably in jobs they like and recruiting in from the EU and further afield will soon be managed by a points-based system.

It's not all doom and gloom though. There are countless contributing factors to organisational culture and culture can be led from the top.

HR and other business leaders should continue to champion the importance of diversity and inclusion and should take practical action now to reassure EU workers that the organisation will support them. This in turn will stand organisations in good stead in how to handle the impact of other emerging separatist movements on culture.

Louise McCosh is head of HR at French Duncan