How to support your EU nationals – and plan for Brexit

Is recruitment and retention topping the list of your concerns right now? You are not alone. The latest figures show that businesses are finding it harder than ever to hire the people they need. With Brexit uncertainty contributing to the diminishing pool of non-UK residents actively looking to work in the UK, it will no doubt come as relief to many organisations that the government has now published a comprehensive toolkit to help employers and their staff understand the EU settlement scheme.

The hope is the scheme will encourage existing EU citizens working in the UK to stay, and if eligible, apply for settled or pre-settled status. It’s a step in the right direction, but it still leaves a lot for HR to do.

In the short term, EU citizens may still need to be encouraged to apply for settled or pre-settled status, if eligible. And, with fewer EU nationals planning to look for work in the UK and more stringent visa qualifications, alternative recruitment and retention strategies will need to be developed. Longer-term planning is important too, with gathering accurate information about your workforce and developing business agility top of the agenda.

An HR software system can be a great help when it comes to supporting your EU nationals and in planning for Brexit. Here are some of the key issues HR practitioners should be thinking about:

Sign post showing UK and EU flags

1. Understand the make-up of your workforce

With less than a year to go, it’s vital to understand the make-up of your workforce and to get to grips with exactly how many employees will be affected. The beauty of systems like Cezanne HR is that they provide one central place where you can put your hands on everything from information about skills and qualifications through to nationality, right-to-work documents and visa status. Some industries are, of course, more reliant on EU workers than others. But even if you only have a few EU employees, it’s important to be aware of their current status and how future changes to legislation may affect them. Your HR system can be set up to send notifications when key documents are due for renewal/revalidation, so you can make sure the business is complying with the regulations and have a clear picture of where employees stand.

2. Communicate regularly

With the latest statistics showing there were 28,000 fewer EU citizens working in the UK in the period Jan-March 2018 than a year earlier, it’s important to look at how you can hold onto your existing EU nationals. People will naturally be worried about what Brexit is likely to mean for them and are probably already weighing up their options. If you want to make sure you retain valuable employees, it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. Offer one-to-one meetings with those affected so that you can keep up to date with their latest thinking and provide reassurance if possible. Make it clear that the business will do what it can to support people, within the bounds of the legislation. The CIPD suggests employers could support people through the settlement application process by giving them access to on-site facilities, for example, or possibly even providing financial assistance. Don’t forget that you can use your HR portal to post updates and FAQs and to signpost employees to useful resources such as the Home Office website so they can find the latest information.

3. Monitor the situation

With all the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, it’s important to keep a close eye on what is happening and how it may affect your business. Use your HR system to help you monitor staff churn so you can see if a trend for EU staff departing is emerging. The system can also help you audit the skills you have in house and get a clear picture of where the gaps or potential risk areas are. This in turn will help you assess how easy it will be to recruit externally if key people leave – or whether you need to put concrete plans in place to start upskilling existing staff. Armed with this information you can talk to managers and help them think about how the business needs to prepare for the future. Should you focus on retention perhaps by providing more training or better articulating career opportunities, tap into part-time or older workers, investigate the options to outsource non-essential activities overseas or even plan for redundancies or relocations?

While an HR software system can’t predict the future, it can facilitate communication and, with accurate workforce data at your fingertips, help you make better-informed decisions.

Other useful resources:

CIPD Brexit hub: https://www.cipd.co.uk/news-views/brexit-hub 

PWC Beyond Brexit: https://www.pwc.co.uk/the-eu-referendum.html

European Commission: https://ec.europa.eu/info/publications/preparing-withdrawal-united-kingdom-european-union-30-march-2019_en

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