Business development 19 December 2016

How to overcome employee uncertainty around Brexit

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Business leaders must see the positives of the uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote

Political and economic issues throughout 2016 have left both employees and organisations uncertain and confused about what the future holds.

Here, principal consultant at workplace training organisation The Oxford Group, Stephen Fortune, provides advice on what business owners can do.

Whether employers are worrying about what obligations they have to their employees following the vote, or whether members of staff are wondering what the consequences of such changes will mean on pay and the cost of goods, everyone in the workplace is undoubtedly feeling the uncertainty around Brexit, and will be on edge about what will change over coming months and years.

Businesses should embrace the change

We are all experiencing uncertainty around Brexit as a living breathing crisis but company owners should embrace this uncertain world to become better leaders and foster a healthy, fresh approach to uncertainty.

Although the common thought is that a national crisis means bad news for businesses, there are a number of companies that have thrived off such changes. Ikea is one of these, and was built on one crisis after another.

Competition with other mail order firms led to its first showroom, supplier boycotts led to it designing and building its own furniture and transportation problems led to flat-pack furniture. It would have been easy to have wasted a crisis but instead Ikea embraced each moment, which led to innovation, and it is important for business owners to view Brexit with a positive light to help keep employees motivated.

Samsung is another company that thrives off crises. The business pursues perfection until they deliver, under unchanged deadlines. As a result of this constant worry over whether they will be able to produce the goods in time, they have seen some staggering results.

Samsung produce over 1,600 patents each year and have the industry’s lowest costs and yet the highest profits. This shows that if companies react in the right way, they can flourish under a crisis and take advantage over their competitors, which is what needs to be seen more often following the Brexit result.

Innovation is key

A lot of uncertainty and complexity is a great place to innovate. When things are very certain and simple everything is a puzzle with one right answer. As we move towards a more complex and uncertain future, the possibilities are endless. The role of leaders is to ensure members of staff are comfortable in this unfamiliar environment and to reiterate that not having all the answers is alright.

Consultants like myself often refer to “VUCA” (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) as being important when describing how businesses react in a crisis. VUCA is a way for leaders to make sense of their current environment and equip themselves with some tools and concepts to have the conversations necessary to inform team members.

One commonly used example of VUCA  is Tour de France cyclist, Jens Voigt. He once said that he loved racing in appalling conditions (a VUCA environment) because he had already beaten half of the field before the race even started. Following the Brexit result, VUCA environments will have arisen in many businesses, maybe without leaders even knowing.

It is important to look at the future

During these times of change and uncertainty surrounding Brexit, leaders should look to the future. Spending too much time in the present will encourage naval gazing, but if you articulate the future in an inspiring and compelling way, employees will move towards the future with you and adapt to make the most out of the opportunity.

Basing goals on how you would like the company to look in the future is key to helping members of staff look beyond the initial crisis and helps them understand the longer term consequences and will help the business grow with leaders and employees alike.

If employers are experiencing high levels of employee uncertainty around Brexit, one way to overcome this is to work on your own wellbeing. Before working on employee motivation and satisfaction, leaders need to work on their emotional, mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing to ensure they are in a good position to help others. This will foster resilience and will help them feel more relaxed and calm in the workplace.

Stephen Fortune is Principal Consultant with The Oxford Group

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