Brexit uncertainty causing stress and anxiety among staff

As wrangling over blocking a no-deal Brexit and Boris Johnson's plan to prorogue parliament continues, research shows staff are anxious about the impact of Brexit

Uncertainty over the UK’s exit from the EU is leading to high levels of stress and anxiety among staff, according to research from Tiger Recruitment.

It found that 47% of the 33% of employees who reported that the 2016 EU referendum result has already had a negative impact on their business cited Brexit uncertainty as something further exacerbating their stress and anxiety around the situation.

The research, carried out by YouGov on 1,000 UK employees, found that nearly half (46%) feel worried about the impact Brexit will have on their employer’s business in the future and in turn how this will affect them.

The survey comes as a series of developments at Westminster have failed to end the uncertainty over whether the UK will leave the EU on 31 October, and whether this is likely to be with or without a deal.

Scottish judge Lord Doherty yesterday (4 September) rejected a bid to have prime minister Boris Johnson's plan to shut down parliament ahead of Brexit declared illegal. But a Bill to block a no-deal Brexit by forcing Johnson to ask the EU for an extension if there's no progress by 19 October has been endorsed by MPs.

While Johnson failed to get the backing of two-thirds of MPs to call a general election it is still likely to happen eventually, with the PM currently more than 20 MPs short of the majority he needs to govern effectively.

The employees in the Tiger Recruitment research that reported being worried about Brexit's impact cited job insecurity as the overriding concern, specifically the potential of stagnating wages (58%), job losses (56%) and fewer opportunities for career progression (30%).

Liam Powell, group HR director at Marston's, said it is HR's job to assert a reassuring and calming influence.

“The current market volatility, combined with great political uncertainty both at home and abroad, will undoubtedly have an effect on our people," he told HR magazine. "Our people are likely to experience an increased level of anxiety and concern, and it is our job to show them why our business is the place to be and alleviate this concern as much as we can through reassurance and communication."

Breakdown by region showed that businesses in London have been the most heavily affected. Nearly half (47%) of Londoners surveyed said that their business has been negatively affected, while more than half (54%) said they are worried about how they will be affected in the future (compared to 33% and 46% respectively across the rest of the country). Scottish workers are also more concerned than the rest of the UK about the future impact of Brexit (54%).

When it came to different sectors, IT/telecoms and manufacturing businesses have been the most negatively affected by Brexit uncertainty (both 40%), while those in hospitality and leisure have been the least affected (18%). Meanwhile, legal workers are the most worried about the impact Brexit will have on their organisation in the future (59%).

While hospitality workers might have been found to be the least affected to date, there is still a challenge when communicating well with mobile staff, said Powell.

"Communication is a real challenge for us because we’ve got so many ‘hard-to-reach’ people – people in pubs, breweries, offices, field-based and those out on the road – each with different communication preferences and needs. Add to that different shift patterns, geographies and role types and you start to understand the size of the communication challenge," he said.

"We’ve invested a lot in employee communication over the past two to three years and because of the diversity of our workforce there’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to employee engagement. So instead we’ve created a strategy that’s all based on the audience’s choice and needs. Where do our people naturally go to get up to date? Do they prefer face to face, printed material, email, online news, or social media? Do they want detailed information, snapshots, images, video, or audio? We know we’ve got people in our team who would answer ‘yes’ to all of these questions, so we cover all these bases."

The most effective reassuring communication for staff will be two way, he added: "We’ve seen two-way engagement with our team members increase over this period. But the exciting thing is it’s not just two-way, it’s all ways. Through the power of social media our people are communicating, sharing and supporting each other regardless of geographical boundaries, working patterns, hierarchy or roles.

"We want to encourage more of this in the future as we navigate the uncertain landscape that we now live in. This will help reassure our people that they can be kept fully informed.”

The Tiger Recruitment research also found that businesses have been unable to make decisions about the direction of the business (reported by 46% of employees), start new projects (36%) or take risks (33%).

“It’s more than three years since the EU referendum and, while businesses have shown incredible resilience, they are crying out for certainty and stability in the political landscape,” said David Morel, CEO and founder of Tiger Recruitment.

“With the two Brexit factions both resolute in their positions and unable to compromise without losing face it seems inevitable that the current limbo will go down to the wire,” added Morel. “While I’m confident that businesses will remain resilient whatever the outcome, it is understandable that employees are feeling worried and insecure about the future. Employers must address this issue head on by placing extra focus on employee communication and motivation, to help allay these fears and keep employees engaged throughout the uncertainty.”