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10th Oct 2019
3 Min Read

Guiding employees through Brexit

Lindsay Kohler
Lindsay Kohler
People & Change

With the latest Brexit deadline looming, thoughts naturally turn to politics, which called to mind a very interesting study. A funny thing happened when researchers looked into how risk preferences – our attitudes toward both generally risky activities (such as gambling or smoking) and precautionary activities (like wearing a seatbelt) – changed over the course of a week.

The natural assumption would be to think that any changes are due to events in our lives or in the news cycle. But that’s not what happened. Instead, researchers found a steady decrease in how tolerant we were of risky and precautionary situations as the week went on, with Thursday being the day we despise risk the most [1]. What day of the week does Britain hold elections? You guessed it – Thursday.

One takeaway is: don’t announce big change initiatives on a Thursday. Another more serious takeaway is that risk preferences and emotions can significantly affect how we make decisions. Right now, a large emotion most employees are feeling with Brexit on the horizon is uncertainty. Uncertainties over job security. Uncertainties over wage stability if the exchange rate falls. Uncertainties over critical food and medicine shortages – basically, the doomsday Brexit scenario.

Uncertainty and risk are often confused. While related, the distinction is that risk is making a calculated decision with a known probability; uncertainty means we literally have no idea what’s going to happen, and that’s scary. When we operate out of fear, we start to feel like we have no control over the situation, and any effort to overcome the current situation feels like an overwhelming task.

Employers can help turn off the proverbial panic button and help guide employees through a difficult time of change by incorporating some smart communication strategies into their Brexit game plan. While company leaders may set the direction on what to say about Brexit, HR and internal comms teams have a responsibility to make sure employees feel supported during times of uncertainty. Here are a few ways to do just that:

  1. Encourage your leaders to be visible
  2. Communicate positive performance
  3. Promote mental well-being services
  4. Focus on inclusion

    It’s all about reassurance being delivered from the highest levels. Who sends the message is arguably more important than what the message contains. Leaders communicating and demonstrating confidence can go a long way to allay employee fears. This is a great opportunity to engage your leaders in supporting internal communication efforts, which helps both now and also in the future.

    People need to feel safe and secure at work, now more than ever. Shine a light on the good things that are going on to focus employee attention on the positive areas of your business. This doesn’t have to be sales or revenue numbers; celebrating the small wins can go a long way in boosting morale and enhancing feelings of safety.

    Recognise Brexit will affect everyone differently, and some may feel it more than others. Employees working abroad may feel especially vulnerable right now. This is a brilliant time to promote the well-being services you offer.

    Remember that we’re connected by the company we work for. Attention toward diversity and inclusion activities can help build an environment that embraces colleagues from all cultural backgrounds.

    Brexit may be uncertain, but there is something we know for sure: HR and internal communications can go a long way toward smoothing the experience for employees.

    [1] Sanders, Jet G., and Jenkins, Rob. “Weekly Fluctuations in Risk Tolerance and Voting Behaviour.” 2016.

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